I returned once again to the Camp Bayou Park in Ruskin, Florida in February 2016, but this time I went when the fossil exhibits were open. Florida has very few fossils from earlier than the Pleistocene, when there were giant pigs and Megalodon sharks, so the Velociraptor skull they have had to be brought in from elsewhere. Everywhere there are bits and pieces that used to be inside alligators, crocodiles, horses, llamas, and mammoths. On the floor was a mammoth tusk that probably weighs more than I do. There are original bones, mineralized bones, and resin casts. There are also many mollusks and echinoderms (sea biscuits!) represented, as well as agatized coral, Florida’s official state fossil and stone. I had never heard of such a thing. As it turns out, there are seven states without official fossils, including New Hampshire and Rhode Island, which along with Florida are the states I’m most familiar with.
This six-legged, eyeless creature sucks on plant juices by wrapping its "tail" around stems and piercing them with its needles (it has also been known to drink soda by piercing paper cups, so beware). This is actually the front end. The "tail" is also used to feel its way forward. The other end has a breathing tube. Air is pulled in the bottom and expelled out the top. The lungs are inside. At times, the air can also be pulled in the top and expelled out the bottom. The fin on the back is rich in capillaries allowing the creature to cool down when it is blown on. It can also be used to shade the creature or "flap" rapidly to make noise that attracts mates.
Heart crabs are another screwcap shell predator, though they will also eat worms and even reefbuilder crabs and are only repelled when attacked by superior numbers. That this often happens has caused some to band together for protection and to provide distractions so others can steal food from the reefbuilders. Heart crabs are heart-shaped and have two heads. They crack open the shells by smashing them against other shells.
Cephalopods of Earth (i.e. cuttlefish, squid, octopi) have their mouths and eyes on the same end as their tentacles (cephalopod means head-foot in Latin). On planet Seelx (I need a better name), sometimes the reverse is true. Some also have lungs to live above the water. Some have fur to keep warm. Seelx "parrots" (shown above) do not fly, but jump from trunk to trunk in the vine forests it calls home.
There is another animal that is always trying to get inside the screwcap’s shells – but not to eat them. When it sees a predator, the sticker worm folds itself over and attaches each half on either side of the seam of a screwcap using pads of variable stickiness. Microscopic grooves in these pads take advantage of every deviation from perfect smoothness. Flexing its muscular body, it twists the shell open and then quickly slips inside before it can shut again. While hiding from predators, the screwcap and the sticker worm will not hurt each other. When the shell opens again, the sticker worm will leave.
Sticker worms are incapable of digesting meat and only eat weeds, which lack some of the compounds that hold meat together. However, there is one genus of sticker worm that will eat meat anyways. It opens screwcaps not to hide, but to bite off chunks of their gills. It holds this mostly undigested meat in its digestive tract in order to deliver it to creatures called beps in exchange for medical supplies and services.
One of the many predators the reefbuilder crabs must defend their livestock from is the sonic sucker. Sonic suckers are false fish with one skull (though some species make use of the fusion of two or three skulls) formed into a parabolic dish. The sucker places this dish on the surface of a shell and bombards it with sound until it finds the right frequency to crack it open. Once this is accomplished, it sucks the meat out through the hole. While suckers are too fast for crabs to catch, breaking open a shell can take a long time, allowing the crabs to chase them off. Unfortunately some sucker species have graspers to carry a meal away with them while they swim.
In preparation for the political season, I finally was able to get my book, The Nutcase Across The Street, formatted for Kindle in addition to paperback. Learn more about it here.
What drives political polarization in the United States? How big of a problem is it? What can we do to fix it? Answers to these questions and other interesting observations on American politics are found in this book written from the everyman’s perspective. Learn more here.
Screwcap shells are an incredibly diverse group of animals with hard outer shells. In most species, there are two shells with treads along their meeting edges to allow them to twist tightly shut. When open, the flesh of the animal stretches across the opening between the two shells and the animal extends its gills. The gills not only facilitate gas exchange, but gather food particles as well – although some species do not feed on plankton.
Many screwcap shells will form pearls of silicon carbide much like the calcium carbonate pearls of Earth oysters. These pearls are harvested by the reefbuilder crabs, which glue them together with their own secretions to build elaborate structures of all kinds. Over tens of thousands of years, the reefbuilder crabs have built thick walls right up to the water’s surface, dividing the reef into different zones and redirecting water currents. Even they do not entirely know why they began building, but it seems to have something to do with their religion. These walls serve as attachment points for organisms of all kinds. The reefbuilder crabs also build towers and structures that can only be described as abstract art.
The reefbuilder crabs defend the screwcap shell beds from predators that might try to eat them. In this way, they are sure to have a constant supply of pearls to harvest. To feed themselves, they also care for several varieties of weeds.
This is a typical reef on planet Snax, depicting sea scoops, branch-tongues, screwcap shells, puzzle sponges, clapping worm castles, spoke polyps, umbrella polyps, weeds, and a strange, five-headed, yellow fish that I added on a whim. I wasn't going to draw the puzzle sponges at first because in practice I could never get them to come out right. What you see now is a brand-new conception of them that I found I was able to draw. They are the two blue things with the white facets (the blue is actually the interior). The weeds of Snax are supposed to be blue-grey or blue-black because they contain both purple and green plastids in every cell. Because, I lacked the appropriate colors to make this come out quite the way I wanted, in this picture the weeds have distinct green, blue, and sometimes pink sections. That is okay. There is a lot of biodiversity in the Snax oceans. For the caption in the book, what shall I call the yellow fish?
Hello, my name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small. I like bacon. I like pizza. I like bacon pizza. I enjoy long walks on the beach, but prefer the mountains. I am a huge fan of Jesus. When I grow up, I want to be just like him and create my own universes.