Critter tales to ponder, plus a test
Manatees are on the move right now, slowly drifting from their summer haunts along Southwest Florida toward their winter hangouts, some near warm water at power plant outflow pipes. The migration means that sea cows are moving through Anna Maria Sound and are at risk of being struck by unwary boaters.
"Manatees generally start traveling to warm water when the air temperature drops below 50 degrees or when the water temperature dips to 68 degrees," according to officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The state agency urges boaters to "scan the water near or in front of the boat, looking for swirls resembling a large footprint, a repetitive line of half-moon swirls, a mud trail, or any breaking of the surface by a snout or a tail."
Stay in marked channels, FWC officials said, as sea cows will usually stick to the seagrass flats as they move along. Other manatee-spotting tips include wearing polarized sunglasses to improve vision, abide by posted boat speed zones, and use paddles or trolling motors if manatees are close to you to avoid one of the awful human-manatee interactions that usually impact the manatees more than the boat.
As you've probably read time and time again, hitting a manatee with a boat is guaranteed to ruin an otherwise perfectly nice day on the water.
By the way, November is Manatee Awareness Month in Florida, and the Save the Manatee Club is encouraging people to visit one of the - literally - manatee hot-spots to watch the gentle marine mammals.
A good spot not too far from us is the Manatee Viewing Center at Tampa Electric Company in Apollo Beach, or Lee County Manatee Park in Fort Myers.
Or, you can go visit Snooty and his new friend Angelito at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. Angelito was rescued from the Miami area and is visiting Snooty while recuperating.
You've probably heard of the swallows returning to Capistrano, Calif., every March.
You may have heard of the buzzards returning to Hinkley, Ohio, every March.
But have you heard of the tarantulas swarming in Coarsegold, Calif., every Halloween?
It seems that the hairy arachnids crawl out of their holes from mid-October to mid-November in this tiny town just south of Yosemite National Park, looking for love. Male spiders by the hundreds roam the countryside looking for mating females. The females, apparently, grudgingly accept the attention, then often kill the male after he has completed his task.
Coarsegold, which apparently is pretty much close to nothing, has been holding an annual Tarantula Awareness Festival for 17 years now, featuring the Hairy Leg Contest, in which men are awarded prizes for having legs that most-mimic their eight-legged little friends. The event is officiated by the Queen of the Leg Feelers.
Makes our Privateers seem pretty tame, doesn't it?
Gator changes down south
A kinder, gentler policy toward errant alligators has been quietly reversed by some of our neighbors to the south.
Sanibel Island was the only place in Florida that received an exception to a 1978 state law that called for nuisance gators greater than 4 feet in length to be destroyed. The state accepted island officials' plea to allow the alligators to be relocated to nearby J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
No more, though.
The gators kept getting bigger and bigger. Alligator-human interactions kept increasing, too, with an increase of something like 60 reports of nuisance gators coming in annually to Sanibel police: 102 calls from June 2002-May 2003, to 163 calls from June 2003-May 2004.
The issue reared its scaly head last July when a landscaper was trimming bushes near a pond in a residential area and lost part of her right arm to a gator. She later died from complications resulting from the 457-pound gator attack.
The statistics didn't help on the alligator protection plan, either. There have been 14 people killed in Florida by gator attacks since 1971; two have occurred on Sanibel in the past three years, and another person there was seriously hurt but survived.
All of the attacks came from reptiles greater than nine feet in length, too.
So the Sanibel City Council changed its laws to echo the state guidelines that allow nuisance gators to be destroyed.
Somewhat ironically, the city's pro-environment stance probably had a large part in the alligator proliferation.
The Lee County island community is very big on preserving all things natural. About two-thirds of the island comprises the wildlife preserve, and developers are required to build retention ponds and lakes to control stormwater runoff - and inevitably provide a habitat for the gators.
That doesn't mean that it's open hunting season for gators on Sanibel, according to Police Chief Bill Tomlinson, as reported in the St. Petersburg Times, but it does mean that the bigger, meaner alligators will be taken out of the picture, permanently.
Almost every election cycle brings something from the files of the weird. This year's story doesn't hang on chads or butterfly ballots, but in the cut of the cards.
Cheval West is an upscale bedroom community in northwest Hillsborough County, near Lutz. The city has a governing board, and two seats were up for grabs.
Last July, the community's long-time treasurer said he would seek re-election. Two other candidates also decided to seek office, and in deference to the treasurer, sought the open seat.
The treasurer ended up having travel and paperwork problems and never filed for his seat. The other two people faced off in the November general election after it was determined that neither could change their filing for what suddenly became a vacant seat.
Election day came around, and the vote totals were 461-459, prompting a recount. The recount ensued, and the result was determined to be a tie.
Florida law deals with tie votes: The winner is determined by a coin toss, straw draw or card cut. The Cheval West pair opted for the cards, and the winner drew a king of hearts to the loser's three of clubs.
But as with all things political this election season, Iraq played a hand in the deal.
The deck was the camouflage-colored Iraq's Most Wanted Cards, which was intended to depict the most-wanted Iraqi leaders to U.S. troops.
The winner of the draw did a good job of summing the issue up when he told the St. Petersburg Times, "There was something unsettling about using that deck to settle an election in the land of the free and the home of the brave."
An election official said that was the only deck of cards that she had in the house, a gag gift from her mother-in-law last Christmas.
Here's the dilemma, as offered by former Islander David Reid, who maintains ties to the Island from his home in California. This question, he added via e-mail, was in fact used in some job interviews.
You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus:
An old lady who looks as if she is about to die.
An old friend who once saved your life.
The perfect partner you have been dreaming about.
Which one would you choose to offer a ride to, knowing that there could only be one passenger in your car?
Obviously one of those moral/ethical dilemmas, you could pick up the old lady, because she is going to die, and thus you should save her first.
Or you could take the old friend because he once saved your life, and this would be the perfect chance to pay him back.
However, you may never again be able to find your perfect mate.
The candidate who was hired out of 200 applicants had no trouble coming up with his answer. He simply answered, "I would give the car keys to my old friend and let him take the lady to the hospital. I would stay behind and wait for the bus with the partner of my dreams."
Pretty good answer, eh? Well, how about this solution, which is a great example of "thinking outside the box."
Run the old lady over and put her out of her misery, have sex with the perfect partner on the hood of the car, then drive off with the old friend for some beers.
As David put it, "God, I just love happy endings."
Alligators are classed by state officials as a "species of special concern." At one point, gators were on the brink of extinction. Today, they have had such a resurgence that controlled hunts are permitted at certain times of the year in certain spots of the state.
There are an estimated 1.5 million alligators in Florida.
There are almost 17 million people in the Sunshine State.