Marine life could be like this in South West Florida, 2/3

This post is a continuation of the trilogy of my observations of the reef life of Belizean portion of the Caribbean barrier reef off the atolls of Turneffe. This selection of the wildlife was photographed during twilight dives. Photos were made with white light flash exposure.

This Squid was flashing colors. It is about 5cm in length. Watch out for the ink when they feel threatened!
A nice crab. The carapace diameter was about 20 cm.
There were hundreds of lobsters 20 years ago. Now I saw only two. They are seasonal. This one is about 1 kilo.
Hermit crab. The den opening is about 1.5 cm in diameter.

Twilight diving is an opportunity to see two types of marine life. The daylight creatures are looking for a place to hide and rest. The night time creatures are emerging from their hiding places among the coral reef crevices and begin their foraging and hunting. It is a very interesting time to see both behaviors.

The next blog includes reef life and was photographed using special techniques in total dark of night.

#marine life #reef #under water #crab # lobster #squid #Twilight dive

Marine life could be like this in South West Florida, 1/3

About two weeks ago, I had a chance to explore some of the marine life on the other side of the Gulf. Off the coast of Mexico and down further south to include Honduras, there is the second largest barrier reef. It is just a two hour flight away from us here in SWFL. I went specifically to the atolls of Turneffe off the coast of Belize. it was looking OK. The marine life density and diversity was good but not as dense as seen in the far western Pacific Ocean and the water clarity was 80 feet at best. There was some chop to the surface but no significant current at depth. The minimum and maximum dive depths were 35 to 90 feet msl.

There were certainly fewer Lion fish and I saw no bleached coral compared to what I saw here 5 years ago. Most of the area is part of their marine national park. Here are a few interesting photos of some of the many coral and small animals that I saw during the 25 dives. This first of three postings shows daylight fish, shrimp and other marine life. More shell fish and coral at night will follow in future postings.

This was a very healthy Lion fish. it was good that I saw only five of these spiny, toxic pests during the entire week. Three years ago I would see dozens.
I have not seen flamingo tongues like this attached to a fan coral in the last 5 years. Now I saw at least 15.
These sea tunicates were about 4mm in length and are very delicate. They are considered to be some of the most primitive life forms. I saw fewer of them than 20 years ago however they were still present in three widely dispersed areas.
Shrimp almost like a spider. 5mm in length.
These 4mm shrimp were nearly transparent. Can you see all four?
There were plenty of these big boys. The sharks were about 300 to 350 pounders and at least 12 foot long. They tended to swim in packs of three to six. Often when diving, they would follow our group to see if we were hunting the lion fish. During the last 12 years, divers have been busy spearing the lion fish and feeding them to the sharks with the hope of training the sharks to act as natural predators of this invasive species. There gave us no trouble despite swimming only a few feet away.
Did I tell you that my favorite color is blue? Check out these blue tangs.
Blue parrot fish.
Tube worm extended from brain coral. These are so colorful but very shy.
Fearsome but benign to people, green moray eel.

I believe that these observations are supported by this article. Local management matters for coral reefs
Knowlton, N., Science,  28 May 2021: Vol. 372, Issue 6545, pp. 908-909DOI: 10.1126/science.abi7286

“Despite the doom and gloom of media reports on the state of the ocean, and the enormous challenges that remain, there is growing recognition that marine conservation actions have had measurable success (1213). Indeed, local actions can not only minimize damage from warming, but provide biodiversity and food-security benefits as well (1214).”

Planting new coral specific for future warming of the water of the coast of Florida has started with the hope of developing new reefs and habitat for the fish and other life forms as well as to abate red tide. Check out these links:

FGCU Artificial Reef – Florida Gulf Coast University

FGCU plans new artificial reef

If you wish to support research and development of this worthy project link on the references and see how you can donate.

#marine life #underwater #reef #shark #shrimp #eel #lion fish #tunicates #worms

Observation #78 Plants living on plants – The attachments

The plants living on the fig tree are a complex group. There are a variety of observations that comprised their characteristics. These included attachment, leaf color, texture and morphology. The common characteristic was strong attachment.

