Growing up in Ft. Lauderdale, I knew Florida was a magical place, even before there was a Magic Kingdom. Florida was quirky and original, had an abundance of wildlife on land or offshore and was full of attractions you could find no where else in the world.
The undersea world of the Florida Keys and the Bahamas was introduced to those not from here via cutting edge 1960’s technology involving underwater motion picture cameras, which made possible the popular movie and TV series “Flipper.” Each 30 minute episode would present a predicament, such as injured divers, or shark attacks, or finding buried treasure, and each time the clever bottlenose dolphin Flipper would come to the rescue. The big ideas of marine preservation and doing what is right would always ring true. There was always a happy ending, it’s no wonder at the end of the show you would find yourself singing “Flipper, Flipper… faster than lightning; No-one you see, is smarter than he…” Sorry about that… I have you baby boomers singing now!
Just as people nowadays, want to see their favorite movie stars, kids would want to go see Flipper, the bottle nosed Dolphin (Tursiops Truncatus) so they visited the marine parks, which were plentiful at the time. They watched dolphins tail walk, jump 30 ft. in the air to catch a fish from the trainer’s mouth, or jump through a flaming ring. Because of their ability to adapt to human care, as well as learn new behaviors, they are the most studied of all dolphin species. These dolphins performed at 10 - 2 - and 4 - pm and earned their meals for the day. Unlike wild dolphins, who feed on a variety of sea life including: fish, shrimp, and squid, these captive porpoises, having been in the performing business all their lives, many born in captivity, would not understand how to catch a live fish. They only ate cut up dead fish which had added vitamins and fluids necessary for their good health.
One of my early childhood memories was of a souvenir I got while visiting “Flipper” at the 38 acre Miami Seaquarium on Key Biscayne, which was opened in 1955. It was an all day round trip, traveling down US-1. After seeing the show, and visiting all the seals, manatees, turtles and fishtanks, I put a quarter in the Mold-A-Rama machine and watched as hot wax was molded into a dolphin figurine. So cool.
Tike Miller, the Chicago inventor of the Mold-A-Rama machine, never set out to make one of the most popular vending machines in history, he just wanted to replace a broken figurine for his holiday nativity set. He experimented with a new plastic injection process, and made thousands of wax dinosaurs, space invaders and jungle animals before he sold the business in the late 1950’s.
Well you ask, why is this so important? The history of the “state of the art” then vs now is what makes this interesting. What happens when the show is over, literally? With attendance down, and protests up, the number of marine parks has declined steadily. Many of these facilities are desperately searching for homes for their retired dolphins.
And the wide eyed children, they’ve moved on. The attentions of todays generation of children are fixed on 21st Century innovations. not the engineering technology of the 20th Century which made possible the Overseas Highway connecting the mainland to Key West.
The new generation’s role models are from the Avatar series. With human-like animation, it’s theme is centered around the conflict between indigenous populations, and their deep will to survive, versus their oppressors’ intentions, which would cause environmental destruction of their world. The undersea creatures of Pandora in The Way of the Water were filmed using high fidelity motion capture, known as performance capture, which uses multiple cameras and sensors to capture facial expressions, and impart real-life mannerisms onto a human-like animation. From an efficiency perspective, it is far easier to teach a human to act, hold their breath, to swim, jump or dive than to train a real animal. With advances in microchips and processors and the speed of computing, finer more precise movements are possible. One day humans will not be able to recognize the difference between real and unreal reality.
And perhaps we will never have to go outdoors ever again.
A VR headset may work for me as far as going in the ocean is concerned. I made a pact with the fish long ago: you don’t come on my land and I won’t go into your water.
In a perfect world, all insects would stay outside and be perfectly content in their soil filled, green leafed, decaying mulch environment. Unfortunately sometime conditions are such… like when it rains a lot, the bugs decide to cross that sacred threshold, and enter.
Of all the creatures, the one I cannot stand is the cockroach, or palmetto bug. They are the stuff of nightmares, as they fly through a room. The cockroaches hide in dark places and emerge when no-one is looking. I always imagined cockroaches living in my sister’s beehive hairdo, a style popular in the 1960’s, Her hair would would be teased and sprayed, and wound into a tall bun. When my sister styled one of these hairdos, it would last for days, even withstanding potential collapse during sleep.
Last summer, as part of plumbing maintenance, we had our drain pipes pressure cleaned. The plumber inserted a video camera through a roof vent to show the grease and scale accumulated on the pipes, and the hundreds of creepy cockroaches living there. The second video taken after the cleaning showed the pipes clean and as good as new. Throughout this process, the cockroaches in the pipes escaped through the roof vent. I needed a video of the plumber doing his crazy dance, as he brushed the creepy, crawly cockroaches off his arms and legs. Unfortunately, some of the cockroaches escaped by way of the sink drains inside our home… an unintended consequence to say the least. Most roaches were contained, but there were some that managed to evade capture. The cats would find and play with one or two, but for the most part just ignored them. If I saw one I would attempt to step on it, but I hate that popping sound when they go squish. To control the cockroaches, I’d put combat gel or boric acid in cracks, out of reach from the cats. That worked okay, but a natural solution was on the horizon.
Is my new insect friend the proverbial fly on the wall, able to watch what happens without people knowing? We all have experienced our phones eavesdropping on conversations, and later displaying ads related to the conversations. Well if Siri is listening, and if the tech folks are getting a direct feed from their consumers, and if the government is watching our every move… at least we are keeping everyone busy.
Since the fly creature was friendly, it allowed me to photograph it. Via my post on iNaturalist, my “super spy” creature was identified as an Ensign wasp. These wasps live to exterminate cockroaches! Indeed my friend! Evania appendigaster, also known as the blue-eyed ensign wasp, lay their eggs in cockroach egg casings. The wasps’ eggs hatch, and the larvae eat the roaches within the egg case. These wasps are not known to sting humans. So what do you do if you find an Ensign wasp in your house, leave it alone to look for cockroaches!
There is another creature on my patio that I literally ran into… a spider who spins it’s web all around the screen porch, and I often encounter their low webs. Aargh. It’s spiny body looks ominous, but in fact they are friendly. The common Spinybacked Orbweaver, Gasteracantha cancriformis, are often called "crab spiders", because they look a little like crabs. The Spiny orbweaver is a beneficial spider that feasts on garden pests, and flying insects such as whiteflies, mosquitoes, and wasps. Outdoors they spin their webs within trees and shrubs.
Their webs are about 12 inches across, with many connecting strands. The patio is covered with them, but the lowness was bugging me! I discovered a solution by accident, when a helium balloon got loose on the patio. As it floated around inside the enclosure, the spiders relocated to spaces beside the high beams where the balloon couldn’t affect them. Problem solved. Now we buy balloons just for the purpose of releasing.
Nature has a solution for everything. We just have to be patient and observe the world around us, and pray that my Ensign wasp… my “super spy fly” friend…. doesn’t decide to visit the spiders.
If you have ever visited the parking lot at Key Largo Publix, you have undoubtedly seen the chickens there. Great idea for a story, but why weren’t they there mid-afternoon on a weekday when I actually have my camera to take their photograph?
I drove the whole lot, and all I saw were some chicken feathers. Thinking the worst… did the gentrification squad move them away? My friend said when she was shopping early on a Sunday they were everywhere… even blocking the road, as if daring you to drive-by.
So I returned early one morning, and there they were in all their parading, pecking, crowing, scratching glory. Luckily I had finished photographing by the time the parking lot clean-up crew, with their blowers and weedwackers arrived, and the chickens and roosters dispersed into the woods.
Now that I know their routine, tell me, “where did they come from and why do they stay?”
The chicken (Gallus domesticus) is a domesticated species that arose from the jungle fowl that was originally found throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba. Early settlers in the Keys, many from the Caribbean Islands of the Bahamas and Cuba, kept chicken coups and used them to feed themselves, consuming both the meat and their eggs.
The 10 Year War in Cuba (1868-1878), a war led by planters and wealthy Cubans for independence from Spain, caused many Cubans to migrate to Key West. There were three Cuban wars for independence, the last of which escalated to the United State’s involvement in the Spanish American War, after the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898.
A 1906 postcard of sailors betting on a cockfight depicted everyday life aboard warships during WWI. These sailors must have adopted some of the traditions of the countries they were protecting. Cubans arriving in Key West fleeing a war brought with them their Cuban heritage, including their roosters and the sport of cockfighting.
Is it fair to say the Cuban roosters qualify as military veterans or AWOL?
Cockfighting thrived in the Keys until it was outlawed in the 1970’s; no longer being of use to their owners, these roosters were released into the streets of Key West.
Few are aware that back in the mid-80’s a flourishing illegal cockfighting business was going on in north Key Largo, just off CR 905 about a mile south of the three way at Card Sound Road. On weekends I recall seeing many cars turn off the main road and drive into the hammocks. At a glance, it didn’t look like it was a family picnic. The conversation was loud and exclusively Spanish; there were guards checking all who entered, a few women, but mostly a lot of older Cubans with lots of cash and many bodyguards with lots of guns.
Hidden behind the trees was a huge steel frame building that law enforcement called “The Chicken Ranch”. There were numbered seats surrounding an open ring in the center, where the cockfighting took place. The roosters were raised in chicken farms on Rockland Key, from former Cuban-bred roosters, known for their territorial and aggressive tendencies. The illegal operation was raided, and shut down permanently around 1987-88.
So with hens no longer being kept in coups for food, and roosters no longer being needed for the wagers, these released feral fowl hooked-up and are free-ranging through the Keys. In Key West, whose unofficial mascot is the chicken, locals call their chickens “gypsy chickens” as they roam freely everywhere. So much so that the City of Key West funds a program to rescue, care for the sick and injured, and re-home the chickens.
Many of the chickens from Key West are trucked to farms on the mainland, to continue their free-range lives. Did a few jump off the transport in the parking lot in Key Largo? And now they are here, they are officially staying since obviously someone is feeding them, and I suppose no-one is particularly bothered by the rooster’s early morning crowing. I find them amusing and a small reminder of our early Caribbean island roots.
This photographic website provides me the opportunity for self-expression, for sharing