Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Orange Lake Island Hopping

Well, I did indeed go to Redbird Island today, and beyond. The canoe route took me along the edge of the marsh east to Redbird Island, then south to McCormick Island, then west to Bird Island, then north, passing by Hixson Island on the way home. I paddled a total of 5.7 miles on glass-flat water under an unremitting sun. Thank goodness for the shade of cumulus clouds, although I should be careful what I wish for. I photographed the headliner white water lily (Nymphaea odorata) today.

There is so much biomass in Orange Lake, primarily in the form of submerged aquatic plants. Yesterday I mentioned hydrilla, and it is indeed dominant, but there is also milfoil, elodea and bladderwort. The latter was blooming today, small yellow flowers, not many of them. This pic gives you an idea of the density of the submerged plants occupying most of the lake:

Such vegetation adds drag to the canoe, making paddling harder but admittedly only by a few percent. To that, however, add the friction from the water lilies and lotus that often must be plowed thru, and paddling gets a little strenuous at times. The yellow water lilies, or bonnet (Nuphar advena), are the worst. Bonnet’s above-water surfaces are turgid and rubbery, making its dense leaves “grab” the canoe’s smooth fiberglass hull.

Another important biomass component is the wide band of floating plants that grow out over the water from the marsh edge. Frog’s-bit and split leaf pennywort form a thin edge at the outer boundary of the mat:

This floral fringe can be up to 150 ft wide altho is usually more like 50 ft. As I paddle along its edge, I imagine submerged alligators lurking under the floating mat waiting to rush out and attack unsuspecting prey as it comes swimming or floating by. I watch the water.

Floating islands and floating chunks of peat are everywhere in the “shallows.” This lake is famous for its floating islands. My first stop at Redbird Island was at a floating peat island only about 20 ft by 30 ft in size. It supported a few coastal plain willows, shrubby, brittle little trees that contained the remains of about a dozen foot-wide stick nests:

Redbird Island is hardly a real island, being a floating marsh with several small to medium-sized floating peat islands embedded peripherally. I do not know how all this floating vegetation and peat is anchored, whether there is solid ground in there or it is just a hill of peat all the way down. Ditto Bird Island.

McCormick Island has a wide band of floating marsh ringing it on the north and west sides where I paddled. Fortunately, I found a place where the band narrowed and I was able to hop off onto a grounded peat island-cum-peninsula. I threaded my way thru thick stems of dogfennel and willow, and then a band of blackberry, to reach the island proper. Breaking thru the brush barrier and into the open shaded cypress forest was a relief.

I got a good first cursory look today at the three islands, and would like to return at least to McCormick Island for a more thorough exploration.

Anybody have any idea what kind of sampling device this is? I spotted two of them along the way. Of course, I did not mess with them:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This weekend's adventures, so far

Yesterday Sleazeweasel, Brack and I went on a mission of biodiversity in an outright act of guerrilla activism, but I can’t tell you about it because Sleaze swore us to secrecy. I can tell you, tho, that it was a highly moral and legal act. I can also say that we must have looked odd dressed in camo and wearing knapsacks as we rode our mountain bikes through a Friday afternoon throng of brightly colored joggers and spandex bicyclists. A few wild men grinned as we rode by, probably thinking we were marijuana growers.

Soon we reached the end of the trail, stashed our bicycles behind a clump of cabbage palms and headed off trail into the woods. Right away we ran into a thick undergrowth of yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). This shrub has a long Native American history as making a caffeinated drink and has bright red fruits that winter birds feed heavily on, but to the walker it is a thicket-maker. Twigs and berries and bugs down the back of the neck, spider webs… Oh, did I mention that I forgot to apply mosquito repellant? Anyway, we accomplished our mission and had an aerobic 13+ mile bike and hike trip.

This morning I set off solo in a 13ft canoe out into Orange Lake. I like to hug the shoreline when canoeing big water, so I paddled easterly along the edge of the marsh, only a little south of where I usually walk to the spoil islands. I have to push through the water lilies ahead and to the left:

Along other stretches of this route the water is more open, and I suspect alligators and/or boaters might have something to do with it:

Hydrilla verticillata nearly fills the water column almost everywhere I went in the lake today. Hydrilla is even underneath the extensive stands of American lotus and yellow water lily. You can be sure the hydrilla sucks a lot of oxygen out of the water at night. Floating mats of marsh vegetation center on every higher substrate and grow outward over the water, especially from the lake margin, shading and deoxygenating the waters beneath. I saw only small fish like mosquitofish and bluegill, and only one turtle. I hope their absence was just a hot summer afternoon thing.

