Collecting pond water may ordinarily be viewed as a relaxing and interesting venture. (Somehow, I hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing in the background, butterflies flittering to and fro, and birds singing sweetly in the trees.) But we are in Florida! Perhaps the soundtrack from Jaws, or maybe a track from an old film where people are running fast (you know the music I’m talking about), would be more appropriate for this story.
There is the perfect spot for collecting our samples just a few minutes from my house, or so I thought! When we arrived at the Scrub Park, we noticed that it was looking a bit over-grown. The musty aroma of moss and decaying leaves filled the air. Now in other places in the country, this would not really be cause for concern. Here it Florida, it might make you pause and question the wisdom of your journey. But we decided to go for it!
In we trudged, carrying our four empty bottles and our ladle. Twigs were crowding the path, and we had to duck to go under the Spanish Moss hanging gracefully from the Live Oak trees. Did I mention that ticks really enjoy Spanish Moss? Anyway, a few minutes into the trail, I heard a quiet scream from behind me, then a calmer, “Oh my gosh, I almost walked face first into that spider web!” Like other things, the spider webs here seems a bit larger than other places….hitting it face first, would be BAD! After catching our breath, we took a little time to take a more scientific approach and tried to identify the specimen. My pictures did not turn out, but I found this one on Photobucket:
This is the Spiny Orb Weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis )….she’s really quite lovely, isn’t she? This species looks quite fierce, especially with the skull and cross-bones on its back, and the blood laden spikes. But the smiley face on the skull, makes her appear more friendly! At any rate, she was only about 6 -7mm long at best, and is totally harmless to humans (as far as I could tell!)
Now back to the story…Since this trail was over grown and appeared to be a really good place to build a web, we decided to take another trail. We headed north through a small clearing and soon came across a more traveled path. We stopped to find big sticks; people often carry big sticks when they go for nature hikes here. I used to wonder why. Heading west toward the pond, we decided it would be wise to keep our eyes scanning the trail to assure, “we see them before they see us!” All of the sudden, a scream and then an announcement, “Run, just run!” I obeyed the wise voice behind me who was running the opposite direction, my heart beating quickly. After about 20 feet or so I stopped to ask why. “There is a huge snake and you just stepped right over it! It was right between us!” OK…..not good! While I can recognize some of the important ones, the Coral Snake, aka “red meets yellow kill a fellow”, and anything with a rattle…I am no snake expert! There, crossing the trail was this beautiful specimen, though it did not seem beautiful at the time:
In retrospect, he is quite lovely! I’m pretty sure he is about as harmless as snakes come, a Yellow Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata). This photo is courtesy of Photobucket.com. Our “friend” was stretched out length-wise and appeared to be about six feet long. My camera was safely in my pocket at the time! It seemed like it took an eternity for him to inch his way across our path; we waited patiently while he did so! Then decided to consider “Location B” for our pond water sample. After all, our small stick would be no match for what lives in most fresh water ponds in central Florida, and the way this trip was going so far, we were sure to encounter something larger ahead!
We walked rapidly back to the car to consider our options. Located near the car, we found the perfect spot….a peaceful pond, with frogs jumping, and minnows and tadpoles swimming:
We collected our water samples, snapped a few pictures and headed back home to prepare our specimen jars.
To be continued……..
(Watch for the next post with pictures of Experiment 2.2 and microscopic images.)