Indian Beach – my mystery friend

I enjoyed visiting Indian Beach. I’d been a couple of times before, but never for very long, and had not explored it in depth.

I didn’t have much of a game plan going in, so I kind of wandered all over, taking in as much as I could. I had planned ahead enough to wear my rubber rain boots, so I got to wade in the water a little bit. There was a distressing amount of trash — bits of eyeglasses, cast-off socks, chunks of insulation foam, cans, broken glass, the list goes on. But there were also many interesting plants and animals. I got to touch a lot of things I probably should have left alone — the sea squirt, the weird lump of jelly, snails, long strands of algae growing from the rocks. (That algae is very soft and cuddly.)

For me, one encounter stands out most vividly — my mystery friend.

photo 3 (1)

Photo courtesy of Molly. Thanks, Molly!

This little fellow was sitting inside some kind of big shell, minding his own business, when I came in and grabbed him. Understandably frightened, he curled into a tight ball to defend himself. He soon calmed down, uncurled, and began a resolute exploration of my hand and sleeve. I held him for a few minutes, admiring his funky butt pincers and his cute face with its very visible black eyes. When I went to put him down, he clung hard to the fabric of my sleeve, and it was quite a task to detach him.

Our encounter was brief, but I will never forget my little buddy.

I may also never know exactly what he was. When I got home, I googled “sand flea,” a term several of my classmates had tossed around on the scene. I found a couple of critters that look similar to my friend, but no exact match.

Sand-Flea

 

These thingies from the family Talitridae are what’s commonly called a sand flea. As you can clearly see, they bear very little resemblance to what I found. Their bodies are thinner and longer, and they look much more like the standard bugs you would find on land. In fact, some species in this family do live on land. And the ocean-dwelling ones apparently dry out and die very quickly if they get too far from water, whereas my critter seemed to do just fine in the open air.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Photo from Wikipedia.

These guys from the genus Emerita, known as sand crabs, have a few similar features (see the overall shape and the fin-like things on the butt.) They don’t, however, look like they can roll up. Wikipedia does say that some species have much smaller males that cling to the females for protection. So it is possible that the critter I found was a male or juvenile sand crab.

Maybe at some point I will post the photo that Molly took somewhere online, and ask for the help of Florida residents more experienced with our local marine arthropods. For now, I am enjoying the mystery.

Anyways, it’s sort of refreshing to consider a place like Indian Beach as an ecosystem. I feel that in the standard mindset, a natural ecosystem is something grander and more pristine, and Indian Beach is just, well, Indian Beach. In fact, it is very important to consider these small areas that are strongly affected by our presence. It’s sort of an underdog beach, this little pocket of nature besieged on all sides by human development. So while it’s not as pretty or popular as the other beaches in Sarasota, it still deserves recognition.

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