As I was drift-paddling along the shoreline I spied a family of pied-billed grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) up ahead foraging around and on a floating clump of pickerelweed. They saw me coming but didn’t appear too awfully frightened, so I took out my new camera and put away the paddle and let the wind push me slowly toward them. They were in an alert attitude as I initially approached, but seemed to get used to me as my canoe slowly drifted past them. It was a family of two adults and three young:

The wind picked up and pushed the boat even more rapidly toward the birds, and I thought for sure they would flush, but no, they just moved nimbly out of the craft’s way, inches away. Here’s the last one hurrying to catch up as I finally passed them all:

Returning to port I opted to steer through relatively “open” water and paddle directly against the wind for another good aerobic workout. The exercise did wonders for the knots around my right clavicle.

Maybe I’ll paddle out to Redbird Island tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dusty Bust

So Monday morning I get a phone call from Sleazeweasel about a several hundred-acre property being subdivided and sold within the Archer Karst area that I have enjoyed exploring and caving for lo these past 3+ decades. Oh, dear, what change is being wrought? It wasn’t exactly a boyhood haunt being butchered, but there are some fine karst features in that region, like caves with Pleistocene fossils, near-champion redbay trees and dozens of small caves important to local wildlife based on spoor.

At the entrance to a Pleistocene fossil-containing cave that Don M and I mapped some time back, we saw today an even more ancient fossil at the cave entrance. It was a bit of exoskeleton of a crab that died and became limestone 30, 40, 60 million years ago, I don’t know. Occasionally we find fossilized crab exoskeletons in Florida caves. When first entered, one cave had a claw arm extending from the limestone wall that was so well preserved that the arm looked like it could articulate at the “elbow.” Of course, we didn’t try that for fear of destroying the claw.

I wish I had a pic of that awesome claw, but here’s a different, non-articulating crab sticking out of a cave wall, photographed by Brian Williams, that will give you some idea:

Five of us guys drove to the site and found a sign advertising lots for sale, so with that warm invitation we just drove right on in, parked and wandered for awhile. This property had long been heavily grazed, and lately had been planted largely in pine, so was uninteresting ecologically. Limestone outcrops, the fount of our ferneries, were totally absent. With a couple of unnotable exceptions, sinkholes were shallowly bowl-shaped, being relatively inactive in recent times, and without rock outcroppings. Altogether, it was boring, not a promising area for finding interesting flora or fauna, or karst features.

We wanted to see the rest of the property regardless, so we hopped into my truck and drove around in leisure rather than pretend to enjoy the sweaty walk in the muggy summer late afternoon. Who wouldn’t rather goof off in the back of a pickup, riding down every sand road out there, looking for patches of old forest and active sinkholes with rock gardens that just aren’t out there, and telling stories along the way?

Remember when you could do that almost anywhere?

We half-expected having to explain our presence to onsite residents by pretending to be potential buyers. We worried a bit about that approach, though, ‘cuz we were dressed in camo, carrying gps units and macro lens cameras, navigating via Google Earth printouts with important waypoints superimposed in red, and driving around in a 4wd pickup looking for all the world like a platoon of guerillas without guns. Thank goodness we didn’t have guns! Uh, we didn’t have any guns, did we?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Santos Mtn Bike Trails

Santos Bike Trails are some of the best mountain bike trails in Florida, or so they say. Whatever, I like ‘em. I pedaled 11.9 miles there today in about 3:45hrs, pretty slow overall, but I had a mission: I wanted to use the GPS to track the outside trails and take waypoints at all intersections so I could locate the trails later on a Google Earth image that can be copied and taken along on the next trip. Collecting 30 waypoints definitely slowed me down, but rest assured that otherwise I boogied. I mean, what is singletrack for?

The last time I biked Santos, it was without maps and I was never sure where I was. It isn’t a big deal, but I’d rather know where I’m at. Knowing my name just isn’t enough.

The trails run through a forest that is at an early stage of plant succession dominated by fast-growing and mostly short-lived trees, incl laurel oak, water oak, live oak, loblolly pine, black cherry and sweetgum. Only a few pignut hickories and magnolias were spotted, which are longer lived species considered climax forest dominants. There were probably other eventual climax dominants present, but I was, you will remember, boogieing, and must have missed them. The woods had abundant mushrooms, the commonest of which was this orange beauty, Cantharellus ciberius, the Golden Chanterelle:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tico Medical Tourism

I traveled last week to Costa Rice for what they call medical tourism. It all started out as a way to avoid the usurious fees of my local dentist to replace a cracked molar with a dental implant. I had been chewing on the other side of my mouth for over a year as I stubbornly refused to pay her $5000+ for an implant. Finally, Sleazeweasel told me about the cost and quality of medical procedures in Costa Rica, and I’m here to report that the trip saved me thousands of dollars and was done to US standards.

