Sea Otters in Monterey Bay: Surfing at Sunrise

In the last blog post, I mentioned watching sea otters catching and eating their prey at dawn. On one morning, I watch some surfers sharing the waves with the sea otters. The otters were already in the water when the surfers arrived. From my vantage point on the cliff, I could see that the path of the surfers and otters would cross. What would happen? The otters did not seem to change their behavior around the surfers at all. They just kept floating and eating, diving, floating and eating ….

On the other hand, the surfers appeared quite excited when the otters came past them. Happily the surfers were respectful of the otters and didn’t attempt to bother them. At some points, the surfers and otters were sharing the same wave.

Surfer pointing at Sea Otter:

Surfer with Sea Otter

Sea Otter and surfer catching a wave:

Surfer with Sea Otter

Sea Otter and surfer on the top of a wave:

Surfer with Sea Otter

If you like these photos, you can click on them to purchase a print or to buy a digital version to use.

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Sea Otters in Monterey Bay: Seafood Breakfast at Dawn

Over several early mornings from late December 2017 and early January 2018, I watched sea otters going about their business in Monterey Bay. One of the fascinating things to see was the Sea Otters catching and eating their prey. The otters would dive under the water, often out of site for several minutes. Then they would pop back to the surface carrying their breakfast. From my perch on the cliffs, I was only able to make out a few of the prey the otters were eating.

Here a sea otters floats on its back eating a crab. You can see another crab held on the otter’s belly, with its legs and claws up in the air. The fluffy ball near the otter’s feet is another otter that was swimming with it.

Sea Otter eating a crab

In this photo, the same sea otters appears to be eating a starfish:

Sea Otter eating a starfish

With relatively easy-to-chew prey like crabs and starfish, the sea otters didn’t need any extra tools. However, that was not always the case. But some of the otters would come up with some hard prey item like a shellfish, and would smash it against a rock on their belly. My wife speculated that the otters might use the same rock over and over. A little research on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website revealed that sea otters do indeed use the same rock. The sea otters actually have pouches of skin that they use to hang onto rocks and prey while diving.

Sea Otter floating with a rock on its belly.

In this video of a sea otters smacking prey against a rock on its belly, you can actually hear the sound of the smacking above the sound of the surf! The otters must be delivering some powerful blows to break open the prey.

I added these observations to inaturalist as a record of otters eating crabs and otters eating hard prey item like clams

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Green frog shedding skin and eating it

This video shows a young Green Frog (scientific name Rana clamitans or Lithobates clamitans) shedding its skin and eating it. The frog repeats the same cycle of behavior. First, it rotates its hind limb, then it rotates its front limb, and finally it opens & closes its mouth. The roll of shedding skin is visible between the frogs front and hind legs.

Why do frogs eat their shed skin? I am not aware of any experiments that investigate the benefits of eating skin in amphibians. Perhaps there is some nutritional benefit to eating the skin?

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Jean Lafitte National Park: Frogs, Lizards, Gator, Birds and Bugs

While visiting New Orleans for the 2016 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, I had an opportunity to take a short morning trip to the Barataria Preserve of the Jean Lafitte National Park. The park is a short 30 minute drive from New Orleans. A series of boardwalk trails through the swamp let visitors get close to the aquatic wildlife.

The first herp of my visit was a northern cricket frog, Acris crepitans. This little frog caught my attention as it was rapidly jumping back and forth between pieces of floating vegetation. This was only the second time I’ve seen these frogs in the wild. Apparently the rapid jumping behavior is a common defense strategy that the cricket frogs use. This frog paused long enough for me to take a few pictures.

Cricket Frog

Shortly afterwards, I spotted the highlight of my visit: an American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). This was about 9 am, just after I arrived at the preserve.

American Alligator

I also spotted a dozen Anole lizards (Anolis carolinensis) climbing around the vegetation. Here are photos of two of them:

Green Anole giving side-eye

Green Anole

Some birds and invertebrates rounded out the trip.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Lubber Grasshopper on hat:

Luber Grasshopper

Mating Lubber Grasshoppers:

Mating Luber Grasshoppers

Bee flying between pickerelweed flowers:
Bee flying between pickerelweed flowers

Golden Orb Web Spider:

Golden Orb Web Spider

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Midges swarm out of Lake Erie to take over Cleveland in June 2018

On June 3rd, 2018, Cleveland news stations began warning us that swarms of tiny insects were flying out of Lake Erie in numbers large enough to show up on radar! These small insects are in the genus Chironomus, and are commonly known as “midges”, “muckelheads”, and more colorful names. Most of their life is spent in a larval stage living underwater. But when the conditions are right each year, they emerge from the water and transform into their flying adult form. The adults fly around for the next few days to mate and start the next generation, and then they die off. I was able to get a closer look at them when they landed around my house and backyard in large numbers. Upon closer inspection, they are fascinating little animals. Here are a few photos to enjoy!

Midge looming over a leaf:

Midge rearing up on leaf

Midge under a leaf:

Midge hanging under leaf

Backlit midge under a leaf:

Backlit midge hanging under leaf

Profile view of a midge sitting on a leaf:

side profile of midge perched on leaf

If you enjoy these photos, you can click on them to purchase a print or a license to use a digital version.

More information on the midges is available from The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, and has a neat story about how the midges affected an Indians-Yankees baseball game.

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