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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My 13 Favorite Photos of 2016

My 13 Favorite photos of 2016

13: One Fish Says “No”: I took this photo while trying to get the hang of an underwater camera housing. I like how one fish stands out from the others.
One Fish Says "Nope"

12: Brood V Cicada: This photo shows the very first Brood V Cicada I saw in my life. I saw many more during the big Brood V emergence, but I was excited to find this first one.
Brood V Cicada

11: Bubblehead Gray Treefrog: I photographed this frog at the CWRU Farm.
"Bubblehead" Gray Treefrog

10: Spring Salamander in Hand: I saw this big adult in Allegany County, New York. I usually see larval spring salamanders at this site, so it was a real treat to see the adult.
Spring Salamander on hand

9: Spider Swinging in the rain: I watched this spider through several rain storms in South Carolina. It displayed an interesting rain-dodging posture.
Rain posture in yellow garden spider

8: Male unisexual Ambystoma: Most of the “unisexual” hybrid Ambystoma salamanders are females, but very rarely a male does show up. This is the only male hybrid Ambystoma I’ve seen after looking at thousands of them over several years.
Male hybrid Ambystoma

7: Predators causing smaller metamorphosis in toads: These two toads are the same age and metamorphosed on the same day. But the smaller toad grew up in an environment with predators, and the larger toad grew up without predators.
Toadlets come out smaller with predators

6: Underwater Eggscape: Playing with an underwater camera housing gave me a different view of some wood frog eggs close to hatching.
Underwater Eggscape:  Wood Frog Eggs

5: Cuban Treefrog in Cleveland: This invasive frog showed up in Cleveland on a shipment of plants from Florida.
Cuban Treefrog Comes To Cleveland

4: Trapped by the past (Mayapples):
Occasionally, Mayapple shoots will grow through old leaves and get trapped.
Trapped by the past I

3: Painted Turtles on a Log: Two little and one big painted turtle at the CWRU Farm.
Painted Turtles

2: Cricket Frog: I spotted this little frog in the Jean Lafitte National Park, near New Orleans, Louisiana.
Cricket Frog

1: Alligator: This was the first alligator I have seen in the wild in many years. Like the cricket frog, I saw it in the Jean Lafitte National Park. While watching the alligator, I had a great time talking with a person who grew up in the area. He told me stories of how he and his brother would go catch and release them, much like I do with frogs. He had a real appreciation for the creatures.
American Alligator

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