It turned out that a same-day implant was not feasible due to infection present, so the Tico dentist steered me toward a bridge instead. The latter was actually cheaper than the implant would have been. It is settling in nicely and I believe it will work fine after the soreness is gone.

Prices were so cheap that I had several other routine procedures performed while there. An electrocardiogram (EKG) cost $800 in Florida and $70 in Costa Rica. A colonoscopy cost $800 in Florida but only $350 in Costa Rica. A preventive rabies vaccination shot cost $250+ in Florida yet only $20 in Costa Rica. True, I had to have several prophylactic immunizations before going to that tropical, third world country, plus pay for air fare, lodging and food, but overall I saved approximately 60 percent of what the costs would have been here in Florida. I am sold on medical tourism, and don’t even care that my local docs are fuming at me over income lost.

Now imagine how much lower medical tourism costs will be when Cuba opens up! Hey Obama! Are you interested in out-of-the-box medical and insurance cost reductions? Then how about opening Cuba up to medical tourism?

I did a fair amount of due diligence prior to making the Costa Rican appointments. Tico doctors are aware of American reluctance to take chances with their bodies in the hands of foreign health professionals, so they take great pains to reveal on their websites such things as the names and alma maters of their doctors, the awards given to their hospitals, and so forth. Just search the Internet for “costa rica medical tourism” to see for yourself. I will definitely return for future medical work as needed, and heartily recommend medical tourism to anyone as disgusted as I am with US medical costs.

Incidentally, Tico dentists will rearrange their schedules for the convenience of your flight plans, you can literally walk into the clinics and get almost immediate attention for routine procedures such as mine, drug prescriptions are incredibly cheap and very quickly filled, most of the doctors and clinic administrators speak excellent English, and my clinic (Clinica Biblica) has a staff of English-speakers who ushered me around to make sure my poor Spanish language skills didn’t get me lost.

The attitude of Costa Rican health professionals is absolutely delightful! I never once encountered a doctor with an attitude problem, and you know what I mean. Often, when they had a few minutes to spare, they would come out in the lobby and sit down to answer any follow-on questions I might have had, or just to shoot the breeze with me. How laid-back is that?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I have spent most of the last several days preparing for a “medical tourist” trip to Costa Rica. The costs to me for various dental and routine tests will be great enough that I will save >60% by having the work done there rather than in Florida. That percentage includes air fare, lodging, food and taxi fare. The med work should be completed by the 4th day, so I’m planning to take a few more days after that and spend it in the Monteverde Reserve area.

But today I had to take a break, so took my mountain bike on a road loop to the SW of McIntosh:

It’s a tough route through those hills, wimp wimp, but they are getting easier with each passage, which is just what my quads need. The total trip was about 18.5 miles (29.8 km). I have a friend in Gainesville who road-bikes 20 miles (32.2 km) in town every morning before breakfast, and I tell myself she doesn’t have my hills to contend with. But Gainesville does have hills.

I saw a fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) off CR320 in the middle of horse pastures and remnant mixed forested wetlands. The fox squirrel is believed to require mature pines for their seed forage in addition to oaks for fall mast. This area, however, has very few pines in the wetlands and only a rare pine in the uplands. Pines are present in the mixed forest about 0.42 mile (0.68 km) to the west, but that forest’s canopy is much denser and ground cover consequently much sparser than their preferred habitat of open pine-oak sandhills. I suppose it could be a juvenile wandering around looking for an available territory.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Why I love wildlife

A couple of nice things happened today first thing. A sandhill crane walked right up to me and we exchanged contact calls, and one of the prettiest water moccasins I ever saw showed itself to me but didn’t bite me.

