Hi, guys! Mel the Guide here in sunny downtown Matlacha and Pine island in south west Florida. We write about kayaking in the back waters of the islands and around Florida. Some times when we are out on a paddle we see a lot of things that we think everyone knows about. Having been a tour guide for many years I found out quickly that’s just not so. Many folks are not from here or are not on the water as much as we are and they think differently than we do.
As we paddle the back bays and canals we come across these floating balls. Some are white with numbers carved in them and others, as of late, have many different pastel shades. “What are they?” some of my clients ask. Then there are others who say they know what they are and want to enlighten us. So was the case a few weeks ago.
Most say that they are channel markers, others say they are sail boat moorings, but I must say the best explanation was from Edith, a young newlywed on a first time paddle with her husband. I think she wanted to show him how smart she was. When we came across a field of these strange looking balls floating I asked if anyone knew what they were? We got the normal reply of channel markers. Well, we were wrong as we soon found out. Edith jumped up and said, “They are land mines.”
I looked at Edith’s husband and he just look at me just as surprised. I said land mines? She said yes. At this time all the rest of the tour was having a good laugh. So I asked what she meant by land mines? She said that the ball had a long chain on it and at the end was a ball with spikes on it and that if you ran into it, it would explode. I asked why would they put them in the back bay of Matlacha and Pine Island? Well, she looked at me like I was dumber than dirt and said “Every one knows. They are there to keep out the German subs.”
So every one was laughing and I had to say to her, “You know I have been paddling these waters for eleven years now and I have to say that I have not ever seen one German sub here.”
To which she replied, “See, they must be working.”
That all said it turns out they are crab traps. Blue claw crab traps. The most valuable crustacean in the US of A. You can catch them all year long, but summer and spring are the best time. They like to hang out in the saltwater, freshwater, brackish (a mix of salt and fresh) river mouths, bays and sounds.
A blue crab mates only one time in her life, when she reaches maturity, but she can keep the sperm in her body for months and spawn again at a later time. A pregnant blue crab is called a sponge and can be spotted by the orange sack under her mid-section. It is against the law to have one at any time. It must be put back so we can have more crabs. They have five pair of legs; the first pair are the Pinchers. The female has her toe nails polished red. Well, it looks like that. And the Male has just blue claws.
So how do we catch the crab? The trap is a box made of chicken wire with two or more compartments in it. The crabber puts dead fish or chicken in the trap and the crab crawls in a slit or opening in the side of the trap to get the food. It tries to get out but can’t. Then it swims to the top of the trap into the second room where it is later joined by other crabs trying to get out also. The trapper returns to the trap, pulls the float and rope up, shakes out the caught crabs, and puts more bait in the box to start all over again.
Now I know a lot of folks love to eat crab. And I have had my share of them. But I think it’s the beer that fills me up more than the crab. We sit and pick all day and have good conversation, but it takes a lot of work to eat a blue crab.
So, now that we are in to crabs let’s talk about a few more you may see on your paddle. I am sorry to say we won’t be covering them all to day as there are only 28,000 different kinds in the world.
You may see this little guy in the mud banks or mangroves, that's the fiddler crab, the one that looks like he’s waving at you with his big large claw. He uses this claw to communicate with other crabs. He may use it in the courtship of a female and to tell the other crabs to keep away. When the crab eats with his smaller claw it looks like he’s playing a fiddle. When you find a fiddler crabs home you may see little small balls outside of a hole. The balls are from him eating sand which contains algae, microbes, and fungus. He then passes it through to the outside of his hole.
One other crab we see a lot is the hermit crab; that’s the one that looks like a shell running along the beach or water’s edge. There are only 1100 species of hermit crab. Most have long spirally curved abdomens unlike other crabs with hard under-bellies. They attach themselves to empty shells of other crustaceans. As they grow they have to find a larger shell. This habit of living in a second-hand shell is how they got his name hermit crab.
Another crab you may, or may not, see is the ghost crab, because he is nocturnal and is a pale color like the sand he lives in. He as four pairs of walking legs. But when he wants to get up and run he uses only his first two sets of legs.
He lives in a deep dug burrow with a long shaft that leads to a little room at the end. He may have a second shaft for another entrance or a escape path. He likes to forage at night and eat mole crabs and coquina clams (the tiny clams you find that look the like little butterflies), plus any debris, or newborn turtles.
There are so many crabs out there and I would like to tell you about the one I like the best, just because he has been around so long: the horse shoe crab. But then if I tell you about him I won’t have anything to write about next time.
So when you step out of the yak make sure you have some thing on your feet. There’s a lot of crabs out there just waiting to latch on to a nice little pinky toe.
Once again, thanks for paddling with Mel the Guide. For tours 941-661-8229 in Matlacha and Pine Island.