Bottoms Up!

Though the brunt of the storm was 300 miles away, Hurricane Laura churned up the water along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Scattered along my beach are brown clumps mixed with shells. Though they look like rocks, the brown lumps are actually soft and squishy tunicates.

Affectionately called Sea Squirts, tunicates are colonial bottom dwellers that attach to hard surfaces (including abandoned shells). The wave action also tossed up a bunch of sea urchins (and by now you should know how I feel about them).

We’ve received a sneak peek at life from the benthic level of the sublittoral zone. Since they were deposited above the normal high tideline we will get to enjoy the delightful aroma as they decay in the sand.

Tip-tail

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

Spotted Sandpiper, Fort DeSoto Park, Mullet Key, Florida August 2020

I spent time with this Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) yesterday afternoon. It kept a wary eye on me as it forged along the shoreline for insects and small crustaceans. Contrary to the name, the juvenile of the species lacks spots and instead has brownish breasts with a plain, white belly.

The Ancient Greek basis for the binomial is very descriptive; aktites = coast-dweller, macula = spot. Though, in my opinion, the key identifying feature is the bird’s constant body-bobbing, whether walking or standing still. This behavior led to the appropriate moniker, tip-tail.

Coin Vine

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While technically considered a shrub, Coin Vine (Dalbergia ecastaphyllum), earned its common moniker from the shape of its flat, round seed pods and its long, lanky branches that help it climb nearby trees. The pods I found today were fresh and green but I hear they dry to a coppery brown, which would certainly be reminiscent of a penny.

Native to Florida, the plant provides a crucial service along the coast by helping to stabilize the shoreline. The early indigenous peoples of the area utilized the bark and leaves of the plant to stun fish, leading to its other common name, Fish Poison Vine.