As usual, I popped out the front door to greet the morning and bounded down the stair, but had to stop abruptly or trip over the crane. This is the bird foraging in my yard nearly every morning early, the one I photographed and blogged about recently. It did not startle or back off. Heh, it just waited patiently for me to catch my balance, and then looked up at me with its big red eyes and, well, didn’t exactly “beg” for a treat as baby birds do, but still managed to eke out a teensy wheedle by cocking its head and slightly gaping its beak. Maybe it even held its breath, I don’t know. ;-)

I almost laughed out loud I was so delighted, but instead I did my “contented, here-I-am” call. This consists of a deep-seated hum that starts out low and increases in pitch up to the end. It lasts only two seconds or so, and is the closest thing to a leonine “purr” that I can muster. Anyway, cats love it, and so do dogs. It is one way I try to convey to them that I am a friendly. Evidently, sandhill cranes like it too, as this one responded, very softly, with what I interpret as “contact calls:”

I always took it for granted when cats and dogs responded positively when I purred at them, but learning that a large, wild animal will also do this is stunning. That’s what you get when you don’t kill big animals.

I think the crane wanted me to feed it. I bet someone else around here does, maybe even hand-feeds it. Years ago I saw dried corn offered from a child and her grandma’s outstretched hands to a family of cranes. I won’t feed it though, because of all the bad things that can happen when humans feed large wildlife in their yards, especially from their hands.

After the crane moved on I went over to tend the vegetable garden. A voracious species of insect was ravaging my beans and solanaceans - tomato, pepper, potato and angel trumpet. I picked about a pint of ‘em by brushing them off into a cup of hot soapy water where they drowned. As I was kneeling in shorts, bare-legged amongst the leafery, a fawny reddish cottonmouth suddenly moved deliberately out from a clump of sweet potato leaves beside my knee and headed straight toward the adjacent frog pond. Remember the lesson from “Stalking the Plumed Serpent?”

I didn’t have my brand new 12x macro lens camera with me on either encounter, but I did get to use it to photograph the garden insect pest:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Birthday Paddling, Sloshing and Caving

On my birthday yesterday a few mates and I decided to visit some limestone outcroppings along the Waccasassa River in north Florida that Brack had found during his paddle-for-pay excursions. The Waccasassa is one of my very favorite rivers due to its small and intimate size, variety of tributaries, small springs, wilderness character and wonderful absence of humans. Except us, of course:

Brack took us first up a trib known for its relict bald cypress trees, Taxodium distichum. It is not unusual to find an occasional hollow, 2-meter diameter ancient giant in Florida’s mature floodplains, but this little trib has a half-dozen or so close to our landing where we could wander around to admire them all. Their hollowness is what saved them from the logger’s saw a hundred years ago; they may be five or more centuries in age. Bats and rat snakes hide in them by day, but none were seen in the two that we entered and explored:

At this stop we found a marvelous caterpillar, neon green with bright orange spines. Does it look poisonous? It does to me! It was about 5 inches (13 cm) in length. The Discover Life website has a quick picture key leading me to the hickory horned devil, Citheronia regalis, which grows up into the regal moth.

Wikipedia states that it is the largest caterpillar, moth pupa and moth (in mass) north of Mexico. In Florida, these caterpillars prefer hickories, of which the Waccasassa floodplain has one species in wet areas (water hickory, Carya aquatica) and another (C. glabra) on low rises in the floodplain. Wiki also states they will eat sweetgum and persimmon leaves, both of which are abundant in this floodplain:

Our second stop was beside the karst outcrops that Brack had promised. Covered with ferns and greenbriar, the rock stands above saturated and flooded ground to open laterally or down into about a half-dozen small caves. Like the Withlacoochee riverside caves I wrote about a few weeks ago, the Waccasassa River caves are forming at the water table with occasional high-erosion events associated with river floods. These caves also flood to the ceiling, have no calcite formations, are low and wide but smaller, and generally have multiple entrances. Appx a quarter-mile (third-kilometer) away is another karst feature, a karst pavement.

Afterwards we rinsed off at Harry Beck County Park in a spring run, then retired to Sleazeweasel’s place for stir-fried catfish and veggies. Below are a few pics of the place.

Our next adventure out there promises to be an epic. Sleaze and Brack are talking about a circum-navigational route up the Waccasassa from Williams boat ramp, crossing westerly over to Otter Creek via Hickory Horned Devil Creek, paddle back downstream to Williams boat ramp via Otter Creek, and finally back upstream the Waccasassa to the boat ramp. One of our members thinks we will lose a man or two in the depths of Otter Creek Swamp, but it’s a price he’s willing for someone else to pay for the glory of it all, so I’m going to go along to help keep that from happening.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

NSS / ICS 2009 Convention

After chairing the 2008 convention of the National Speleological Society, it was with great relief that I was able to attend the 2009 convention in Texas to just relax and enjoy. There were no fewer than 24 (!) scholarly symposiums; attendees typically had three or four choices of papers to hear at any given time.

