When Snails Collide With Trains

13 Aug

Lined Treesnail  and Its Giant Spider Pal

Florida scrub is home to even better creatures than the plants:  gopher tortoises, red widows, scrub jays, and so much more, not that scrub habitats are a joy to visit on a Florida summer afternoon.  It all started while looking for a way to put an hour to good use waiting for my wife’s business in the Boynton Beach City Hall.  I drifted to the nearby Seacrest Scrub, which led to a hot sweaty followup stopover in the Jupiter Inlet scrub today with tree snails on my mind. 

By John Bradford

Guarding the trailhead this Tropical Orbweaver was the size of a small frog, encountered while searching for tree snails.   The spider spreads a wide web by night, and is a sleeping giant by day, cuddling up with its legs pressed together on the undersides of curled leaves.  It can “tuck itself in” with silk pajamas.  After this distraction, on to the tree snails.

Underside of snoozing orbweaver, in a pawpaw leaf. Don’t rouse the sleeping giant!

Florida is home to a beautifully patterned tree snails with dozens of color variants in multiple genera.   They are more numerous around Miami and in the Keys where long ago they became a non-horticultural intersection between two early Miami horticultural Illinois-native transplanted titans, viz:

Titan 1.   William Krome (1876-1929) was the main construction engineer responsible for building the 128-mile overseas railroad out to the Florida Keys.    He also was an avid horticulturist, mainly interested fruit growing.   Krome’s homestead became a UF Research and Education Center where the breeding system of avocados was discovered.

Link to KROME

Titan 2.  Charles Torrey Simpson (1846-1932) was a  colorful, multifaceted, storied individual with several chapters in his life, a couple of them a little tainted.  Long story short, two points interest us today.  Simpson’s main career was a malacologist, a biologist who studies snails. His main (long) retirement second career was a rock star horticulturist/naturalist in the burgeoning Miami community.  Simpson was something of an environmental activist when it suited him, although he had no problem raiding natural areas to help himself to orchids and other native plants.

Fawning LINK to Simpson

Snail-hunting Simpson used Krome’s new railroad bridges and clearings for access to unexplored tree snail habitats, but at the same time, I believe, as an eyewitness, he disliked Krome’s destruction of the fragile Keys habitats.  (I cannot put my finger on it, but I think he criticized the RR habitat destruction in the Miami Herald. His general attitude on FL habitat destruction relative to the snails is mixed with description of walking the RR line in the Keys in the attachment at the end of the blog.)   Divine retribution for destroying even such modest works of Creation as snails was the 1935 Hurricane crumbling much of the overseas railroad into the sea.

Anyhow, it is fun and rare to spot a tree snail here and now, on a Hog-Plum (Ximenia americana) in the local scrub.   They are not hurting the tree, but rather consume algae and lichens from the bark.

To dig in deeper:

CLICK for more


Posted by on August 13, 2021 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “When Snails Collide With Trains

  1. Sally Brodie

    August 14, 2021 at 7:47 am

    Thank you for a wonderful write up and pictures, as always. I have seen only one tree snail with my eyes and was at a native plant nursery. I continue to look for them in my yard and only find the invasive snails, which i dutifully crush!

    • George Rogers

      August 14, 2021 at 9:23 am

      Hi Sally, For me at least, finding them as far N as Jupiter is unusual. With no real data, my guess is not so many way up in your neck of the woods, although I think John took those two pictures up there, but then again, he has an eagle eye for interesting nature.

  2. Barbara Levy

    August 20, 2021 at 1:20 am

    Always a fun read – many thanks!! Wish you were STILL TEACHING!!


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