Yet another rash of exotic Florida tales
Yet another species of exotic wildlife has been found in Florida, this time just to our north.
A fisher caught a lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico off Treasure Island not too long ago. The fish is usually found in the Pacific Ocean. It's a weird looking critter, reddish in color with lots of spikes that apparently resemble a lion's mane. It's also extremely poisonous.
Biologists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute ID'd the fish and determined it's the first such lionfish caught in Florida's Gulf waters.
The red lionfish, Pterois volitans, "is a member of the family Scorpaenidae or scorpionfishes," according to FMRI reports. "The fish measured slightly more than a foot long and weighed almost 2 1/2 pounds. Testing indicates the fish was a mature male. A red tide bloom has been present in the area where the fish was retrieved. Toxin testing indicated the red lionfish was exposed to a minimal amount of brevetoxin, which is the toxin produced by the red tide organism, Karenia brevis. This suggests the lionfish was not in Gulf Coast waters for a long period of time."
Good news is that the male fish won't be pumping lots of little lionfish into the Gulf. Bad news is that "the red lionfish is venomous and can inject venom with the dorsal, anal and pelvic fin spines, which may cause severe local pain, numbness, paralysis, respiratory illness and, in rare cases, death. Serious wounds have also resulted from the careless handling of recently dead specimens. Lionfish should be treated with care at all times," according to the biologists.
The fish are usually found in the Pacific from southern Japan and Korea to the east coast of Australia, and throughout the south Pacific. There have also been reports of the fish being spotted off Bermuda and along the eastern seaboard from Rhode Island south to as far as Boca Raton.
Those wacky orientals do eat the fish as some sort of a dangerous-food kick, but the preparation is a very careful part of the process and there are occasional "mishaps" when diners partake of a poorly cleaned fish. Mishap means they die, in most cases.
So how did one of these nasty little guys make it halfway across the world?
"Lionfish are a popular choice for marine aquarists," FMRI biologists said. "Unfortunately, when some people decide they no longer want to care for a fish like this, they may consider releasing it into Florida waters. Many people do not understand the difference between native and non-native species; others believe releasing unwanted pets into Florida's environment is harmless. However, releasing a non-native species is illegal in Florida, as well as unethical and ecologically unsound."
It's like Australian pine trees, or walking catfish, or Asian green mussels, or any of the other exotics that we have in the Sunshine State - without any real predators, they flourish, take over the natural surroundings and crowd out natural species. Most of them are harmless to humans, but lionfish could prove a bit different to anybody who comes in contact with them.
As the FMRI folks put it regarding non-native, exotic species, "Invasive species are often considered pests, and can do millions of dollars of damage to agricultural crops, pose health threats to humans, or become a nuisance to homeowners. Responsible pet owners can take unwanted pets to their local humane society or animal shelter, take them to FWC-sponsored Exotic Pet Amnesty Days, check out adoption opportunities with local interest groups that specialize in the specific type of pet, or donate the pet to a local pet shop."
... and then there's this approach
Residents of the tony community of Boca Grande have a lizard problem.
Mexican spiny-tail iguanas made an appearance on the small island several years ago. The critters had a population of about 2,000 in 2000 - now, they've grown in numbers to better than 10,000.
The iguanas were apparently yet another of those critters that just got too big to be a houseguest. They get to be better than 2 feet long, they aren't one of the more cuddly of creatures that you would want to invite into your bed on a cold winter night, and apparently some were set free, probably back in the 1970s.
As with all wild things, they did the wild breeding thing, and the population exploded. Without any natural predators, the supersized lizards started taking over sand dunes, houses, seawalls and any other place they could find.
The iguanas pretty much eat anything they can get their mouths around. A popular munch is gopher tortoise eggs, a species of turtle that is far too rare in Florida to be rendered a snack.
There is also a lizard erosion problem as their burrows undermine the sand dunes.
The folks at Boca Grande went wild with the wild lizards and demanded action earlier this year. The action has taken a turn toward the bizarre, and Trapper Wildlife Service of Sarasota was retained to start the eradication program. "Stunning, freezing and shooting the lizards with pellets would be appropriate killing methods," according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the trapper gets $20 a head - literally - for the iguanas, $15 for those under a foot in length, and $2 for hatchlings.
What is being called the "feral-lizard eradication program" is expected to last for several years.
It'll be interesting to see what the restaurants on Boca Grande call the new version of white meat.
Regular Sandscript readers may have noted that mention of global warming, once a popular subject, has fallen by the wayside of late. The reason is simple: There has been so much mainstream attention given to fossil-fuel emissions entering our atmosphere and the resulting rise in temperature that you can't help but read about the concern in almost any publication.
But the following is a little different.
According to some new data collected by the California Institute of Technology, and reported in the journal Nature, "From around 1200 until 1850, during which average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere dipped by around 1-degree Celsius, the strength of the Gulf Stream also slackened by up to 10 percent. The Gulf Stream, which is part of a vast pattern of currents nicknamed the ocean conveyor belt, carries warm surface waters from the tropical Atlantic northeastward toward Europe. The reduced flow that occurred during medieval times would have transported less heat, contributing to the icy conditions that persisted until Victorian times."
Apparently the Gulf Stream's weakening "was caused by a southward shift of the zone of tropical rains that usually feed freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida," the Nature article continued. "This rain provides a less-dense top layer of water that bolsters the surface current flowing north. The measurements show that, during times when the current was weakest, the waters were saltier, suggesting that they contained less freshwater from rain."
However, there isn't much of a concern that we're entering another Ice Age due to the Gulf Stream having a cold flash, or slowing down, although the researchers admit that they don't have all the data needed to quite figure out what's happening.
The lead researchers put it this way: "Now, with the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we're in a 'no analogue' situation. With the world warming and the poles melting, it's impossible to say what might happen to the currents. We just don't know."
On a somewhat lighter note, there appears to be a big problem in California. Nut-nabbing.
According to published reports, thieves have been stealing nuts from the Sacramento area. Two people were arrested after apparently stealing about $400,000 worth of almonds, and investigators are looking into the nuts behind the rash of nut thefts in the region.
Now that's a lot of candy bars.