Eating in the Everglades (Video Blog)
After five days packed with functional morphology, disease ecology and comparative biomechanics at the SICB conference in West Palm Beach (check out "I Spent My Vacation to Florida in a Dark Windowless Room, and it was Awesome!"), my parents met up with me and we headed down to one of the ecosystems I have most wanted to see, the Everglades.
Our meals consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat, crab cakes for my dad's birthday (happy birthday Dad!), and southern Florida specialties like fried-green-tomato-lettuce-and-bacon sandwiches and catfish-and-grits. The wildlife's culinary habits were also quite imaginative!
I hope you enjoy these short videos of lunchtime in the Everglades.
Fiddler crabs emerge from their holes to nab invisible delicacies from the mangrove mud. These little detritivores help convert mounds of fallen mangrove leaves into protein for the rest of the food chain.
Glossy ibis also probe the mud for their meals, but they prefer slightly larger prey like insect larvae and leeches.
Crows aren't picky eaters, whether they are going through your campsite trashcan or the sawgrass marshland. This crow stood on a branch and stripped bits off his lunch (maybe a frog?) and dropped most of it in a little pile below him on the trail.
Nothing eats with more style than a wood stork! This tactile feeder spreads an enormous white wing to create shade and attract fish. It uses its opposite foot to stir up mud while snuffling around with its open, nearly foot-long beak. When their beak touches a fish, it snaps shut with the speed of a spring-loaded trap. The beak can snap shut in 25 milliseconds, making it one of the fastest movements in the animal kingdom!
The familiar great blue heron, Seattle's city bird, is alive and well in the Everglades. The heron is a patient visual feeder. When it sees a fish or frog, it strikes quickly and swallows its prey whole. Here the heron has nabbed a beautiful (but invasive) oscar.
Unlike the great blue heron, the cormorant-like anhinga dives underwater and spears fish on its beak. When it swims, only its snakey neck and head rise above the surface, leading to the common name "snake bird."
The osprey is a top predator, hovering over the water and diving in from great heights, talon-first. Although ospreys were nearly wiped out in the 1960s by DDT pesticide and lack of nesting sites, they have made a huge comeback. A successful nest, with two mated-for-life parents attending chicks, was within sight nearly the whole time we were in the Everglades.