By Charles Towne
Though the following brief glimpse into nature could, and likely does happen, it is after all fiction, but fiction based on fact. Watch; always watch, for it is the watcher that survives.
The mosquito larva would be safe if it could reach the leaf. That it did not realize that the thing was a leaf was not important, only that its shadow represented a safe haven, a place to hide.
The tiny insect larva swam toward the leaf. The water is only inches in depth, but to a creature so small those inches could very well have represented fathoms.
Propelled by sporadic whips of its tail the larva moves forward in an erratic up and down motion. Without realizing it those very movements are what attracts the minnow’s attention.
The mosquito larva has almost reached the leaf, totally unaware of the tiny mosquito fish that lays hungrily waiting and watching under that very leaf. Suddenly there is a flash of movement and before the mosquito larva can flee it is seized, and a moment later, engulfed.
The minnow, only an inch and a half long, resumes its role as predator back under the leaf. It has eaten several of the tiny insects and for the moment its hunger is satisfied.
Hanging there motionless, pumping water through its tiny gill slits, it is unaware that it also is being watched.
With patience born of an insatiable appetite the crayfish waits.
The little crustacean is, as all of its kind, an opportunistic feeder. It would always scavenge the dead, but if the chance should present itself…? It watches the minnow hungrily, hopefully.
The minnow sees movement. Another mosquito larva! It dashes in pursuit, so intent on capturing the larva it is unaware of the crayfish until it is too late. The larva swims within an inch of the crayfish, the minnow in swift pursuit, intent only on its prey.
The crayfish, pinchers poised, lunges forward! The minnow is seized, allowing the larva to escape under a bit of flotsam.
The crayfish, with rapid thrusts of its tail jets backward, settling near the shore in less than two inches of water and immediately begins tearing the minnow into shreds it starts to feed.
The half-grown bullfrog watches greedily, and then, when it was sure, it lunges! Both the crayfish and the yet struggling minnow are seized. The bullfrog moved backward and settled itself, then It swallows, blinks, and relaxes.
To relax can be fatal.
The frog is only about half-grown as is the 24-inch long cottonmouth water moccasin that just so happens to be watching nearby. The snake has seen the frog’s movement and is now moving forward.
As the bullfrog settles down to digest its meal the cottonmouth continues to move closer, ever closer. The snake’s movements are slow, born of patience, as it closes the gap.
When it is sure of itself it strikes.
The reptile does not use its deadly poison apparatus; it seizes the frog with innumerable re-curved needle-like teeth, immediately throwing a loop of its powerful body around its prey.
It then begins to contract, suffocating the frog, squeezing the life giving air from its lungs.
If the frog was been a little smaller it would not have been constricted, it simply would have been swallowed alive.
Soon, very soon, the bullfrog moves no more. Minutes have passed, such a brief time that the crayfish inside the frog’s gut is yet precariously clinging to life as the snake begins to swallow the frog.
The great blue heron is hunting. It stands very still, all of its concentration on that spot of water. Or I should say its attention is on the small garfish that floats there pumping water through its gills.
The gar, seven inches in length, intently watches a small clump of water hyacinths which floats nearby. A fingerling bass has just disappeared into the floating bit of vegetation only moments before.
During its brief lifetime the gar has already learned that patience rewards those that know her well, and so it waits like the predator it is, waiting for the bass to leave its haven.
Suddenly the gar is struck a terrible blow! Its first instinct is to flee, but somehow its movements are impaired. Its tiny brain screams a series of escape messages but the messages are to no avail.
Raised high and shaken until tiny scales and bits of bloody flesh fly in a spray, the gar is flipped into the air and seized by its head to begin a dark journey from where it will never return.
The great blue heron shakes its head, blinks several times as it swallows, bends its long neck, and using one foot, grooms itself.
The large bird then spread its wings and shakes them, restoring circulation after its long vigil. After this ritual it takes one, two, a half dozen slow graceful steps, and stops.
The foot which was raised taking that last step slowly descends, barely rippling the water’s surface, and it is still again.
The heron is again the hunter.
An errant breeze lifts one of the long crest plumes on the bird’s head but this makes no more movement than a leaf would were it nudged by a vagrant breath of air.
Again that long neck unwinds, the head darts down in a blur of movement. That long rapier beak pierces the water to seize a large crayfish which promptly follows the dark path the garfish had just taken only minutes before.
Noticing a slight movement in the reeds along the shore the heron moves with a shadowy grace, only intent on filling the remaining void in its gut. It approaches the area cautiously. Even though the water is not a foot deep it is enough to conceal an alligator large enough to include a tough old blue heron on its broad list of dietary preferences.
The heron is all the hunter, its bright eyes darting this way and that as it searches for anything small enough to eat, even a small version of that alligator, if chance should allow it.
The cottonmouth water moccasin lays there in the shallow water at the shoreline.
It has just eaten the bullfrog only minutes before and is now searching for a place where it can curl up and digest its meal and perhaps soak up a little sunshine at the close of the day.
The great blue heron sees the snake and decides that this will be a fitting main course to its dinner.
Aiming with the precision born of instinct the heron thrusts with that deadly, sharp beak, not out of malice for it knows no such thing. Only with a need driven by hunger, the desire to survive, does it act.
Immediately the snake reacts.
Writhing and twisting in a violent attempt to escape, it reaches back, jaws agape. In a rapid series of movements its jaws opening and closing spasmodically, the fangs erect, audibly clicking on the heron’s beak.
The snake impulsively works muscles that send a spray of amber venom splashing into the water at the heron’s feet. It continues to struggle, striving mightily to reach the heron’s flesh with its fangs, all to no avail. The heron walks up onto the river bank carrying the reptile in its beak.
The struggle might have been different had the snake been seized another three inches lower on its body. It could then have reached the heron’s head and neck, but as it is the outcome is fairly certain.
Casting the reptile to the ground the bird swiftly steps on it, pinning it there. Then, as swiftly as the snake could strike, it repeatedly stabs with that long, sharp beak, always aiming for the reptile’s deadly head.
The cottonmouth attempts to strike the foot and the leg that holds it, but to no avail. Hard scales on the heron’s feet, and long bony legs are not very good targets for the specialized flesh piercing fangs of the cottonmouth.
Soon the snake lies twitching under the heron’s feet, its head demolished. Only then does the heron begin to swallow its prey.
Twenty minutes later the great blue heron is perched on a branch of the ancient cypress.
The large bird settles itself, clucking contentedly. It blinks, and then, tucking its head under one wing, it sleeps.
And as the sun sets those creatures that hunt through the night began to stir.
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
Dear God, praise you for teaching me through nature. Thank you for allowing me to learn of what a wonderful creator you are. I praise you, and glorify your name. Please, Lord, teach me to always help others to know you better through nature. I am yours God, please comfort me, give me perfect health, restore every aspect of my body, my lungs, my heart, my all. You God, are wonderful, faithful, and true in all things. You are worthy of my praise. Thank you lord God, in Jesus’ name I ask it, Amen
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.