Here & Now December 2012
About Those Steamy Shell Games.
Just so you’re warned: what I’m about to tell you about lobsters will get quite steamy, and not in a stovetop kind of way. We humans tend to think we wrote the book on sensuality, but it turns out, well, you judge for yourself.
In spiny lobster-land, which is what we have in the Gulf of Mexico, the female swims to the door of a cute guy-lobster’s den and swooshes in a generous stream of pheromones. After fanning the water around him to enjoy the scent, he emerges all virile and ready to start the lobster version of an Argentine tango. When the female raises her claws to his head, the dance is over, but definitely not the romance. He escorts her into his cave, where she molts her spiny shell and becomes totally submissive to his passions. The rest, I’m afraid, is too steamy for this tasteful publication, but it involves soft flesh, swimmerets, legs and mouth parts. About a week later, however, she dumps him, and he never gets to meet his 10,000 or so children.
SHOW ME YOUR BUBBLES, BABY
I’m not the only one imparting sea creature sex education around here. After a visit to C’mon, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, any alert six-year-old can tell you what gets a female alligator all lovey-dovey. It’s a guy gator’s bubbles. Yep, during mating season, when a hot gator babe is on the premises, the males around her commence a raucous water dance. It drives her wild. The guy who makes the biggest bubbles wins.
Even nondescript little fishes in the backwaters know how to compete. According to Everglades National Park naturalist John Kalafarski, the longnose killifish, which can fit into the palm of a man’s hand, goes all bright and colorful during mating season. But not daring to depend on a single ploy, he flips upside down and just hangs there looking irresistible (and kind of stupid, really) till the girl swoons.
I like dolphin romance best, because dolphins mate for pleasure, all year, and the male uses sweet moves like nuzzling and dancing to impress his lady.
WHO’S YOUR DADDY?
At the other end of the sensuality scale is the male horseshoe crab. Several of them attach themselves to one female in a sort of conga line of little brown military helmets, each holding onto the one in front of him. She crawls along, poor thing, dragging her conga line, digging holes and depositing eggs (90,000 of them). The males fertilize them as they pass over them. What a bunch of slackers.
Speaking of indeterminate paternity, who knew that the manatee— that sluggish, not-so-lovely creature nicknamed “sea cow,” would be a seductress? But oh yes, she is. During mating season, she’ll have a whole herd of males following her and she can’t decide which one to choose. Indeed, why should she? So many hunky sea cows, so little time. Since manatees tend to mate raucously in shallow waters, the group orgies can provide quite a show for passing boaters. By the way, if you’re on a family tour, don’t worry—they’ll tell you the manatees are just playing.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE WATER
Technically, not everything on the Gulfshore is about sex in the water. We’ve had a generous share of the supernatural, bootlegging and debauchery, murder, mayhem and otherwise very strange occurrences on land in the last century or so. It just takes hooking up with the right insiders to reveal the secrets.
Find out why two Du Pont sisters secreted themselves within a walled enclave near the Naples Pier. Hear the consequences when an unsuspecting family built a home on a Calusa burial ground and what went on in the parlors and the narrow alleys back in the late 1800s. It all spills out on a Palm Cottage Walking Tour in Old Naples each Wednesday morning. napleshistoricalsociety.org; (239) 261-8164
The historic Fort Myers River District holds many secrets. Sign up for an art, architecture, haunted or history tour at True Tours, truetours.net; (239) 945-0405
If you think lobsters and horseshoe crabs live scandalous lives, wait till you hear the goings on in the lives of pioneers, outlaws and hermits in the Ten Thousand Islands. Old Ted Smallwood has passed on, but the life-size figure in his old rocking chair at his original Indian trading post on Chokoloskee Island is so real it might just get up and tell you what he knows. Like who killed Mr. Watson in one of the most sensational murders of the time. smallwoodstore.com; (239) 659-2989
Check in with the brilliant and quirky Thomas Edison (actually, guides who do a great job channeling the great inventor). Explore his laboratory, his inventions, his home and gardens on the Caloosahatchee River, as well as those of his best friend and neighbor Henry Ford at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. edisonfordwinterestates.org; (239) 334-7419
FOLLOW THE CREATURES
Track dolphins in the backwaters.
Join marine scientists aboard an official research vessel in the backwaters around Marco Island who are documenting the migratory, mating, feeding and play patterns of a resident pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin Explorer. dolphin-study.com; (239) 642-6899
Go hiking in the Amazon of America.
An Everglades National Park naturalist by profession, John Kalafarski leads walking tours through the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. Stay dry or get wet, according to conditions and your preferences. Oh, the things he has seen and the tales he can tell. Everglades Area Tours. evergladesareatours.com; (239) 695-3633
Pick a creative program at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida (conservancy. org; 239-262-0304); Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve (rookerybay. org. 239- 417-6310), or Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/dingdarling; 239-472-1100).
Have a sea-life encounter. Cruise with the kids to an uninhabited island and go netting for surprising small sea creatures like seahorses and puffer fish. Adventures in Paradise at Port Sanibel Marina. adventuresinparadise.com; (239) 472-8443