A Cold Day In May
By Bill Frank
Aerial view of Cumberland Island     On Saturday, May 15th, thirteen members and friends of the Jacksonville Shell Club traveled to Cumberland Island, Georgia to take advantage of the day’s minus one-foot tide. Participating in the expedition were your editor, Charlotte Lloyd with friends Marilyn and Ann, Bill and Betsy Lyerly, Jim Miller (Tallahassee), Trudy Doerr, Rob and D.D. Jewell, and Teresa St. John with two friends including former club member Kathy Hughes (Bristol, Florida near Tallahassee).

     Your editor was the first to arrive at the ranger station in St. Marys, Georgia – the embarkation point for the Cumberland Island Queen Ferry - our transportation to the island. Arriving shortly thereafter were Rob and D.D. Two things were immediately apparent – Rob and D.D. had a totally flat tire (they both disavowed any knowledge of it), and it was unseasonably cold and windy for the middle of May. While Rob changed the tire and D.D. wrapped herself in a towel for protection from the fierce wind, the remainder of the group arrived.

     So it was all aboard, and following a windy, cold, rough, and spray-filled 45-minute ride, the Queen arrived at the Dungeness Dock, where about half the group disembarked to avail themselves of the cultural aspects of the island. The remaining "hard core" continued on to the Sea Camp Dock, where it was but a leisurely 15-minute walk to the beach.

     Upon arrival at the Sea Camp Beach, it was obvious that not much had changed from your editor and Jim Miller’s observations on April 15th (see Shell-O-Gram Volume 40(3), May-June, 1999). Despite the intervening northeasters, the wrack line had little in the way of dead shells, and what there were had been nearly buried by the omnipresent winds.

     As low tide was yet four hours away, the wrack line was explored in depth. Most of the species found were bivalves – both as singles and as pairs – a good portion drilled in the umbo area probably by Neverita duplicata. Of interest were the numerous lengthy Busycon egg cases interspersed with the debris. To confirm the species that had produced them, they were dissected. Surprisingly, very few of the egg cases contained larval shells, but the few present were all identified as Busycon carica. The paucity of larval shells in the capsules was surprising in light of past observations of B. perversum cases beach-stranded at other collecting areas. Characteristctly these contained hundreds of larval shells. The differences in hatching ratio between B. carica and B. perversum may be due to intrinsically higher fertility or more forgiving weather conditions where the egg cases were deposited at spawning. Either way this accurately reflects the abundance of B. carica thriving on the Cumberland beach.

     As the tide ebbed, the beach both north and south of Sea Camp was explored. Busycon carica form eliceans was the predominant taxon – but only in modest numbers. As we continued south toward the jetty at the St. Marys River entrance, a pair of Busycotypus canaliculatus were also found – having been overlooked by Jim in his search for B. carica form eliceans.

     At this point, club member Carol Ruckdeschel and her research partner, Dr. Bob Shoop, arrived on their four-wheel all-terrain vehicles and transported Charlotte to the jetty where she found a large B. sinistrum which was subsequently photographed and released.

     Because of the high winds and low temperatures, seven of the group left early for St. Marys on the 2:45 PM ferry. However, the remaining six (your editor, Charlotte, Jim, and Teresa’s group) persevered until the 4:45 PM ferry and were not disappointed.

     As the tide continued to ebb, B. carica form eliceans were present virtually everywhere in all sizes, colors, etc. Your editor examined so many that he too gave up after an hour of this insanity. Collecting the species might be doing them a favor as there were so many live mollusks sharing a common habitat, their food supply must be doubt. Other live species seen in numbers were Terebra dislocata, Sinum perspectivum, Neverita duplicata, and other small species (Nassarius sp., etc.). Surprisingly, no Oliva sayana was seen.

Sinum perspectivum (Say, 1831) White Baby Ear

Sinum perspecitivum

     As the afternoon progressed, the wind abated, the temperature increased, and it was a calm, warm and relaxing return trip aboard the Queen to St. Marys.

     Cumberland Island is truly a special place – a place that gives one an insight into what the barrier islands of northeast Florida/southeast Georgia looked like to the early explorers of the new world. Whether it is the wild horses (which freely roam the island), the readily availability of the various molluscan species, or the surprising lack of fear of man exhibited by island animals (not so the deer), it is an experience that is well worth the time and effort required to visit.

     Thanks to Carol and Bob for taking time away out of their busy schedule to once again serve as hosts to Jacksonville Shell Club members.

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