When the last days of September began to fade and the relentless summer sun is replaced with equal amounts of darkness and light, October claims the calendar and subtle changes begin creeping toward our island that must be watched by the vigilant and the wary.
With the slanting shadows of autumn reaching for the setting sun earlier every day, bats become darts in the twilight as they search over Marco Lake, the Indian mounds of Caxambas and the last of the orange light over Barfield Bay.
The fact that Florida bats become larger in autumn is well known by the scientific community, but what is happening just to the south of Marco Island is alarming to say the least. Apparently, the nutrient-rich freshwater runoff that was the cause of so much red tide and blue-green algae has now crept down into the Ten Thousand Islands and is causing a disturbing phenomenon just south of Marco in the islands surrounding Cape Romano.
Everyone that has explored our beaches—especially the beaches that are more remote—will have come upon holes in the sand that are the burrows of Ghost Crabs. These crusty critters conjure their name from a pale-white to almost clear appearance and the habit of emerging from their lairs at the last minutes before sunset.
The Ghost Crab is an aggressive and vicious predator that is extremely fast and intelligent. Throughout the barrier islands, they own the beach between the water’s edge and the mangroves. When not in their burrows they haunt the sea oats and the dune grass and lie in wait for any unsuspecting victim of prey that happen to venture into the wrong place at the wrong time. What is even more fascinating is the fact that Ghost Crabs work in packs with the larger alpha females leading raiding clusters to attack much larger prey than individual crabs would attempt on their own.
According to Dr. Heinrich Beck of the Florida Wildlife and Coastal Survey, the bats of Marco Island are not the only animals that are getting bigger in autumn. The Ghost Crabs of the Ten Thousand Islands also appear to be growing at an exponential rate. Years ago, the average Ghost Crab could be measured at around 4 to 6 inches but now a newly evolved sub species of the aggressive creatures is measuring over 14 inches and getter larger every season.
Dr. Beck explained in a recent interview: “The Ghost Crabs are exoskeletons—like insects and their growth rate and ultimate size depends on their environment. Throughout nature and around the world we have observed the same type of abnormal growth in many different species. The giant anteaters of North West Africa have tripled in size in the last 50 years due to excessive nutrients found in the ants and termites that they consume. Another example would be the spiny jellyfish of Hong Kong Harbor. These creatures 20 years-ago were this size of teacups but are now equal in size to that of a large truck tire. It is also important to realize that the West African coast and Hong Kong are both on the globe at 25 degrees of latitude just the same as Marco Island.”
When asked if the alarming growth rates of different species in different parts of the world could be linked to nutrient runoff and global warming Dr. Beck and the Florida Wildlife and Coastal Survey’s official answer was a definite: “Absolutely.”
Dr. Beck went on to expound further about even more compelling evidence found near the mangroves just south of Goodland.
“The larger Ghost Crabs leave very definitive tracks in the sand and these claw marks have been found in abundance next to several raccoon skeletons on Coon Key. The remains of the raccoon bones were picked clean with no sign of fur or any other undesirable body parts left behind by bobcats or most other predators.”
Dr. Beck continued. “I now believe that the Raccoons on Coon Key were decimated by a large pack of the recently evolved Ghost Crabs, but the two kayaks found on Cape Romano and the two missing kayakers are probably unrelated. However, as in the unprecedented situations in West Africa and Hong Kong, rapidly changing environment can have rapidly changing results and behaviors. In normal mating situations, female Ghost Crabs deposit their fertilized eggs in the surf line and allow prevailing winds and tides to carry the hatched larvae until they can find something on which to cling and begin further growth.
“Unfortunately, the extensive seawalls and canals of Marco Island offer a very favorable situation and environment for the thousands of Ghost Crab larvae that are driven northward by prevailing southerly breezes. Mating season for all crabs occurs in October, but with the influx of the newly evolved species, Marco Islanders could expect Ghost Crabs the size on lawn mowers to be crawling up out of the canal system after sunset and looking for food. Some of the Ghost Crabs could even become the size of golf carts along with the larger bats that will be swooping down with the last light and the last day of October.”
What you have just read is a complete work of fiction meant exclusively for the frightening entertainment of readers of the Coastal Breeze. Please share the beginning of the story with your family and friends that they too might be shocked and then hopefully entertained.