Nature Trip

We headed to Singer Island on the east coast for Super Bowl weekend so we could watch the game with my in-laws. These trips east always involve some incredible nature sightings, like the time we saw a 4 foot (maybe larger) green iguana on the beach and how we can watch the manatee swim by from my in-laws balcony over the Atlantic Ocean. We can watch sharks swimming about, too. We always find an abundance of Portuguese man-o-war on the beach; tiny ones the size of your fingernail to some that look like party balloons; there are shells of all kinds 2 feet deep near the coquina limestone. You get the picture.  Well this time was no different.

I first found out that a magnificent frigate bird had nested along the intercoastal waterway side of Singer Island, just across the street from their condo. My father-in-law told me how they had watched, for weeks, the birds flying around, then the fledglings, but to my disappointment they were gone by the time I had arrived to visit. We were planning a day trip to Peanut Island but the cold front and strong wind kept us indoors. Instead we took our usual walks on the beach mid-day when the sun was beating down on us with warmth.

Along the wrackline, I saw what looked like tons of purple finger nails. At a closer look, I discovered the beach was covered with these hydralike animals called By-The-Wind-Sailors. They are in the phyllum Cnidaria, like jellyfish, but are not a jellyfish. They float on the open sea and have what looks like sails on them, so they float directionally with the wind. By-the-wind sailors also have tentacles. 

Well, if that wasn’t exciting enough, among the by-the-wind sailors I was examining, I found several purple sea snails. Now, I had given up on ever finding one since I had bee reading that I could only find them in Key West, and I had no plans of traveling there. Defeated, I had bought one at a shell shop in Sanibel. But, this day, I had a hand-full of them. My favorite actually has the bubble raft attached. The bubble raft keeps them buoyant. I should have done my homework better and not given up so soon. Purple sea snails prey upon Portuguese man-o-war and by-the-wind sailors, so I was bound to find them here in the West Palm Beach area.

I added to my seabean collection, too. I finally found the following: 2 brown hamburger beans, several Hog plum mesocarp, and some more bay beans.

Another thing we saw that was so cool and caught the attention of my boys: a beached tree trunk covered with both goose barnacles and duck barnacles.  I found a 5 inch piece of drift wood with goose barnacles attached for my collection.

We didn’t see any new birds on the trip although I did spot a total of 4 crested caracaras along the way home.  There were plenty of osprey and hawks as well.

What a great trip!

Jellyfish

I’ve been wanting to write about jellyfish so here goes:  I’ve stated before that there are tons of moon jellies washing ashore since the last hurricane.  They’re pretty big, too. 

I took the boys on a 4H field trip last Friday to South Lido Beach near the park.  The instructor was Keith Wilson from the Extension office.  The children (there were 8 of them in this group) were throwing nets in the grasses along the shore.  They were scooping up fish, grasses and moon jellies.  Keith told the kids that moon jellies were ok to touch and showed them how to pick them up.  Of course the boys that did pick them up got slimed but that was fun for them.  Moon jellies are saucer-shaped and clear.  They have a 4-lobed “flower”-like shape in the center.  It can be pink or yellow.  They have short tentacles that look frilly.  We learned that some people can have a reaction to the slime of a moon jelly, some don’t.  Only one of the children had a reaction to the slime.  You can touch the top but if you’re not sure about having a reaction I wouldn’t recommend touching the tentacles.  The jelly I’ve seen that I wouldn’t recommend touching at all is the Sea Nettle.  This one has red radiating stripes.  Jellies prey on zooplankton so there must be a ton of zooplankton by our coast right now for them to come in swarms.

Some jellies are bioluminescent so if you are at the beach at night, maybe star-gazing, check the surf for a pulsing light from the jellies.

Last Thanksgiving, we spent the holiday with my in-laws on the east coast of FL.  They live on Singer Island.  The afternoon we arrived we all took a walk along their beach and saw these purple balloon-like things all around us.  At first we had just thought maybe someone had a party and didn’t clean up after themselves but then realized they were Portuguese Man-o-War.  It was really cool to see them (I had never before seen one in person) but at the same time, since there were so many, it was creepy.  Their tentacles are so long and even though they are beached, they can still sting so we had to be careful walking so not to step on one.  We headed to the public beach just south of their condo for some shelling.  Amazingly there were a lot of people swimming where these Man-o-War jellies were.  Children included.  I guess people either don’t care or they’re just oblivious to the dangers.  According to Florida’s Living Beaches by the Witheringtons, Man-o-War live in the wide-open sea and beach themselves in the winter at the end of their journey.  Beachings are most common December through May (we saw them the end of November).  I shouldn’t call them jellies, although they do look like jellies.  They’re actually colonies of individual polyps, each doing something to help the colony like collecting food, reproducing etc.  They from the class Hydrozoa, phylum Cnidaria.

The tentacles of the Man-o-War can be 6 feet long when beached and up to 150 ft fully extended at sea.  If you get stung, the tentacles stick to you, so don’t rub, just pick/peel it off.  Then treat with meat tenderizer or urine. 

We’re heading, once again, to Singer Island for Thanksgiving so I’ll post an update if we see them again.  Maybe we’ll see another sea critter this time.