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Date of Issue: June 30, 2005

Sandscript

Weird critters, and red tide deaths of dolphins, manatees documented

Just when you think you've heard of all the critters in Florida, another one creeps out of the muck to snap you in the ... whatever.

The Panama City crayfish is one of four species undergoing a "biological review" to determine whether or not the mudbug should be added to an endangered listing of fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and other critters. Also under review are bald eagles, gopher tortoises and manatees.

The review is being conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The review will subject the species to a new "biological assessment listing criteria" to determine if the applicants should be classified as endangered, threatened or a species of special concern.

So what's a Panama City crayfish?

According to FWC, the mudbug, sometimes referred to as the Econfina crayfish, grows to about two inches in size. It is a secondary burrower, meaning it generally occupies burrows, but will move into open water when it is available during rainy seasons. The burrows this crayfish constructs are simple, downward passages from 1 to 3 feet deep, depending upon the depth of the water table.

Original habitat of the Panama City crayfish is thought to have been wet flatwoods. However, the little critter is pretty adaptable and as the flatwoods made way for housing tracts in the Panhandle, the shovelers moved into roadside ditches, swales, and utility rights of way.

It has only been found in a 40-square-mile range in Bay County near, naturally enough, Panama City.

Canals, ditches and swales, by the way, are becoming a more and more popular habitat for native species that are being driven out of their natural habitat by manmade development. FWC scientists have said that there is a "suite of ‘tropical peripheral' fish including opossum pipefish and several rare gobiid species that now inhabit and spawn in coastal canals in the Indian River Lagoon and lower east coast of Florida in lieu of the natural freshwater coastal streams found in this area prior to widespread drainage and flood control efforts that began in the 1940s and '50s, and a number of marine species, such as tarpon, ladyfish and many others, utilize canals in south and central Florida during some stages of their life cycles."

Red tide kills

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg and others have finally crunched the data and announced what we all pretty much knew all along: Red tide can and does kill marine mammals. And the deaths can occur even after the worst of the bloom has drifted away.

Red tide, Karena brevis, is a naturally occurring tiny plant that at times explodes in numbers. The blooms can cause massive fish kills, contaminate shellfish with brevetoxins making them unsafe for human consumption, and can cause respiratory problems in humans.

The red-tide blooms are also now acknowledged as the cause of death of more than 400 manatees in Southwest Florida in 2002 and 107 dolphin deaths last year in the Florida Panhandle, according to an article in the June issue of Nature.

It seems that the brevetoxins red tide organisms "can accumulate in high concentration on seagrass, the principal food source for manatees, and can remain there after the bloom is gone. This can be especially dangerous when the red tides form in early spring and the migrating manatees move to coastal waters, eating seagrass which has been exposed to the red tide toxins," according to the report.

For fish, it seems they can "feed on the red-tide cells, but brevetoxin seems to be fatal to them only if the toxin passes through their gills," according to the scientists. "When there is only a low level of toxin dissolved in the seawater, these fish can become contaminated, particularly in the internal organs, and can cause fatalities in other species, such as dolphin or seabirds, which rely on whole fish as a food source."

The report concludes, "Despite documented annual red tides in the Gulf of Mexico since the late 1800s, there are no reports of human poisonings from fish consumption in red-tide impacted areas."

Offshore tractor pull time yet again

The Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix Festival turns legal this year, as organizers of the offshore boat race and other events celebrate their 21st year of the July 4 fun.

I've been to every one, even the run that was held in the bay due to bad weather, and have resigned myself to accepting the event as one does a train wreck - you don't want to watch it, but you can't help yourself.

The festivities begin Saturday with a $100-per-person party at the Sarasota fairgrounds, followed Wednesday with a Sarasota Reds-Dunedin Blue Jays baseball game. The "World's Largest Offshore Party" is Thursday night at the Hyatt in Sarasota beginning at 8 p.m. at a $10-per-person cover.

The real fun starts Friday, July 1, with a boat parade in downtown Sarasota, followed by a block party downtown, both free and lots of fun (and great for people-watching).

Saturday features the dry pits at the fairgrounds, where you can get close-up looks at all the boats. There will also be food and music at the free event.

Sunday is the big race day, and there is a course change this year that brings the boats away from Siesta Key and focuses the action on Lido Beach. More laps, more excitement, bad news for Siesta beachgoers. There are two heats, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., so get to the shore early to catch all the fun.

Monday is the grand finale of fireworks over the Sarasota bayfront at dusk, with a party earlier in the afternoon. Friends come down from Tampa to see the show, claiming it's better than anything offered to points north, so it may be worth braving the traffic for Islander to check it out - or just go to Coquina Beach and watch the show from a distance.

As with all outside summertime events in Florida, be sure to drink lots of water and slather on lots and lots of sunscreen early and often.

Anatomy of a brain freeze

Speaking of drinking lots of beverages, the St. Petersburg Times has provided more information than you could possibly want on that summertime malady, the brain freeze. Anyone who has gobbled an ice cream cone or slurped a cold frozen beverage in summer knows of the icy jolt that can come to the sinuses by being too eager to get that cool stuff in your mouth.

A brain freeze, it seems, comes when the cold meets the spheno-palantine ganglia, which is a cluster of nerves at the roof of the mouth. The nerves spasm, and blood vessels dilate, pushing against the brain.

The good news is that the freeze only lasts about a minute, and only affects about 30 percent of us.

Brain freeze, by the way, is a registered trademark by 7-Eleven, used to describe the sensation when you drink one of their frozen drinks, a Slurpee.

Oh, the way to get rid of a brain freeze quickly is to push something warm, like your tongue, against the roof of your mouth to unspasm the jumping ganglia. Good luck.

Sandscript factoid

There doesn't seem to be much you can't pay for with a credit card these days. Now, in Coral Gables at least, you can pay for your parking meter charges with a credit card and a cell phone.

Seems that they have automated their 4,500 parking meters so you can subscribe, then punch in where you parked on your cell and your credit card is charged. When you're done shopping or whatever, and you're pulling out of the space, you call again and the charges are halted. There is a 25-cent handling charge.

No more racing out to feed the meter in Coral Gables. Good for them - or bad, depending on how you feel about parking meters in the first place.

Something to keep in mind when - if ever - the beaches go to metered parking.

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