Thursday, March 12, 2009

this mortal coil

Feeding times are the highlight of the daily agenda at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island. My son and I made sure to get there in time to see one of the volunteers toss minnows, shrimp and squid to the game fish in the lagoon below.

As soon as that feeding ends, another program begins at the stingray tank. The volunteer there explained that stingrays are fish and that they bury themselves in the sand in shallow water. He advised us to do the "stingray shuffle" when walking in the water. It's a popular thing to do in Florida. I saw a guy doing the stingray shuffle in the parking lot right next door at Publix. The stingrays are de-barbed and can be touched and hand-fed by visitors. We were told to make our palms flat and to pinch a piece of shrimp or fish between our middle and ring fingers. The stingrays swam onto our hands and nibbled at the food with the mouths on their undersides.

Later, we stuck our hands into another of the center's touch pools. It was populated with horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, starfish and conchs. The milk conch was interested in my son's fingers, sticking out its eyes and mouth to investigate.

We had barely taken our hands out of the stingray tank when it was time to begin the nature walk through the 57 acre compound. The trail must have been at least a mile long. We only saw a couple of small lizards and a fiddler crab. Along the way we passed the gate to a sterile facility where they grow baby oysters in an effort to repopulate the area.

When we saw a tree covered with Spanish Moss, we were told that the same material is sold at craft stores. The volunteer guide said that wild Spanish moss needed to be microwaved to kill any small insects before being used for decoration. She also said that the bugs caused problems in the old days for people who stuffed mattresses with the moss. Another guest on the tour said she had heard that Henry Ford used Spanish moss to fill the seat cushions on his early vehicles until the bugs thwarted his money-saving plan.

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Anonymous Becky C. said...

I would love to feed a singray! I'm enjoy reading about your adventures Frank. As for me and my family, we are just doing a Staycation here in Ktown this year. Have a safe trip home!

Anonymous Amanda Floyd said...

I love all the parks in Fl. I took my daughter to Disney and Sea World over Christmas break this year and we fed the sting rays and seen all the shows at animal kingdom and sea world it was great. Last year we went to Panama City Beach to Zoo World and Gulf World, they are both great parks we fed all kinds of different animals. If you havent been you should go for sure! Glad you had fun on your vacation!


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