Although beaches are generally thought of as a place for summer recreational swimming and general relaxation for humans, they are also a remarkable place to observe the special adaptations of the creatures that are able to live in this strenuous habitat that is alternately wet and dry. During a brief family visit to our winter Florida home I had a chance to observe some of the characteristic fauna of the summer beach.
One of the unusual tracks you will see on the summer beach is the crawl mark of the female loggerhead sea turtle as she comes up to nest. Can you see how she is moving from left to right toward the upper beach? Although many of the nests were destroyed recently by tropical storm Debbie, a large number are still being laid, including several just in front of our townhouse. A few nests are hatching from those laid several months previously and the turtle patrol showed me a few hatchlings that were salvaged from a nest in which only a few hatched. In this case they may save the lives of these few that are unlikely to be able to reach the surface without the combined frenzied digging of their nest mates.
An unusual feature of the beach at this time was a lot of drift algae, primarily sargassum weed. This is likely just a natural consequence of the recent storm. although the abundance of such algae (especially red algae) may also be enhanced by the runoff of nutrients from human activities. Humans may consider this algae a nuisance but the birds appear to use it to search for small critters. In any case it will soon enough dry up and become part of the debris along the upper beach and it poses no health threat as does red tide. There were surprising numbers of shorebirds that presumably bred in the far north and have now returned (sanderlings, black-bellied plovers and turnstones) plus some local residents such as a snowy plover. The degree to which the snowy plover blends into the colors of the beach is remarkable and a prime example of camouflage.
Beach invertebrates may also be well camouflaged. Few will notice the ferocious but tiny tiger beetles with huge jaws for capturing small insects on the dry sand. An equally rapacious flying predator is the marl pennant dragonfly which I have seen only at this beach. It breeds in brackish water pools nearby. In shallow water I found several juvenile swimming crabs which blended in very well with the sand- they may be juvenile speckled crabs but I have not seen them before so light in color.
So double your pleasure and when you go to the beach watch out for the natural wonders while you enjoy the typical beach recreational activities.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA