Creature Feature

6 08 2010

In my last post I alluded to a mystery creature that we found in the lagoon last Saturday.

We are both fascinated by aquatic creatures, and both aspired to be marine biologists as children. So, when AJ pointed out an interesting hole in the sand bar, we were intrigued. As we continued to snorkel, we observed a handful of these perfectly round holes. The largest one I saw was approximately 3″ in diameter.

Most interesting was that the holes appeared very deep and resembled underwater volcanoes. It was obvious that a good-sized creature had created the mound when excavating its den.

Not long after AJ and I had met, we took a trip down to the Florida Keys, where we went snorkeling together for the first time. I recently found the photos from that trip and almost had a heart attack when I saw a particular photo of myself holding a huge, live cone snail. I’ve since learned (thankfully not the hard way) that this was a terrible idea. One sting from a cone snail, and you are pretty much a goner. There is no anti-venom for the deadly poison of this mollusk. I unwittingly escaped a painful demise on that day; and have since developed a high level of respect for sea critters.

So, when we found these mysterious volcano-shaped holes, last weekend, we were cautiously curious. I did drop a pinch of sand into one hole and could vaguely make out what looked like a prehistoric monster peering up at me. It looked almost like a disfigured lobster or a strange crab. I doubted that it were either of these, though; as its body shape had to be conducive to the perfectly cylindrical excavation.

Later, AJ found a remnant of a creature near one of the holes. This led us to believe that either the resident or its prey was some sort of crustacean. If you know me at all, then you will probably have guessed that I spent a good hour or so on Google that night. I did finally ID the creature.

I’ll show you the remnant AJ found, and will give you one hint. “I am very glad I did not have the opportunity to pick up one of these bad boys.”  If you want to guess what it is, stop at the picture. I will post the answer below.

Mystery-Critter

What does this look like to you? I started by searching for crabs, because it is hinged and looks like a bizarre crab claw. To his credit, AJ had suggested what it reminded him of, but at 2″ long, it seemed large for a shrimp part. We ran the gamut from crab to lobster to horseshoe crab, but nothing seemed to fit.

Finally, I remembered what AJ had mentioned and searched “Mantis Shrimp”. Sure enough, we had a match!

I’m not positive, but it seems that we came across Squilla empusa. If you are really interested, you can search this character and find out all the sciencey stuff about him. Otherwise, here is a quick breakdown:

Mantis Shrimp are neither mantids, nor shrimp. They are stomatopods, and are related to crabs, shrimp, lobster and even the roly-polies you find in the garden.

After reading a bit about Mantis Shrimp, however, I think I’d prefer a crab pinch over the damage done by the claw AJ found. Stomatopods are distinguished by two types of claws “Smashers” or “Spearers”. Smashers have a club-like claw and use blunt force trauma to disable their prey, Spearers, well, “spear” their prey with the appendage pictured above. I can attest that this device is very sharp. This is one critter you don’t want to piss off! They are commonly known, by shrimpers, as “Thumb Splitters”, as just about every shrimper has encountered a Mantis Shrimp injury. When AJ and I were in the shrimp selling business, these primitive creatures would occasionally appear in the bags with our stock. I was fascinated enough to take a photo of one (although I cannot find it now).

Mantis shrimp make one of the fastest movements of any animal on earth. They make a “popping” sound as the movement of their claws is as fast as a .22 caliber bullet and creates a sound wave which causes the cavitation of air bubbles. The bubbles “emit light and produce heat in the range of several thousand Kelvin” as described in this article “The Science Behind Stomatopods”. Although admired and collected by some, they are generally thought to be a nuisance by aquarium enthusiasts, as they decimate the other inhabitants, and can even break the aquarium glass with their powerful strike.

As a foraging enthusiast, the trait I find most interesting is that these creatures get as large as 12″ long and are said to be delicious; with a flavor resembling lobster.

With our new found knowledge we will be aware of these feisty critters and will stay poised for the opportunity to grab a couple of them up for gastronomical experimentation.

Broiled Mantis Shrimp, anyone?





My End of the Bargain

6 08 2010

In case anyone has forgotten, the winter of 2009 was miserable! RVs stay toasty warm with their liquid propane heaters employed. Toasty warm,  provided you can afford to refill your tanks every week. Since we were broke, with a healthy topping of cheap, our RV did not stay toasty warm.