I was pleased to hear that Jason Gulley, a member of my local caving club, won the Best of Show AND a Third Place ribbon in the Photo Salon. Last year another of our club’s members, Sean Roberts, also won the Best of Show.

Now down to nature…

I had long ago concluded that sediments in caves are not true soils. Soils have predictable structures and features, whereas cave sediments are less organized, like wetland sediments. Sediments wash over cave floors as they do in floodplain wetlands, and because frequent flooding or saturation keeps many of these sediments anaerobic, soil formation is inhibited. Therefore, when I saw the paper entitled “Speleosol: a subterranean soil” on the program, I just had to see it. The presenter also maintained that cave floor sediments are not true soils, but he was way ahead of me when he demonstrated that a similar formation existed on the walls of caves, sometimes on ceilings! If my memory is correct, the outer layer is a zone of accumulation, of wind- and water-borne fine sediments, microbiota, spores and pollen, even clothing lint. Below that is a layer of leaching, where the original parent rock is slowly dissolving away, its water and dissolved substances being drawn into the parent rock by capillary action. The third layer is a zone of deposition where ions, metals and other molecules are precipitated and rock density rises. The fourth layer is the parent bedrock. This wall layering of deposition, leaching, precipitation and parent material is pretty close to that of the epigean soil under your feet at a local national park. How out-of-the-box is that!

Then there was a paper on “ghost rocks.” Have you ever seen a road cut through limestone that had funny looking, upside down triangular discolorations, but still exhibiting the stratigraphy on both sides within the host rock? At first you think it is infill where the limestone has dissolved away, but you notice it maintains evidence of the surrounding layers of rock, although they seem to sag a little. I have before just ignored the stratigraphic evidence and simply called it infilling, but no, it turns out this is not the case. Instead, the limestone, which is calcium carbonate (CaCO3), has been dissolved by groundwaters and what remains are insoluble clay, sand and chert sediments that were laid down with or formed within the limestone. Caving around ghost rocks gives new meaning to caving in flatrock country.

Southeast North America has long been considered lacking in aboriginal cave art. The works done over recent decades and updated at the convention, however, have steadily documented an ever-increasing list of primitive art that proves Native American rock/cave art was as widespread as anywhere in North America. There was also a spirited discussion about whether to use mechanical means like sandblasting to remove recent spray paint from cave walls, with the issue being whether cavers can recognize and avoid destroying significant cave wall writings and etchings that might underlie the recent graffiti. I propose that any spray paint, even that which is >50 years old, be excluded from antiquities protections, and I propose that only graffiti approved by archaeological specialists be removed from cave walls.

I learned that it takes appx 10 gallons of boiling water to kill off an imported fire ant nest although the literature says only 1 – 3 gallons. There is documentation that fire ants are invading caves and predating on cave critters, many of which are rare or even imperiled. They forage in the caves at night and thus may not be noticed by cavers who cave mostly in daytime. Even aquatic trogs can suffer if ants destroy insects like Ceuthophilus crickets that feed outside caves at night and then return to the cave and deposit food (feces, eggs, shed skins) for cave aquatics to consume. I resolve to look for this impact in my local caving area.

I got introduced to the USFWS San Marcos Hatchery on a day trip. Once a fish rearing facility, it is now operated as an imperiled species live bank. The endemic Texas wild rice, Zizania texana, is imperiled by historical riparian water quantity decreases and other factors. A colony is maintained to provide for germplasm and seed and nursery stock. Ditto several cave-adapted invertebrate species that inhabit the Edwards Aquifer and are threatened by over-pumping. It may be timely to create a similar live bank of Florida’s cave crayfishes. There are more species of troglobitic crayfishes in Florida than any comparably sized place in the world, and groundwater pollution from overpopulation has become so glaring that the US EPA recently has embarrassed the state by taking over previously-delegated regulation under the Clean Water Act.

I saw my first Ramen Noodle wrestling event at the convention. I can die now. Portends of things to come was the sudden interruption of the evening gettogether by loud drumbeat music accompanying a dozen scantily clad young men and women jogging in time through the crowd in a sinuous single file, like a purposeful snake. Oh, the images… Now, guys are bigger than femmes, right? So one on one isn’t fair, right? Well, how about five or six merciless vixens against one or two skinny boys afraid to grab above the belt? The referee was a sight in his own right, too, having a vivid tie-dyed top draped over his shoulders and an eagle eye for holds barred, and he danced like a butterfly around the fighters.

The banquets were enjoyed with friends from over the years. Here are some of them, all being Gainesville cavers at some time in their lives: