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It’s like a scene out of Jurassic Park. Swamp lakes, green algae, and oak trees with long tufts of hairy growths swaying eerily in the wind. To complete the picture I hear a long, sonorous growl coming from somewhere on my left followed by a rustling and…how can I put it…a sniffle-snort-grunt coming from right in front of me. It feels exactly like I’ve time-warped back into the primordial goo of a past Ice Age and yet I know, consciously, that I’m still somewhere in modern-day Florida.
As it turns out the hairy green tufts are Spanish Moss, the growl is an alligator (the bigger the growl, the bigger the gator in case you’d like to know) and the rustling brings forth the surprising picture of an Armadillo. It’s the nature of the swamp and once you get over your initial terror, it’s rather a cool place.
I’d never actually seen an Armadillo “in the flesh” so to speak until I came to Florida, and I have to admit the first time I did I burst out laughing. It’s almost impossible to believe that an animal can look so prehistoric and yet so ridiculous at the same time. The “little armored one” as the Spanish named them are leather-shelled animals with long, sharp claws (for digging) offset with soft, pink noses and hairy legs. Their closest living relatives are anteaters and sloths, and the most common american version, the Nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus Novemcinctus) ranges all the way from Florida to Nebraska. I spent a good hour “tracking” the elusive little animal who, despite its apparent clumsiness and almost complete blindness can really leg it when it wants to.
The Spanish Moss I find equally enthralling. This hairy, green growth is actually not a moss, but an Epiphyte, a kind of “air-plant” that grows solely by picking up nutrients and water in the air. The long, grey-green-scaled tentacles elongate and intertwine like a complicated dance up to 20-feet long and propagate by seed and fragments that blow in the wind. It’s a gypsy of the air and it grows all over the South, reminding us that life flows to a different rythm down here.
The gators…well, lets just say I’m happy to leave them be for now. I think I’ll stick to the rest of nature and stay in my own little naive dream of prehistoric fun. Now, if just Tarzan would come along……
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