Somewhere in the midst of a bleak week in February, I hiked up my wool socks to close the gap of bare leg exposed by my flannel pajama bottoms that shrank in the dryer, wrapped my “warm fuzzy” blanket tighter around my shoulders and made a promise to God.

“I swear, I won’t complain about summer at all. Give me whatever heat you’ve got. Give me the blazing sun and stifling humidity over this bitter cold, and I will make the best of every moment! I promise that I will go outside and play in nature. Just please don’t give us another winter like this one!”


I’m holding up my end of the bargain. Let’s see if the big guy comes through this winter.

In the spirit of being true to my word, AJ and I went snorkeling again, last Saturday. The ideal conditions are so rare that we were compelled to take advantage of the crystal clear water and light wind.

We drove to the boat ramp in Sebastian to put in. We watched the family ahead of us as they lowered their boat and prepared to board. On this gorgeous day, surrounded by bountiful nature, I witnessed something I see all too often, and which induces more anger each time: As she walked down the ramp towards her boat, a woman took one last drag from her cigarette and flicked it down onto the pavement. In my observation, this is an acceptable practice amongst many smokers. I have called people out on this in the past, and would have done so, had I not been too far away to catch her before they motored away. I quelled my disgusted rage and realigned my state of mind in the direction of positive thoughts. I did promise myself that I would deal with this at a later date.

Advice often given  by my pal, Doug, came to mind “Seek Understanding”. So I thought to myself “I could put together an educational flyer, with visuals, expressing the crappiness of throwing your cigarette butts on the ground.” Maybe my understanding would come easier if I could help them understand. I envisioned illustrating how they get washed into the waterways and eaten by wildlife. I imagined a nice explanation of how fire works and what happens when fire comes in contact with plants that haven’t seen a drop of rain in a month. The imaginary flyer kept me occupied for just long enough to burn off some of the anger, before it occurred to me that these clowns would probably just throw that on the ground, too! Oops, sorry Doug! I did change it to “clowns” instead of what I first wrote.

Next I decided to go on craigslist and post my thoughts on the community page. That idea soon lost its appeal. It wasn’t until I started typing this post that I remembered I have my own soapbox. Approximately 10 to 15 people per day find my blog by searching keywords. So, maybe with the enticement of some pretty pictures, I can lure some of them into reading my rant. I’ll keep it short and sweet:

For the love of God, butt-chucking smokers! Put some thought into what you do with your nasty cigarette butts. I assure you that I do not want to step on them, I do not want to eat fish that have eaten toxic sludge filled cotton balls, and I sure don’t want to move because you burned down my neighborhood! Put half as much effort into how you will dispose of your butts as you do in getting the money to pay for your cigarettes and we should all be happier! End of rant.

Are you still with me? Great. Let’s look at some pretty pictures of the place I prefer to find free of cigarette butts and other trash.

AJ drove us out to the Sebastian Inlet. Conditions were so calm that we were able to go out into the ocean with our little dinghy.

AJ-Driving

Approaching the Sebastian Inlet Bridge, facing east.

SIB-from-West

The fishing pier was full. I always feel a little sorry for those people who don’t have a boat. Although, not too sorry. They are in paradise, after all!

Pier

Facing the beach and north side of Jetties.

Sebastian-Jetties

The Sebastian Inlet Bridge, looking west from the Atlantic Ocean. AJ calls those clouds “Bahama Clouds”. Pretty sure that is not the meteorological term, but it works for me.

Seb In Bridge

Back in-shore and past the sand bar where everyone congregates in the Indian River Lagoon. We like our private sand bar much better.

Sand-Bar

Our private sand bar, plush with sea grass and lots of little critters to explore.

Sea-Grass

AJ couldn’t wait to jump in the cool, refreshing water!

Squinty

Not so fast for me. I had to fight with the insoles of my water socks for five minutes!

Rox-in-boat

Finally!

Rox-in-Lagoon

Hours later, still snorkeling. All those white parts are now peeling!

Rox-Snorkel-2

These guys know how to party. They have a table, umbrella and lawn chairs on their private sand bar. I’m pretty sure they were enjoying adult beverages, too.

Sandbar-Party

One last swim before heading home.

Feet

AJ-Swimming

Another lovely day in the lagoon. Proud to say that I’m keeping up my end of the bargain!

Check back for my next post about the mystery critter we discovered during our adventures.