Monday, September 28, 2015

The Queen Conch

As I am sitting down to write three mini-episodes I am reflecting on the animals and plants make the Florida Keys such a magical and unique place. The Keys are home to a large and diverse ecosystem, but for me personally the animals I think embody the Florida Keys are cassiopeia jellyfish, dolphins,  and of course conch! Of all the animals I would like to study in the series, it seems fitting to begin with the conch because Key West is the Conch Republic, after all!

I can remember finding Queen Conch from the beaches to the snorkeling trips we took into the back country. Every time we found one it was such special treat! If you waited just long enough, you would see the remarkable blue and black, or yellow and black eyes emerge from the shell. Just like these:

Photo by Brianna Larson
My Mother used to take my brother and I out with Captain Victoria and I loved it when you stumbled upon a Conch. It would be crawling along the sea bed, and it was really only noticeable by the crown of the shell because if the Conch did it's job right it's shell was covered with sand and sometimes plants to help it blend in with the sea floor. We would pick it up excited to see if the Conch was still housed inside of if it was a vacant shell. Sometimes you would turn the shelf over to be met with not the peaceful eyes of a Conch but the eyes, claws and legs of a hermit crab! If there was a Conch inside the snail would retreat into the shell, using their nail as the front door and they just dead bolted it! My mother and Captain Victoria taught me that the Conch's nail was called an "operculum".  The little Conch in the picture above is too young to have a fully formed operculum and can't lock themselves away all the way yet. Overtime a Conch was found big or small it was a treasure we all shared. It reminds me now what a delightful treat it can be exploring the Florida Keys, and how if you are patient enough the wonders of the Florida Keys' ocean will reveal themselves.

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