Florida: Day seven (Return to Barefoot Beach)

Day seven: Return to Barefoot Beach and shell identification (28/02/19).

Temperature: 40°c.

Location: Barefoot Beach Reserve, Fort Myers FL.

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Gopher tortoise feeding.
  • Brown anole locomotive behaviour (running).
  • Brown anole resting behaviour (perching upon a rock).

The sun was gleaming down on what was set to be the hottest day we had encountered throughout the duration of the Florida trip.

I was still suffering the (often confusing) effects of jet lag gained from both a combination of travelling and a significant different in time zones between The US and The UK. (Five hours!) Fortunately for me, this meant I was awake and ready, prepared to watch the morning sunrise whilst sitting comfortably in the presence of a blue heron (Ardea herodias) a known visual hunter who then proceeded to loudly vocalise before rapidly fleeing the area.

Figure 75: Early morning sunrise viewed during our final day in Florida. 

We began driving to Barefoot Beach at 9:45am, excited to reunite with Jimmy to gain a deeper understanding about various shells, following Jimmy’s strong and most upmost passion – Beach-combing.

Beach combing is an activity that consists of an individual combing on the beach and on the intertidal zone, looking for things of value, interest or utility. 

Beach combing made an appearance in Herman Melville’s novel – Omoo, (translated as wanderer) which was published in 1947. A tale about enchanting adventures partaken in the Southern Seas.

Throughout the years, Jimmy had taken up the hobby and had soon become mesmerised by his unique and fascinating findings as he trailed the beach during various points of the day. Although, he joyously announced that he had a preference for early morning, when the beach was quiet and there seemed to be a greater amount of shells and other items for him to keenly collect.

Sea beans, originating from The Caribbean and South America, stand as one of Jimmy’s preferred species to collect amongst the beach. And the Ecuadorian current has started to bring them near the Gulf Of Mexico.

Sea beans are often referred to as drift seeds and can be defined as seeds and fruits that are carried to the ocean by freshwater streams and rivers to then drift within the ocean.

There are also sea hearts which come from the monkey ladder vine that grows in The Amazon Rainforest alongside the Columbus bean, also originating from The Amazon. Sea glass is also an incredible species, known as mermaids tears, which are small fragments of glass that have been washed up, giving them a frostier appearance.

The best known time for beach combing is during times with a low tide and a new moon, or following a storm.

Some species are known to become caught up in wrack lines, meaning they act like a natural packing material. The species are rare and valuable and are often used as currency, or Wompum (The Native term for money).

  • Shells

Shells are the protective outer case of a mollusc or crustacean, made up of calcium carbonate.

Throughout the Floridian state, there are 5 major groups of mollusc which date back to as far as 600 million years ago. And, additionally, there have been over 150,000 mollusc species documented, since they stand in second place (next to invertebrates) in terms of population number.

Historically, tools were a rarity and shells would be used instead. Typically amongst smokers when ash trays were not available during the time.

  • Oysters

Oysters are known filter feeders, filtering up to 60 gallons of water per day which assists them in filtering out toxins. They are also bivalves, therefore considered to have a close relationship with scallops, clams and mussels, and are commonly found living in salty waters.

Oysters (such as cone shells) can issue a range of medical functions and are typically found above the tide line, where the water is constantly monitored for contaminants.

  • Gastropoda

Also referred to as the “stomachs foot”, they are composed of one, single shell alongside a hard material named the muscular foot, which is used to assist the species in handling and catching prey.

The species in Florida are all carnivores, with the exception of one species called the Floridian fighting conch (Strombus alatus). Moreover, the Floridian horse conch (Triplofusus giganteus) can grow up to 2 feet in length and can have a life expectancy of up to 25 years, depending on environmental conditions.

Both conch species have the ability to secrete protein and calcium carbonate.

  • Bivalves

Bivalves have 2 shells, which closely resemble a heart. This species are typically what sailors opt to bring back to their loved ones following a lengthy period out at sea.

Bivalves are filter feeders (also referred to as deposit feeders) who feed on small crustaceans and microorganisms found buried deep within the substrate.  Bivalves start off egg-casing.

  • Cephalopods

Cephalopods consist of octopus, squid and cuttlefish. The rams horn shell is derived from the inside of a squid, which helps the species to maintain neutral buoyancy in the water.

We then collected our own assortment of shells from the beach, compromised of coral fragments, cat paw shells and impressively large conchs.

Figure 76: Gastropod shell located during a beach combing activity carried out by Jimmy Trulock at the Barefoot Beach Reserve. 

Figure 77: Items collected during a beach combing activity carried out by Jimmy Trulock at the Barefoot Beach Reserve. 

Figure 78: Unique shell closely resembling a hamburger found during a beach combing activity carried out by Jimmy at the Barefoot Beach Reserve. 

Figure 79: A series of labelled shark teeth located on Barefoot Beach during a beach combing activity carried out by Jimmy Trulock. Each specimen comes from a variety of different shark species, ranging in size from smaller species to larger species.

Figure 80: A species of coral located on Barefoot Beach. Corals play an important role in the overall maintenance of marine ecosystems and can appear as hard or soft corals. Soft corals are determined by a protein strand they have with polyps embedded inside.

We then made our way to the beach for the duration of one hour, where we proceeded to scan our open surroundings for unique shells which we had the pleasure of identifying. Successfully, we collected a wide range of items, including corals, shells that resembled cat paws and horn shells.

Whenever we met Jimmy, I became increasingly more enkindled upon hearing stories about his passions and the facts he delivered about species and their fascinating histories.

For further information on Beach combing, please visit the following resource:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Guide-to-Beach-Combing/

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