The Gulf of Mexico and her bays are brimming with life! And when you go out for a family-friendly boating excursion, you want to keep the children interested and entertained. Everyone loves seeing a manatee float by or a dolphin pop out of the water, but by looking under the water, you can find small little “critters” that will delight everyone onboard – from your tantrum-throwing toddler to your grumpy, sulky teen.
Locally, a great place to find all of these animals close to Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key is on the west side of Jewfish Key. At low tide, the water is only a few inches deep and it’s as clear as a bell. You can see the critters with plain eyesight (however, a pair of polarized sunglasses help a lot!) Think of it as your very own “touch tank.”
These prehistoric creatures are as old as dinosaurs, but this unique species has survived and remains one of the most interesting animals to witness. The Horseshoe Crab is not actually a crab, but rather related to the land spider. It is often used in scientific research because its blood is unlike ours and made of copper (instead of iron). Don’t worry when you see the long barb coming from its back. It is not dangerous and does not sting. It is used to help flip the Horseshoe Crab back upright if it gets flipped over on its back.
Florida Fighting Conch
Get your guards up! Don’t try to pick these fellows up, because they are fighters (which explains their name). They pose no threat, but it is quite fun to watch them “jump” as their defense tactic. The Fighting Conch’s shell is a beautiful caramel and orange color, but it will typically be covered in slimy algae. These conchs are prized amongst the shelling crowd, but please do not take the shell if there is a live animal inside.
With their long, skinny legs, these crabs are creepy and cool looking! They scoot along the sandy bottom, scavenging for tiny morsels to eat. When you approach, the crab may wave his pinchers over its head, as it does when it’s trying to ward off predators, and then quickly run away. The spider crab is unique because it can also walk forward and backwards, as many crabs can only move side to side.
A favorite shell of lefty’s! When you hold the shell in your hand, open side up, the shell is the only one that opens to the left. These shells can become very large in size – over one foot long! Native Americans frequently used these shells to make drills, hammers and decorations.