Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Panhandle Fauna. Bugs, Mostly

At first I noticed the butterflies. Monarchs, which are hard to miss, flitting around the astounding variety of flowers at Cerulean Park – see yesterday's description of the flora. I must have walked past dozens of monarch butterflies, and then began to notice the less-brightly colored butterflies, which were numerous as well, and the yet smaller but equally numerous other bugs darting around.

Occasionally, I'd see bees almost as long as my thumb, glistening black with dashes of yellow. Up north, we have more compact bees. Even in Texas, I never remember seeing bees of this size, curling wicked stingers in reserve, but most occupied with pillaging the flowers. Africanized killer bees? If I were going to design an Africanized killer bee, these bees would fit the part. Or maybe they're just friendly ol' Panhandle bees who've been making tupelo honey since the time when the Creek lived here.

Mainly, however, I encountered smaller insects in the panhandle. Mosquitoes, of course. Rising out of the wet Florida biomass to dine on warm blood, they were active enough to target me a number of times, which says something, since I'm normally only moderately interesting to mosquitoes (they like Yuriko better, it seems). Then there were the biting black flies -- October is the season, I heard. One of the other fellows on the press trip went for a swim around around sunset and said he met the black flies in some number.

"Love bugs" (Plecia nearctica) were a different matter all together. Though native to the Texas Gulf coast as well, I'd never heard of these black, innocuous-looking bugs. Early October seemed to be their season, too, and while they don't bite, they swarm. In premodern times, they probably went completely unnoticed, but in our time, they're numerous along the roads of the Gulf coast, and die in large numbers on car front bumpers and windshields. I can attest to this, from seeing front bumpers and windshields on this trip. There they were: more bug splatter than I'd seen since we drove through rural South Dakota in high summer. I was told it's good to wash them off your car frequently, not only for aesthetics, but also because they're slightly acidic.

Up the coast, some miles east of the Apalachicola River estuary, we walked on a boardwalk near the ocean, though the intermediate lands between the pine forest and the dunes. Such land holds a wealth of creatures, and it was there that I saw most of the trip's larger animals, including lizards, pelicans, sand pipers, egrets and a lone bald eagle, partly hiding in a tall tree. I've probably seen more eagles in Florida than any other state, which only means I need to get out west more.

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