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Your Yak or Mine: Look Beneath The Surface

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On: Thu, Apr 18, 2013 at 1:45PM | By: Mel The Guide


Welcome once again to some of the adventures we have in South West Florida. This time I would like to tell you about a few of the tours we did this month on the north side of Pine Island and the Calusa Land Trust and Nature Preserve of Pine Island.

The folks out at Tropic Star let me know Paul and Carol, who had gone out with me many times before when I owned Gulf Coast Kayak in Matlacha, would like a tour. When we meet at the boat ramp, around 9 am, the fog had just started to lift. I was glad to see it burn off as I have done tours in the fog and it’s not fun. We got in to our yaks and paddled out down the canals by some homes, which I don’t like to do, but that’s what it takes to get to the great outdoors. We came to the shell cut to find the wind too much to paddle against, we turned to Plan B.

We stayed on the inside of the island up through the mangrove passes and cuts, to find our way to the far side of the island. We came out by the Pelican Island and there were a few hundred white pelicans. It was good to see them as it was time for them to be heading back north. As we started west there was still a good wind blowing. So I opted to stay on the outward side of the island and have the wind push us back home. As we paddled close to shore we passed some shallow sandy spots which are just loaded with whelks, conches, and moon snails. You may have paddled right over them and not have noticed them dug half-way under the soft sand. There are about 200 different species of conch. We see a lot of the crown conch and the fighting conch. They feed on mollusks (clams and oysters) and the crown conch likes the decaying leaves from the mangroves. The larger conch, the horse conch, is the state shell of Florida.

We also saw a lot of whelks, most often the lightning whelk, which is the state shell of Texas. Most were about 8 to 9 inches long and every once in a while we found a 3- to 4-pounder. They also are carnivores and scavengers, eating clams and oysters, and any bivalve, or two-shelled mollusks. They can be found in shallow waters and mud flats. You can always tell the lightning whelk from the other 800 hundred whelk species worldwide if you look at it with the aperture, or open side, up the opening will be on the left side. The shell is made of calcium carbonate and grows in 10 to 20 years up to about 8 inches long. The hard underside, trap door or thumbnail piece, is called an operculum, or plate, and some times a foot. This piece protects the snail from being eaten by crabs and other whelks. He eats clams by attaching himself to one and chipping away the side of the shell or by rocking on the clam’s door until it opens up. Then the whelk slides inside and eats the clam.

As we paddled we came across some strange debris in the shallows. It looked like someone had some kind of door knob cover or rubber gasket fall off their boat. But there were too many of them to be a gasket. I told everyone this was the egg casing of the moon snail. I know you may have seen them on a paddle. They look like a shark’s eye; sometimes they are called a whale’s eye or a Paul Newman eye. They have a baby blue center when they are wet and fresh from the sea. The egg casings are made of sand and mucus from the snail.

Something interesting about the moon snail is that he is the guy who puts the tiny holes in most of the sea shells you find on the beach. You see, most shells or bivalves are two shells hinged together. But the moon snail likes to eat what’s inside. So he has a radular set of teeth that are attached to its tongue and he licks the shell and puts a small hole in it to get inside or have the shellfish open up, and then eats him.

We are so blessed to have all the different kinds of sea shells and small sea creatures crawling around right under our own kayaks. And all we have to do is take the time to slow down and take a look. We all were glad that the wind was at our back and we made it back in record time. We had another good tour filled with many birds, jumping fish and lots of shells.

We sure would like to share these adventures with you and have you come for a tour with us. We go out for about 2 to 2-½ hours in the Pine Island and Matlacha area, or any other select site in south west Florida where there is a kayak shop with rentals and they would like me to take you out on a tour. Or even if you have your own kayak and would just like a guide. And first-timers are always welcome. You can reach me to arrange a tour and find out where we will be paddling next by calling 941-661-8229.




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