The attachment characteristic is a good method to assist in the description of plants not only at this site but also we use this method in our Epicollect5 observations*. Attachment variations facilitate later identification with the help of the botanist when we seek confirmation of the identity of plants. The attachment methods are:

  • Entwining
  • Air roots
  • Tendrils
  • Adhesive pads 

When you look at the observation database you will see how this is applied in the field without the luxury of accompaniment of an expert botanist for common name or taxonomy. Each of these methods have different effects on the supporting plant as we will see later. Further I will sample the tree and observe thin sections of the samples with microscopy.

*University of Illinois vines

Here are samples of the observed attachments. There are no signs of adhesive pad attachment on this site.

Air roots
Entwining with Tendrils
Tendrils without entwining

#attachment #air roots #tendrils #entwining #adhesive pads

Plant Content of Observation #78, 79

In consultation with the botanist, Dr. Jan, at the Wonder Gardens here are the plant identities we concluded. The plants are identified in the accompanying pictures with labels. I needed three photos to capture the bulk of the different species of plants. I further examined them in detail to make more sense of what I saw and what he said. I will post a series of blogs with those more specific observations.

This is a Fig tree. It has a woody structure which is relatively rigid and has a complex root and stem system. The other plants don’t need to expend the effort for rigid support because they depend on the tree. The plants which are attached to the trunk and stems, grow at various illumination levels in the umbrella of the tree. They adapt to the sun exposure in at least five ways. The first is to climb up into the canopy to get more light. The second characteristic is the depth of green color. A high chlorophyl content suggests that they extract as much energy as possible or as needed within the level of the tree. A third characteristic is the leaf size and number where broader and more numerous leaves can gather more light. The fourth and fifth characteristics depend on height in the tree. The higher the plant location in the tree, the more distant they are from the soil. Therefore at some point the plants extract nutrients from other sources and become “air plants” and they are attached to the tree by “air roots”.

Wow! There is so much here ! In separate blogs I will check out each of these plants individually to see what makes them specially adaptable. The plants include :

  • Fig tree
  • Philodendron
  • Cactus (Epiphyllium)
  • Bromeliad (four types)
  • Dracena
  • Orchid
  • Fern (Stag horn)
Fig tree with bromeliad and orchid
Fig tree with Philodendron, Stag Horn Fern and Dracena
Fig tree with Philodendron, Bromeliad and Cactus (Epiphyllium)
A view of the top of the canopy suggests that the cactus outbid the philodendron for highest climber perhaps because it has no leaves.

This type of system is not a unique finding. You can see this interdependency throughout the Wonder Garden, in the Edison-Ford Winter Garden, in the CREW and even in your local neighborhoods.

#Bromeliads #Stag Horn moss #Philodendron #Cactus (Epiphylium) #vines #air roots

Reductive Observation of plants at site #78

To really comprehend the observation of the group of plants at this site and to understand how they interact we need to visually disassemble them into types. We do this by using standard descriptions. These descriptions may have areas of overlap. This has good and bad aspects. The positive result is redundancy in stated observation for improved confirmation. The down side is possible confusion in terminology. This can have an appearance of conflict of intention.

Here is how I started to look at the area by types of visual appearance. The descriptions include:

  • Vines, as a description of attachment to other structures
  • Succulents, as a group of plants which have a particular anatomy but may be vines and have air roots
  • Air plants, as a method of sustenance but also they are not connected to the earth
  • Ferns, as a type of plants
  • Mosses, as a type of plants

Reductive observation is an important portion of Scientific Method and is sometimes called Methodological Reductionism. It is a way of dividing a problem into smaller parts and simplifying solutions to questions that may arise. We will use this method throughout our exploration in our Everglades Ark.

incorporated in the Epicollect5 database are the visual characteristics that we will use in the Everglades Ark.

