More this time on a few of the creatures native to Florida’s east coast, some encountered recently in shallow surf, sand, dune and driveway. I’ve said it often enough, but am always surprised by a chance meeting with critters that live either underwater, under shells, under bushes or in the air, sharing this sometimes paradise with those of us who live under roofs. Let’s start under the bushes…
The eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera) occurs throughout Florida and is known both for its size and its unique coloration. It is incapable of flight and can jump only short distances, mostly quite clumsy and slow in movement, traveling by walking and crawling. The orange, red and yellow coloration is a signal to predators warning them that the lubber is not a tasty mouthful. It contains toxins that can kill a bird and prostrate a small mammal, such as raccoons or possums. And if you are interested in a closer look, better to do it hands off—if picked up the grasshopper emits a furious hiss and releases a foam like discharge which can burn the skin. The specimen above was approximately 2.5 inches long and enjoying the flavor of nearby broad-leafed plants adjacent the drive.
While still small and vulnerable to predators, young hammerhead sharks swim mostly in the safer shallow waters along the coastline. They are usually light gray with a greenish tint. Given time and health, the small hammerhead in the photo above, about two feet in length, might have reached a length of anywhere from three to twenty feet and a weight between 500 and 1000 pounds. Hard to guess the reason for its death. When I came across it the body was perfect and unmarked.
The laughing gull, (Leucophaeus atricilla) is a medium-sized bird of North and South America, and very common to Florida beaches. The name is derived from its raucous kee-agh call, which sounds like a high-pitched laugh “ha…ha…ha….” Normally these gulls stay in groups close to the waterline where they feed in the shallows, splash about and groom themselves. The one in the picture above was sadly in its final hour of life, and for that reason seeking isolation high up in the dunes close to the sea wall. Checking on it a short while later I found it dead.
Most of the time a meeting with turtles on Florida’s east coast means coming across either sea turtle hatchlings or a land turtle scuttling about in the dunes high up above the waterline. While walking at the waterline on Friday, feet in the water as much as out, I came across a turtle that could only have been disoriented, heading straight for the water, misdirected from its natural element. Box turtles (and I think this is an un-ornamented box turtle) are not meant to brave the Atlantic surf. This one—ten inches across—finally got his bearings and turned back for the grassy dunes.