The Place That Few People Know- S Venice Lemon Bay Preserve

Some areas with great natural beauty and lots of wildlife are rarely visited because they are in an out of the way location. This is certainly true of South Venice (FL) Lemon Bay Preserve (SVLBP). It is on the mainland just across the ICW from Manasota Key ( ). There are several entrances but my favorite is off Kenisco Rd.

One of the intriguing aspects of coastal ecology is the question about why mangroves dominate most of our tidal areas whereas salt marsh grasses are dominant further north. The banks of many tidal creeks at SVLBP when restoration started were formerly covered in salt grass (Spartina) but are changing gradually into mangroves. The photo shows young mangroves popping up and replacing the grass. This is believed to be due to the lack of disturbance by fire; up north the disturbances favoring grasses over trees are freezing temperatures and ice.

In early morning an astonishing sight is the hundreds of spider webs, primarily those of the “bowl and doily” spider. The female hangs under the bottom of the bowl and bites prey through the web. The design of this web seems to allow a tiny spider to kill fairly large prey with minimal danger. It is truly amazing how common some spiders are when the webs are made visible.

Some highly beneficial insects in our area are the dragonflies, which feed on mosquitoes and other flying insects. One of the more common is the eastern pondhawk. The male is a bluish color whereas the female has a greenish thorax and banded abdomen. Such a difference between the sexes indicates some relatively complex reproductive behaviors in such a primitive insect. The female is likely choosing a male to mate with based on its color and behavior.

There has been an eagle nest at SVLBP for some years but it has occasionally been subject to attacks by great horned owls. The owls come in at night and drive the eagles away and attempt to take over the nest. But I have seen the eagles return by day and drive away the owls. This is a strange interaction since the eagles are powerful enough to kill the owls but rarely do so once the owls leave the nest. In good years juvenile eagles are fledged and this photo shows a brownish juvenile who will be about four years growing into its iconic adult plumage with a white head and tail.

Let us applaud the foresight of Sarasota Count for purchasing natural areas for preservation that do not attract hordes of human visitors. This preserve was originally conceived of primarily as a refuge for scrub jays, but now seems far more valuable as prime coastal habitat which is rapidly disappearing as development accelerates. These are the future homes for our native critters when the rest of the state is developed.

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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