Anna Maria Island Temperatures Plunge

Early January (2010) has been unusually cold on Anna Maria Island. So cold that we came alarmingly close to that Florida “four letter word”: snow. Early one morning I looked outside and it was raining. The outdoor thermometer registered 32 degrees. Although it did snow just to the north of Tampa, we were spared.

Still, the temperatures remained low for most of a week, barely making it into the forties for a daytime high. We were less cold than much of the country, but still cold enough to want to stay inside. We left the heat off at night, and the house temperature dropped into the low fifties. One morning it was 48 degrees.

It was sad to see the effects of this coldest spell in ten years on the wildlife. One morning we saw lots of large fish swimming in strange circular motions near the surface of the water. These jack crevalles were suffering and most of them died, along with snook and many other tropical species.

Florida cold kills fish We have seen a dead pelican float by, and a dead egret floating across the bay. We marvel at the dedication and endurance of a parent great blue heron who has continued to sit in its nest through these frigid times. We wonder what has happened to the eggs or tiny chicks that may have been in the nest when the temperatures dropped. In general, it’s disturbing to think of what might happen to the birds’ food supply with thousands of fish now dead from the cold.


Shelling on Florida Gulf Coast

Shells on Anna Maria Island beaches
Shells on Anna Maria Island beaches

Every evening we walk several blocks across Anna Maria Island to the Gulf Beach, where we walk along the water’s edge as the sun approaches the horizon. It’s always interesting to notice what kinds of shells are on the beach at certain times. There are some “regulars,” which are almost always there. And there are some very unusual ones that show up only every once in awhile. But even the unusual ones tend to come in groups. In other words, if there is one, there are many. This happened one evening several years ago when there were beautiful shark’s eyes suddenly on the beach in large numbers.

The shells that usually wash ashore on the beaches of Anna Maria Island include spiny jewelboxes, which are white with spikes protruding. They look like bivalves, but are, in fact gastropods. Another fairly common gastropod shell is the lettered olive, which usually measures almost 2 inches long. We also come across Florida augers quite often, which are small cone-shaped shells.

A wide variety of bivalve shells is also seen at all times. One of the most interesting and charming is the little coquina, which comes in a wide range of pastels and earth tones. There is nothing more enchanting than seeing the live creatures in tidal pools, where they move with the inflow and outflow of the water. Little cat’s paws or kitten’s paws, range in color from white to black to orange. Jingles are translucent shells that come in these same three colors. About the size of a quarter, these round shells look like they’re made of mica.

There are several bivalves with remarkable patterns on them. Although it’s not unusual to see these shells, it is unusual to find one that is not worn. The sunray Venus may be the most beautiful of these shells, with a pattern that really does give the impression of sunrays. Both calico clams and calico scallops are quite common, too. The buttercup has an appealing smooth round shape, and is the color of butter. Less beautiful but more remarkable is the turkey wing, with one very straight edge and an otherwise roughly shaped surface, striped with brown.

Real Estate

A Gecko Visits Our Anna Maria Island Home

Anna Maria home gecko

When we first moved to Anna Maria Island ten years ago, we had some trepidation about what the locals euphemistically called “critters.” We had never lived in a tropical environment. We loved the thought of tropical vegetation, but we knew that in any healthy ecosystem, tropical vegetation attracts and hosts a large number of creatures, many of them with more than two legs.

We have been happily surprised not to come across giant spiders; not to be overrun by palmetto bugs (a.k.a. large roaches); not to have rats emerge through the toilet or nest in our walls. Most of the critters that live around us actually add a positive side to our life here. The occasional egret staring at us through the window, and the antics of a squirrel hoping for a walnut are very entertaining. The reclusive frog behind our garage shutter has been a constant quiet neighbor for many years. Our only interaction with it was at the time we had the house tented by exterminators. For its protection tried to relocate the frog into the banana grove on the edge of our property. Every time I carried it across the yard to this safe place it managed to return to behind the shutter surprisingly quickly. (I had to relocate it a final time right before the tent went up.)

Lizards are one of the most welcomed critters on our property, because we often see them chasing and eating palmetto bugs. I’ve never been completely clear about the distinction or relationship between geckos and small lizards. I suppose I could look it up, but for the purposes of this commentary, I’d like to describe what I see at my island home. There are many small lizards running around the yard. They vary quite a bit in terms of markings and color. They are no bigger than five inches long at maturity. They clearly prefer being outdoors and rarely end up in the house. These lizards are more angular and less flat than what I think of as geckos.


Wildlife Rescue on Anna Maria

Wildlife Inc. can be reached at 941-778-6324

Wildlife rescue is a whole incredible world of its own on Anna Maria Island. While locals and visitors go about their business every day, several dedicated and generous people devote their time to saving the unfortunate wild animals that encounter problems in bad weather, or when they interact with the plastics, fishing line and hooks that people carelessly leave about.

One of the most amazing booths at recent art fairs on Anna Maria Island has been that of Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, Inc. What is amazing is WHO works the booth: owls. There are some good people there, too. But the owl ambassadors who sit all day on their perches are always extremely inspiring to see. They are beautiful creatures, and it’s sometimes hard to believe they are real. It’s also hard to believe that our environment still supports them. This is a treasure for all who live and visit Anna Maria Island, and nobody works harder to protect this treasure of wildlife than Ed and Gail Straight, Beth Weir, and others who volunteer at Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation, Inc.

Heron rescued from entangled fish line From time to time, during the last ten years on Anna Maria Island, I have contacted wildlife rescue people to come help injured birds in our neighborhood. It seems there is no job too big or too small for them. They have even come to help a tiny warbler that flew into our window. On that particular day, I remember seeing two baby foxes in the wildlife rescuer’s truck.