Sanibel Island is famous for its seashells. Some mornings, shells are so plentiful that they pile three feet high. Eager tourists and snowbirds sort through them as though they’re panning for gold. But another local treasure is the wildlife preserve and drive known as Ding Darling, where you can see amazing birds and alligators — and possibly hear a shrimp produce temperatures hotter than the sun.
J. N. “Ding” Darling was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who often featured conservation issues and loved to vacation on Sanibel. When a wildlife refuge was proposed for the island, his name was chosen in honor of his life’s work.
After a visit to the education center (where you can see a giant gun designed to kill an entire flock of waterbirds), you drive (or bicycle) very slowly on an eight-mile road and see all manner of waterfowl, including the bizarre roseate spoonbill. The fortunate will also see manatees, sea otters, indigo snakes, gopher tortoises, dolphins, and horseshoe crabs galavanting amongst the mangroves and open water.
What most people won’t see is the unassuming pistol shrimp, which lurks in vast numbers just below the surface. But many people hear their Rice Krispie-like crackling that echoes through canoes and other watercraft. Though the sound may not impress at first, consider this: By snapping their oversized claws, pistol shrimp produce a bubble so powerful that when it collapses, it produces momentary heat in excess of 5,500 °C (9,932 ºF). It’s so powerful in fact, that it creates a burst of light — a form of non-chemical bioluminescence.
The shrimp do this in order to stun prey, deter predators, and possibly communicate with each other. And while they’re found nearly worldwide, the JN “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge gives easy access and the most pleasant possible ambience for enjoying their snap, crackle, and pop.
Know Before You Go
Head to the middle of the island. Shimp can be found wherever people are fishing.