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Date of Issue: November 03, 2005

Sandscript

The exotics are coming! The exotics are coming!

Restaurants to the rescue in preserving and protecting fish?

As odd as that statement sounds, it's true. A project called the History of Marine Animal Populations has dug out restaurant menus dating back to the 1850s to determine what people were eating then and using the information as baseline data to help project fishery levels.

As explained in the journal Nature, the project "is drawing on sources such as monastery records of fishing hauls, taxes paid by fishermen to landowners, and even the discarded papers of an Australian trawler company, retrieved from a rubbish dump.

"The restaurant study looks at data from some 10,000 archived restaurant menus in traditional U.S. seafood towns such as Boston, San Francisco and Providence in Rhode Island," the journal article continued. "After adjusting for inflation, the rises in price of delicacies such as oysters reflect their growing scarcity as fishermen strive to keep up with demand, the researchers argue."

And there is an argument that scarcity of a species actually enhanced its desirability.

"One particularly striking example is lobster," according to the researchers. "During the mid- to late-1800s, the crustaceans were mostly eaten by servants. But during the 20th century, as they became harder to catch, they gradually acquired their current desirable status." Prices went through the roof, too.

The same incredible price hike also holds true for abalone, a big, tasty shellfish from California. From the 1920s through to the 1940s, price per pound was about $7, adjusted to today's cost of living standards. Abalone fishing was banned off California in 1997, and the foreign market had to begin importing the shellfish - at a cost of up to $70 per pound.

Too weird

Pythons are turning into a huge problem in Miami-Dade County. The huge, non-native snakes have definitely established themselves in the lush wetland areas in the western part of the county that abuts the Everglades and, without any real natural predators, are flourishing.

According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, animal trappers are capturing pythons almost every day, and have been for the past decade or so. The snake population just keeps growing, though, since females can lay up to 50 eggs at a time and can do so frequently.

Pythons can grow to be really big really fast, too, with 10-footers not at all uncommon at age 1.

It's probably the size of the snakes that has caused the outbreak of pythons in the Glades. People get one as a pet, keep it for a few years and then, when the reptile gets too big, they slip into the swamp and let it go free.

And then the snake starts eating all the dogs and cats it can find in the subdivisions near the Everglades.

What about the alligators in the swamps? you probably ask. Can't we have some sort of feeding frenzy by the gators on the pythons?

Nope. Seems in a gator-python match-up, the snake usually wins. You probably saw that picture that circulated recently in the media of a python that pretty much exploded after it gobbled down a six-foot gator.

The python problem in the Glades has prompted some discussion about coming up with a ban on all imported critters into Florida, since it seems that no matter what there is in an aquarium or pet store will eventually end up out in the wind.

Walking catfish. Zebra mussels. Australian pines. You name it and it's here in Florida, flourishing - at the cost of the native plants and animals.

Since I'm not much of a snake fan, I have to concur with a snake expert at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville: "No one needs a python."

… and then there's killer bees

Remember the doom and gloom a few years ago when it was reported that African bees were heading toward the United States from South America? It was the stuff of bad science-fiction flicks - killer bees that swarm in the zillions, attacking everything in their path, killing people and animals. Oh, the horror.

Well, guess what? They're here.

According to the Tampa Tribune, 100 of the estimated 150 African bee colonies that have been found in Florida in the past three years have been found in Manatee, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Although it's thought that the bees have migrated here from Mexico, there is an argument that some colonies may have hitchhiked on a freighter from elsewhere and set up camp in the Everglades and are now moving north.

So what?

Well, African bees are more aggressive than the more docile honeybees we've got here. They also will take over the native bee colony if they find it, killing the natives in the process.

Actually, the "natives" are all from Europe, but that's a moot point in this tale.

Bees are a vital part of the state's agribusiness. It used to be that beekeepers were tolerated on farms. Now, they're paid to bring their hives into the fields so the bees can pollinate the melons, cucumbers or blueberries. Two-thirds of the citrus crop in Florida depends on commercial bee pollination, since there aren't enough wild bees to do the job.

Obviously, the intrusion of African bees is a serious threat, because they really do go nuts if they're disturbed.

Just another wonderful day in the wilds of Florida.

Sandscript factoid

Although I'm not much of a snake fan, I do admit to having a great fondness for bees, thanks to my old friend John Zielonka.

John had a wonderful garden at his Sarasota home filled with all kinds of exotic, edible plants. He also had a few hives and was very generous with both the honey and a wonderful, drinkable byproduct - mead - that would slam us on our butts after a few glasses.

John dragged me over the hives one afternoon - yes, mead was involved - opened a hive, scooped up a slew of bees and dumped them in my bare hands. It was one of the most incredible sensations I've ever had. Imagine a double handful of very, very warm cotton that vibrates and you've got sort of a sense of what its like holding bees. And no, I didn't get stung - John had very, very gentle bees.

John is gone, as is his wonderful mead, but that sensation of holding a mini-swarm of bees has remained and will forever.

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