Photos taken while boating and beach-combing in Mosquito Lagoon on the east coast of Florida.
We seldom take our boat down to Mosquito Lagoon even though that is suppose to be the place to fish. Our boat is a flats boat which means it is meant to traverse shallow water. It handles waves okay, but not large waves or choppy water.
Mosquito Lagoon – the wide open part – is about a 20 minute trip by boat for us and if there is wind kicking up waves once we get there, it is not a comfortable ride. If we happen to hit beautiful, glassy water, we can keep going south to the cut through at Haulover Canal. That takes us through to the other side of the lagoon.
This is where we went the day I took these photos.
The Lagoon is a place for fishermen. It is not a place to go to beach-comb. There are islands along that area, heading south, which are pretty nice and can be used for camping. But, we rode way down that way once only to find that all the islands were inhabited by people.
Mosquito Lagoon is a huge area that looks more like a giant lake. I’d like to explore it more, but when we are far from home, and if the weather changes, we could get in trouble.
We’ve tried using the boat ramps on Merritt Island, but they are not the greatest. And the ramp at Haulover Canal is small and crowded.
When I am out walking a beach or shallow water area, I am mostly searching for seashells and sea life to photograph for this blog. Sometimes I end up with many more photos than I will use.
Here I am sharing some photos that may have been overlooked from the trip.
One thing about this (rather creepy) area where I walked was the fact that there were many, many dead horseshoe crabs. They were scattered over the beach sand and all throughout the water. Later I read that raccoons will eat them, although this page about horseshoe crabs does not mention raccoons as predators. It does mention alligators. This water can have gators (I found a skull), which adds to the creepiness.
Horseshoe crabs leave behind an exoskeleton when they molt. If they get turned upside down they may die. Grab them by the big part of the shell, not the tail, and turn them over. They are harmless.
I walked along this shallow water area and around the corner where the water got creepy. The brown became darker until it was nearly black. I did not venture neat that water.
I found a lot of living sea snails and no hermit crabs. My son did some fishing but caught nothing. We will make the trip back one day.
A hermit crab inside a crown conch shell while the snail is still inside makes me question what is going on here?
From everything I’ve read about hermit crabs, the consensus is that they don’t harm snails. They wait to find an empty shell and then move in.
When beach-combing, I see far more hermit crabs inside shells than actual live conchs and whelks, or the snails which made the shell. I find that odd, since there is quite a good ecosystem out on the mud flats. Very few people mess with beach nature out there. Visitors prefer the ocean beaches, and even the boaters either fish or sit and enjoy the tranquility found on a little sandy beach away from crowds.
It’s curious that I don’t see many more living snails. Then, I came upon this unusual scene.
Hermit Crabs and the Crown Conch
We pulled up to a little island the other day and as soon as I stepped out of the boat I saw this cluster of hermit crabs. A cluster of hermits in various shells is a regular sight, but one of the shells had a conch inside. And when I looked closer, I saw something I’d never seen before.
One hermit was already inside the conch shell. The other hermit was on top of the shell and looking for access. Watch my short video of these hermits with the conch snail, which is not the greatest, but shows what is happening in the picture above.
A hermit crab had crawled down inside the shell – even though the conch was still inside! I don’t know if the conch was alive but the shell was not vacant. It appeared to me that the hermit crab was shoving the snail out of it’s home.
If this is the case, then did the hermit crab kill the conch? It would also explain the abundance of hermit crabs in the area. After all, if they have to sit around and wait for an empty shell, it could be a long wait. Why not just oust the snail and grab the shell?
I took a bunch of photos and have chosen the best to share here. You can see the legs of the striped hermit crab holding on, and wrapping round, the snail. I don’t know if the snail is still alive, but the crab pushed it’s way in even though the shell was occupied by the shell-maker. Did the snail die (for some reason – and was not eaten) and the crab was disposing of the body? Or did that crab cause the snail’s death?
The crown conch snail has black splotches, which can be seen in these pictures, although the foot seems shriveled (see my photo below of a live crown conch snail). The hermit crab was tucked way down behind the conch. I touched it’s legs and it didn’t care. He held on tightly to the snail, which also was not moving.
The Black Speckled Foot of the Crown Conch
The foot can be seen on another crown conch that I found a while back. In the photo below the foot is emerging from the spiky shell. That conch was alive, and it leads me to believe that the one pictured above may have been dead. The foot is yellowed and shrunken. But, did the snail die on it’s own, or did the hermit crab have something to do with that?
The Mighty Grip of the Hermit Crab
By the way, those hermit crabs have a mighty grip. Not long ago we visited this same island and I saw many big tulip shells. One shell had a hermit crab inside who was tightly holding onto a pear whelk. It seemed that the pear was empty, and the hermit had such a tight grip that I could hold these shells off the ground by pulling on the tip of the whelk. He was not going to let that shell go!
I can’t imagine why, since the hermit was already in a very nice shell. Do they covet every empty shell they see? There may have been another hermit crab inside the pear whelk, but I didn’t see one. Almost all hermit crabs I see are the striped variety.
So my question is, do hermit crabs kill marine snails just to take over their shells? I’m not sure why a snail would simply die. Aren’t they usually eaten by birds or other snails? Of course, I don’t know and maybe snails do die of other causes.
Then again, if hermit crabs are killers, it would explain the huge number of them living inside seashells in this area. More observation and investigation, on my part, is needed. One thing is for sure. Both the hermit crab and snail were in the shell at the same time.
I believe in scientific studies, but isn’t it possible that a few hermit crabs may have gone rogue and become impatient with waiting for snails to die? They have claws. And some of the hermit crabs I’ve seen are pretty large.
With a large population of hermit crabs in the area, finding empty shells to inhabit must be tough. Maybe the hermit crabs in this area are desperate enough to become resourceful in new ways. They will die without a shell to live in.
In closing, never buy hermit crabs as pets, or pick one up from the beach to take home. Being in captivity shortens their life, by a lot. And their existence is miserable compared to being in the wild. Read more about why it’s a bad idea here.
At an island beach near the Ponce Inlet, on the central East coast of Florida, I discovered two of my favorite shells in shallow water. This is an area without many people (at least not when we visited) and whenever we visit I find some cool things. This day was no exception when I saw an Olive shell next to a Fighting Conch.
Olive shells are too tightly wound for hermit crabs to inhabit, so if it was empty I could collect it. I reached down and rolled it and knew right away it was living. You can see the snail in the photo below.
The Fighting Conch was also alive and I saw the orange body as soon as I picked it up.
Fighting conch shells can be beautiful colors having purple and maroon in the shell. This one was more brown and looks a bit broken along the edge. Both the Lettered Olive and Fighting Conch are easier to find on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Here on the eastern side I seldom come across them.
The Florida Fighting Conch (Strombus alatus) has a thick shell. Once I picked this one up he began to reach for the sand and came right out of the shell for me to see! I took quick photos and put him back so as not to stress him out.
After looking around online, those two thin appendages are its eyes. As for the rest, I’m not sure. Isn’t that orange color gorgeous? The horse conch is also bright orange.
The reason you won’t find nice shells like this on the ocean beach is that the mollusks like to live in calmer water where they have a food supply of algae and detritus.
In the same area I also found a living crown conch and watched as it crawled across the sand using it’s whitish foot.