Archive for February, 2010

Florida Fighting Conchs on Gulf Coast

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

fcvb 001 480

Florida Fighting Conch or Extraterrestrial Alien

Wow!  The Florida fighting conch (Strombus alatus) looks for all the world like a scary predator from an early Roger Corman horror movie or perhaps an alien invader from the 1960s, pre-special effects Outer Limits series.  Note its bizarre sensory tentacles framing its proboscis.

fcvb 007 480

Florida Fighting Conch on Vanderbilt Beach

A small-to-medium sized conch, Strombus alatus measures three-to-four inches long with a beautiful blended color pattern of light tan to deep, almost reddish brown.

Florida Fighting Conch in Surf

Conchs and whelks burrow into the sand of the surf zone and surface for foraging and other activities as the tide recedes.  Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse found this fighting conch on the falling morning tide.

fcvb 009 480

Florida Fighting Conch, Spire Up, Siphon Down

The spire at the top of the Florida fighting conch tends to be lighter colored with knobs along the ridges.

fcvb 005 480

Backside of Florida Fighting Conch

A backside look at shell, spire and knobs. 

fcvb 010 480

 Live Florida Fighting Conch

Fighting conchs earned their reputation with aggressive behavior in response to interference by human collectors and other annoying predators.  Luckily for Turtle Journal, Florida’s winter cold snap has mitigated this reputed fighting spirit. 

fcvb 013 480

Fighting Conchs Rise from Sand on Receding Tide

As the Turtle Journal team strolled Vanderbilt Beach this February, we encountered lots and lots of Florida fighting conchs rising from the beach sand as each tide receded.

Diamondback Terrapins: “Catch of the Day”

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

catch of the day 480

Terrapins as “Catch of the Day”

Perhaps ironic, pehaps not; the “Catch of the Day” tank in the Discovery Center of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida features diamondback terrapins.  Inside the aquarium with three adult terrapins, a few crabs and some local fish is a large crab trap.  You may be aware that vast numbers of diamondback terrapins have been and still are killed each year as by-catch in crab traps all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.  Hungry and curious turtles become attracted by the bait (and the captured crabs), enter the trap and cannot escape.  Unlike crabs, terrapins are air breathers and are drowned by the thousands in residential, commercial and “ghost” traps from Massachusetts to Texas.

tcsf 002 480

Female Terrapin Climbs Crab Trap

The crab trap shown in the Conservancy’s “Catch of the Day” tank is equipped with TEDs (turtle excluder devices) that prevent most terrapins from entering the trap, while allowing crabs to gain easy access.  TEDs prove beneficial for harvesters since they keep aggressive and hungry turtles from eating the trap’s bait first and then consuming the captured crabs for dessert.  The height of the TED opening excludes larger turtles with their thicker girth from gaining access, while allowing crabs to enter with no difficulty.

tcsf 004 480

Female Terrapin and Crab Trap

Because terrapins exhibit significant gender dimorphism with females twice the length and four times the mass of males, TEDs preferentially protect mature, breeding females with their much thicker girth.  Males and juvenile turtles of both genders are more likely to become trapped and drown in crab traps.  Use of traps without TEDs substantially alters the gender ratio within a population.

You will have noted that the Conservancy keeps the water level below the TED-equipped entrances.  Since this trap is not fully submerged as crab traps normally are, even in the unlikely case that a curious turtle climbed the walls and forced its entry, it would not drown.

Terrapins LOVE Calamari

A perfect illustration of why crab harvesters benefit from excluding terrapins from their traps came by accident at the Conservancy while Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse was shooting footage (see above).  Someone placed a squid in the “Catch of the Day” tank for the crabs to feed on, but mistakenly put it within reach of the terrapins.  While not their normal food at the Conservancy, the temptation of fresh calamari was too overwhelming for a terrapin to resist.  Bon appetite!

Lone Male Tortoise Struts Vanderbilt Beach

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

agtvb 022 480

Chilly Vanderbilt Beach Gopher Tortoise: “I am smiling”

Winter 2010 has been a tough season for Florida reptiles and amphibians.  The January cold snap drove thousands of Atlantic and Gulf Coast sea turtles onto the beach, cold-stunned and helpless.  You may recall that the Turtle Journal team found a juvenile loggerhead sea turtle washed up with the high tide on Vanderbilt Beach on February 7th; see Turtle Journal Discovers Loggerhead Sea Turtle on Gulf Coast Beach.  Anoles and other lizards were equally stunned by the January chill and fell from trees like balls of hail onto the nature trails of Southwest Florida. 

 agtvb 005 480

 Vanderbilt Beach Gopher Tortoise Burrow

Unsurprisingly, gopher tortoises remained largely invisible during the Turtle Journal expedition to the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida.  Buried deep into their burrows, dug into some of the priciest turtle property in the world, they didn’t even venture out on the few occasions that temperatures nosed into the low 70s.  Nighttimes in the 40s were sufficient to convince any correct thinking gopher tortoise to choose a comfortable snooze over a wind-swept promenade.

agtvb 015 480

 Male Gopher Tortoise Poses in Front of Stacked Beach Chairs

Yet, there’s always one critter that doesn’t get the word … or thinks that the rules of cold-blooded life simply don’t apply to him.  After all, he’s the top banana, living life large in the shadow of the five-star Ritz Carlton Resort Hotel on Vanderbilt Beach. 

Lone Male Gopher Tortoise Struts His Stuff

Sue Wieber Nourse surprised this male tortoise as he stiff-leggedly strolled from his protected borrow, across the dunes, down to the beach and then back again on a sunny afternoon.  Not a tourist nor another gopher tortoise in sight.

agtvb 008 480

Quick Field Measure of Gopher Tortoise

Even without a high tech field kit, a well prepared researcher is always prepared to do a little science.  Sue gets her sneaker next to the gopher tortoise to obtain an ~ 12 inch straight-line carapace length.

agtvb 012 480

Telltale Male Characteristics of Gopher Tortoise

The plastron shows the male concavity in the rear and annual growth lines on each scute.

agtvb 007 480

Gopher Tortoise Hangs at Opening of Camouflaged Burrow

Having surveyed his empire and established his rightful position as alpha male on the Ritz Carlton beach, the gopher tortoise slid back into his well camouflaged and protected burrow, hanging out at the entrance … in case some equally adventuresome female tortoise had caught a glimpse of his demonstrable pre-eminence.  Hope springs eternal … even in the winter chill of Southwest Florida.

Young Loggerhead at Conservancy of SW Florida

Friday, February 19th, 2010

jlnc 003 480

Juvenile Female Loggerhead

A small juvenile loggerhead sea turtle wows visitors to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples.  This young female was part of a temperature-gender experiment and will be released back into the wild once she attains 18 inches carapace length.  Now she’s enjoying the hospitality of the Conservancy and chowing down to reach her release size as soon as possible.

Juvenile Loggerhead at Conservancy of Southwest Florida

The Turtle Journal team had the fortune to tour the Conservancy during feeding time for this precious critter, and Sue Wieber Nourse captured the moment in the video clip above.

Meet Murray the Moray

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

moray 001 480

Murray the Moray Eel

When the Turtle Journal team visited the Conservancy of Southwest Florida last week, Sue Wieber Nourse met Murray the Moray up close and personal.  Now that she’s back home in the Great White North, Sue presents Murray for everyone to know and to love.

Meet Murray the Moray