Observation # 81

Orchids and other plants in bloom in the Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs. This post is just for fun and a good sign that the weather will return to the hot and wet season of Florida. Right now it is very mild and fun to walk through the Garden to look at all of the colors and shapes. The orchids were brought from the nursery and are not native to the garden. The cardinal was a local visitor just passing through. I hope that you enjoy the pictures as much as I do.

#orchids #flowers #cardinal

About GPS Distances

Recall that I use five.epicollect for data entry of observations. I often want to find the distance from one observation point to another. This can be helpful when attempting to see the relationship of findings to one another, reference to a common point like a survey peg or to define boundaries and areas of a site.

Calculation of distances can be complicated when the right tools are not available. They can be really easy when you have the right tools. The referenced on-line calculator can be use and coordinated with maps.

30 m tape measure now obsolete

I use this app in the Field Notes blog to document or refer to observations rather than old fashion way of carrying a 100 meter tape measure and compass. (What a pain that was underwater or deep in the field in a back pack ! )

Thanks to Jeff Boulter the calculations and maps are easy ! Go to to access the app and other GPS tools. It is really simple and self explanatory.

The app looks like this:

GPS Coordinate Converter, Maps and Info

Enter coordinates

(like 37 23.516 -122 02.625, but it’s flexible)

Decimal Degrees (WGS84)
LatitudeLongitude  Degrees, Minutes & Seconds
LatitudeLongitude  GPS
LatitudeLongitude  UTM

Open links in a new windowSee also my Geocaching Quick Search and GPS Coordinate Grabber.Clicked At: DETAILED MAPS AT:
copied from

The GPS locator in my cell phone indicates that it is accurate to 4 feet (1.2 m). For finer measurements I still use the tape measure and compass as seen in the Field Kit Blog.

In the Excel data analysis, I frequently simplify the data by keeping the sign and using only the last four coordinate numbers. This is sufficient because they are in relatively close proximity and it is unnecessary to locate it in a full global perspective.

#GPS #distances #measurements #Boulter #conversion

Observation # 78 and 79

DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT THE 5Epicollect site for the observation !


It can be very confusing to look at this plant with so many different textures and leaves. Broad leaves, cactus leaves, spiked leaves, colorful narrow leaves, tiny leaves all growing from the tree. What was going on with this plant?

I had to stop and try to uncover the mystery of the puzzle. First, I looked at the leaves that were so dominant. There were at least 7 leaf types. So, I guessed that there was more than one plant here. Next, I looked at the major portion of what appeared to be the main stem of a tree rooted with strong attachment to the soil. This I assumed to be the trunk of the tree. I also looked at the crown of the tree which was ill defined. Lastly, I looked at the outer surface of the main tree stem. I also saw that there was a network of vines attached to the bark of the tree trunk and its various spreading branches. There were three vine types that I could be distinguished by the types of attachment to the tree and by leaf types. There were three other types of leaf plants that were attached to the tree without vines or roots attached to the ground. These were air plants.

This was not one plant but instead was a close-knit community of plants using a larger tree as support. This in turn was also supporting a variety of otherliving things like insects and lichens. 

This relationship appeared to be in place for a very long time. The supportive tree did not appear to be in any distress but may be 50 to 80 years old. That is a long time for an urban deciduous tree. The trunk diameter at 4 ft from the soil was about 6 feet. The height was about 35 feet. The broken upper branches appear to be signs of trauma probably from hurricane force winds. 

If the dependent plants get nutrition from the supporting plant the relationship of these plants may be symbiotic. It will be interesting to see if the community is connected as a network of links. It may be an instance where some plants are able to express themselves with one another beyond nutrition. Below are a few references on interplant communications.1,2 These include micro-rhizomes, electrical potentials, pheromones, and shared nutrients. This puzzle may lead us to a much more profound discussion of symbiotic, saprophytic, biomechanic and other interdependencies.




#dependent #saprophytic # symbiotic #attachment #interplant communication #plants

Digital photo- microscopy

Photo-microscopy can be a sophisticated method of imaging microscopic specimens. None-the-less here is a simple method for making images sufficient to capture useful information. It leads to the discovery of the complexity and beauty of everything around us.

