Tarpon Gulper Sighted in Lemon Lake

February 8, 2016

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson


It is now well known that some areas of Lemon Creek within Wildflower Preserve, Charlotte County, FL (owned by the Lemon Bay Conservancy) are filled with juvenile tarpon that thrive in its lowest oxygen waters which provide significant protection from predatory fish such as snappers, snook and jacks. There are however other predators such as otters and diving birds which are not deterred by the toxic creek waters. While watching from the lower boardwalk in Lemon Lake (fed by the tidal Lemon Creek but inside Amberjack Preserve) I noticed that an anhinga had caught a young tarpon about eight inches long and manipulated and then swallowed it. My photo shows the final process with the tarpon’s tail just protruding from the anhinga’s mouth.

This illustrates that in a healthy ecosystem, natural predation can impact species of special interest such as tarpon. While some would advocate killing or removing such predators, other would advise that this is part of the natural evolutionary process. Lemon Lake has not yet been studied as tarpon habitat and it would useful to initiate some fish surveys in this lake that undergoes large fluctuation in depth from dry to full when heavy rains fall and add to the tidal waters that enter via Lemon Creek. Bird predation on fish in Lemon Lake is a major feature that periodically draws wonderful flocks of aquatic birds, especially during dry-downs, so more information on the dynamics of this process would be helpful in managing the Lemon Creek ecosystem.

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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