Bitten and blistered

When we arrived in the Florida Keys we didn’t expect to find such a rich variety of habitats as hammock, sandy dune, beach, ocean, tide pool, wrack and seagrass. The seagrass seemed to harbour the most diverse collection of creatures, though there were also plenty of sand dwellers, human and arthropod alike. For the first time this summer we were able to do some marine collecting, which was very productive and offered many new annelids, gastropods, crustaceans and molluscs.

Orb weaver in Bahia Honda State Park

After a few days of hard work in the sunshine of Bahia Honda State Park, we were all reluctant to move on, but came away with many unique specimens as well as souvenir sunburns.
Then it was off to Collier-Seminole State Park, a massive tract of land initially owned by 1920s millionaire Baron Collier, located within Collier county in Florida’s southwest. On the road we encountered our first eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus under unfortunate circumstances, as it had been struck and mortally wounded by a passing vehicle. Rattlers often sun themselves on highways, not wary of the inherent dangers, and this situation was reminiscent of similar issues involving Massassauga rattlesnakes back home in southern Ontario.
The mosquitoes at Collier were not in short supply, so we collected much of their DNA and they responded harshly in kind. Our light sheets attracted much in the way of water scavenger beetles (Hydrochara soror), winged ants and a plethora of false blister beetles (Oxacis spp.), which wasted no time in demonstrating just what kind of havoc their endogenous blistering agent can wreak. Jeff was particularly hard hit by the blister beetles, sustaining several painful pustules in locations that have made it necessary for him to adopt the display posture of an anhinga.

Anhinga in the Jeff Webb posture

The nature trails at Collier-Seminole are as beautiful as they are lengthy, and were rewarding in terms of wasps, bees and ants (Hymenopterans) and flies (Dipterans). Some horseflies (Tabanidae) we encountered were nearly large enough to hide an entire thumb.
Chris and I were even able to take a canoe out into the mangroves, and there we found numerous small shrimp species and even some mangrove crabs. Collier-Seminole was so full of biological diversity, our campsite was also host to some vertebrates we became quite fond of, including a few nine-banded armadillos (who are never subtle when scuttling around in the underbrush), day and house geckos, tree frogs, pileated woodpeckers and the resident white ibises.
On our last day at Collier-Seminole we also had to say goodbye to the moquitoes, horseflies and deerflies, who tried their very best to join us as we continued northward to Myakka River State Park.

– Chad

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