A Morning Stroll Reveals Natural Wonders

February 28, 2018

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson

In an effort to keep fit I often take an early morning 3 mile walk from our yard on Manasota Key down to the Tom Adams bridge and back along the beach. Although this is not intended to be a nature walk, it always pays to keep alert to any interesting sightings no matter where you are.

Over the past few days I have observed some very diverse aspects of nature. In mulch along the walkway I noticed an orange amorphous mass which is the famous dog vomit slime mold. This is a peculiar organism previously thought to be a fungus (https://wimastergardener.org/article/dog-vomit-slime-mold-fuligo-septica/) that creeps along very slowly while maturing and producing reproductive spores. It is a bit like the blob from outer space!

I also saw a strange worm-like creature crossing the sidewalk which is a land flatworm or planarian. These have become introduced, possibly in imported plants or soil, and may be quite widespread. In the soil litter community they may be important as predators on earthworms (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/land_planarians.htm).

An insect which is definitely damaging in some locations is this paper wasp which I found on exotic milkweed flowers in our yard. I have noticed that they systematically search our plants and eat butterfly eggs and caterpillars. Thus they destroy most of our caterpillars and are on my hit list. It is possible to destroy their paper nests, set traps to kill them or simply catch them in a net. Some flowers which are especially attractive to wasps such as sedum could also be removed from your garden.

We have planted a native lantana in our yard which is now quite large and covered with small flowers and fruits. The flowers attract some butterflies and the purplish fruits are being eaten avidly by catbirds which are wintering here. Soon they all will be heading north to breed.

While returning from my walk along the beach I always check the flocks of sea birds resting there. There have been two lesser black backed gulls there recently which are a bit unusual to see in this area. These birds nest in Europe but range widely into N America in winter.

So keep alert to signs of nature wherever your activities take you. There may be some interesting or even rare sightings if you are observant.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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