This is the flower of the Lizard’s Tail, Saururus cernuus. They can be found across most all of Florida. They typically bloom in the summer and can be found in natural wetlands, often partially submerged. You will often see them in small colonies where they spread by sending out runners.
Post your photos today for all of us to enjoy and remember to get outside and enjoy Florida!
Florida False Sunflower, Phoebanthus grandiflorus. This is a Florida endemic species occuring in the central part of the state. It blooms in June and July and occupies sunny, well drained areas. This individual was photographed in Wekiva Springs State Park this week in a beautiful longleaf pine and wire grass ecosystem.
The most common mosquito in Florida is the Aedes aegypti. The females are carriers of West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Dengue fever, Chikungunya, and Zika virus. Female mosquitos need blood to produce eggs, therefore they love to live where people and pets are abundant.
You might be surprised to hear that 80 species of mosquitos call Florida home. This means that Florida has more mosquito species than any other state in the country. Of those eighty species, only 33 bother people and pets. We can narrow it further than that, 13 make people sick. Some species are only located in certain areas of the state and others throughout the state. Mosquitos can spread a host of diseases from yellow fever, Zika, dengue, encephalitis. In your pets, they can spread heartworm and equine encephalitis. You can’t really avoid mosquitos as some feed during the day and others at night. You will run into one or the other eventually. In Southern Florida, mosquito season begins as early as February and continue through most of the year. In Northern Florida, mosquito season starts in March and follows a similar pattern. The warmer it is, the more active mosquitoes will be, especially at dusk and dawn. Permanent water mosquitos are attracted to standing pools of water which they need for their eggs to hatch. Females will lay their eggs on the water surface and the eggs will typically hatch in about 24 hours. Water is necessary to complete the life cycle, and soon the larva will change into a pupa and then emerge into an adult that is hungry for blood. Florida permanent water mosquito species include Anopheles quadrimaculatus, Culex quinquefasciatus, and Mansonia dyari. Make sure your house and yard are free of standing pools in flowerpots, buckets, and containers. Cut back overgrown yards. Lush plant life can be beautiful, but it’s also a mosquito magnet. They love resting in dense vegetation that can keep them warm and moist. Floodwater mosquitos, lay their eggs in moist soil, not standing water. One female floodwater mosquito has the potential to lay 200 eggs per batch in moist areas. The eggs need to dry out before they can hatch into larvae. The eggs survive in the dry soil, in cracks and crevasses. Once the rain from storms begins, the areas become inundated with water and the eggs are able to hatch. Florida floodwater mosquito species include Culex nigripalpus, Ochlerotatus taeniorhyncus, and Psorophora columbiae. Seal up cracks and holes in windows and doors, anything that may let a mosquito in. If you have a patio which is not enclosed use mosquito netting. It is recommended that you use a net that is sturdy and contains 156 holes per square inch at a minimum. Frogs, birds, dragonflies and certain kinds of fish all eat mosquitoes. Attract birds by putting up a bird feeder or introduce beneficial bugs into your garden to help keep mosquitoes away. You won’t get every mosquito, but it may help in cutting down the numbers.
What can you do to stop mosquito breeding in your yard? Mosquitos only need 1-2 centimeters of stagnant water to breed.
1. Change water in birdbaths 2x/week. 2. Be sure flower pots and the dish underneath does not contain standing water. 3. Be sure gutters are debris free so water will not collect in a leaf “dam.” 4. Bromeliads are a perfect habitat for mosquitos to develop. Flush bromeliads with a garden hose 2x/week. 5. Check yard toys and yard ornaments for standing water. 6. Check for leaks from outdoor faucets and around your air conditioner. 7. Is there standing water in your boat or any other vehicle stored outdoors? 8. Look for standing water near your swimming pool, pool equipment and pool toys. 9. Check for standing water in holes in trees and bamboo. 10. Walk around and look for water in things like trash cans, trash can lids and any container or object where water can accumulate. —— Install a Bat House ——– Bats can eat up to 600 mosquitos in an hour!!
The Florida Golden Aster is a perennial herb that has been on the Endangered list since 1986. This plant grows approximately 1 to 1-1/2 feet tall and has yellow daisy like blooms about 1 inch in diameter. The Florida Golden Aster lives a short life and reproduces by seeds which are dispersed by the wind.
The Aster can be found growing in open sunny places. They thrive in vegetation areas that have highly drained, fine white sand and can be found in pine-oak scrub areas. Hardee, Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas county are where this plant can be found in Florida.
This plant continues to be endangered due to habitat destruction caused by over development (commercial and residential), mowing, grazing, and competing grasses and plants.
Recovery is a slow process. Natural and controlled burns help the Aster produce more seeds and bigger blooms. Continued help from volunteers, officials, and preserves like Golden Aster Scrub Preserve will give this plant a good fighting chance to make a comeback.