The two most important pieces of equipment of this device are first a monocular microscope with lenses. You may purchase one on ebay as shown here one for less than $100. The second item is a cell phone with a camera which most people already have. The rest is made from scraps of plastic and plastic plumbing and some resin adhesive. The camera lens must be positioned at the center of the focal point above the eye piece. Here is how to make a holder for the cell phone camera.

Finished assembly
Voila ! A digital microscope is born !

Use a piece of 1/8 inch flat stock plastic a bit larger than the area of the cell phone. You can purchase a plumbing plastic coupling with an internal diameter slightly smaller than the microscope eyepiece diameter. On one corner of the plastic sheet trace the outline of the coupling OD and the mark center of the circle. At that center drill a hole to accept the aperture of the phone lens. The coupling minor diameter was intentionally selected to be a bit too small to fit over the eyepiece. The ID of the coupling was evenly enlarged to slip over the eyepiece to a very specific depth. The depth of the ID enlargement was determined by trial sighting the focal point of the objective. Using a rough estimated and later refining by repeated trial grinding the depth and diameter were carefully shaped. The interior was shaped with a Dremel hand-piece rotary sanding drum. Just before final shaping the coupling was glued to the flat sheet where the through hole matched the coupling OD and the location of the focal point. With the activated camera placed on the flat surface, camera through the hole, coupling engaged onto the eyepiece, the final trial grinding adjustments were made to get the exact point of focus in the camera sensor plane. Rubber bands were used to stabilize the camera on the flat surface. Here is a note of caution. Don’t get grinding debris inside inside the microscope!

I’m sure that you can invent all sorts of variations of this device to include adjustable focal length modifications and retaining set screws. This can have substage and top stage lighting as necessary. If you wish it may even adjustable to include polarization and color filters as well as florescent and dark field microscopy.

The subject to be examined can be almost endless and include live, dry and wet specimens. If you wish there is a world of sectioning and staining as well as preservation. I learned and practiced these techniques while I was in college and working for the pathology department as a certified histology technician.

See our blog page on ‘Monarchs’. There are photomicrographs of wings, antenna and claws of the insects. Also check out our Field Note on Birth of a Monarch.

You will also need some microscope slides and cover slips to hold or mount the subject in place while viewing it. These are readily available from AmScope. The slides including cover slips for cost about 50/$12. Their site is at this location

Monarch butterfly wing image captured with home made digital microscope. 100X magnification

#digital microscope #photo-microscopy #microscope #cell phone adaptor

Birth of a Monarch

Monarch butterflies are absolutely remarkable because of their metamorphosis, multigenerational migration, exclusive feeding habits and spectacular beauty. It’s just remarkable that the apparently whimsical flights of these delicate creatures can actually be consistent with a tough, resilient and ancient species.

Here in Florida our Monarchs belong to the Central/Eastern flyway group. The other is in the west coast; California. In the wild you can look for the adult form as they flutter-by from garden flower to garden flower. They are looking for their favorite food. They eat only milkweed plants. If you pay particular attention to the plants you will see an entirely different aspect of their lives. Look for milkweed plants of which there are two species here in Florida. If you look at the leaves you may see two features. The easiest to spot are the denuded branches and partially eaten leaves. These are signs of the activity of the insects. In the wild the survival rate is low. I would guess it is in the range of 20%. One of the survival risks may depend upon the complexity of the metamorphosis of the insect. There are four distinct stages in the life form of the Monarch. These include egg which lasts a few days, caterpillar which lasts about two weeks, pupa or chrysalis which lasts about 10 days and butterfly which is good to go for about 6 weeks. You can actually see each of these stages as they transpire.

Caterpillar color matches Milk Weed
Caterpillar fattening up on milk weed
Gross anatomy of catapillar
“J” form and new chrysalis

Unfolding wings; fly tomorrow

Be sure to see our blogs on Photomicroscopy

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