Golden Aster Scrub Preserve is located at 12181 East Bay Road Gibsonton FL, 33534. It is home to 2 miles of Golden Aster and the Florida Scrub Jay,
Britton’s Beargrass. Scientific name – Nolina brittoniana Britton’s Beargrass is found in central Florida counties including Marion, Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Polk. It is a perennial herb with long, stiff leaves and a bulbous stem rising out a grass like a clump. They can grow 3-6 foot tall with a large cluster of small white flowers. The plant loves scrub, sandhill, flatwoods and xeric hammock areas. 90% of Beargrass has been destroyed by agriculture including orange groves, and development. This plant is not difficult to propagate because the plants bear abundant seeds which are easily germinated. Some native plant nurseries are producing this species for sale. If you would like to help this endangered species, search out a Florida native nursery and purchase a few plants for your yard. Let’s bring the Britton’s Beargrass back to its grandeur.
The American Beauty Berry, Callicarpa americana, produces the beautiful, showy berries in fall. The plant can be found throughout the southeastern United States. Usually, the beauty berry grows to 3 to 5 feet tall but can occasionally be found up to 9 feet tall under the best conditions.
They produce small, white to pink clusters of flowers and the base of the leaves in summer.
The berries are an important food source for a wide variety of wildlife such as bobwhite quails, mockingbirds, robins, towhees, and brown thrashers. Other animals that rely on the long lasting berries include armadillos, raccoons, wood rats, gray foxes, opossums, and white-tailed deer. Black bears are known to feed on the leaves of this plant as well.
Go out and enjoy all Florida has to offer. And don’t forget to stop and appreciate the nature around you!
Saw Grass Lake in St. Petersburg, Florida. According to the book “Mangroves to Major League: a Timeline of St. Petersburg, Florida” in 1869 cattle ranchers in Pinellas county saw bears and panthers as a threat and began organized efforts to eradicate us from the area. Today, we have better technology such as electric fences that keep us out of areas where there are other animals or vegetables. Did you know if you have a farm you can contact your regional FWC office who can help by loaning electric fencing for a limited amount of time? When you’re done you only need to return the solar panel that powers the fence. Doing this ensures that we don’t become an unwanted guest who gets a bad reputation. We don’t want history to repeat itself, right?
In the meantime, feel free to visit Sawgrass Lake and see local wildlife. You might even be lucky enough to be greeted by my good friend Brutus, the alligator.
Charles Deering Estate in Miami Florida. This preserve is an excellent place to learn about Florida history. In fact, an old sinkhole revealed some amazing fossils that tell quite a story.
Speaking of stories, have you heard the story of the Florida Spectacle Bear? Tremarctos floridanus lived during the late Pleistocene Epoch. One of the oldest fossils for this bear was found in a sinkhole located on the Charles Deering Estate. These bears are thought to be strictly herbivorous which today’s Florida black bear eats 15% insects and 5% animal carrion. A fossil of the Florida spectacle bear was found at is location and was carbon dated back to 12 million years ago. Their wildlife friends at the time included glyptodonts, mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, wolves, and the only large mammal to survive, the manatee.
This park is home to one of Florida’s largest Cypress trees, Goethe Giant! You can also see pitcher plant bogs here which are really pretty.
This beautiful forest is also home to little Smokey Jr., a bear cub who was rescued from a wildfire and rehabilitated. One reason this spot was selected for his home is that the bear population in this area has been in trouble. Low genetic diversity is the problem. A long time ago us bears were almost hunted to extinction. That meant very few of us existed in small isolated areas. When bears mate their DNA combines to make all the traits for a cub. DNA is like a set of survival tools. If you have a variety of tools you can be really successful. If your tools are limited it’s very difficult to survive. Creating wildlife corridors and passages helps other bears with more DNA tools to reach the small population in these necks of the woods. Come on out to Goethe and see if you can spot one of us.
Hiding in the Goethe State Forest lives a Giant! A giant bald cypress tree named The Goethe Giant. At over 900 years in age, the massive tree is an amazing sight to behold.
This majestic old tree lives in Levy County, Florida and can be found by going down the Big Cypress Boardwalk Trail in the Goethe State Forest. Bring your bug spray for sure as this is a swampy location. The trail is a short walk to where the tree is located.
Visiting this old timer is a must do for anyone who spends enough time in Florida. The Goethe State Forest also has many miles of trails to hike and explore. Its a nice, quiet location, away from the noise of everyday life.
The Florida Torreya, Torreya taxifolia, is one of the rarest trees in the world. Living only in Gadsden and Liberty counties in Florida, the Florida Torreya is also one of the longest living trees.
Once numbering over 600,000 during the early 1800’s, their popularity as fence posts, shingles, river boat fuel and Christmas trees reduced the number down to a mere 200 individuals. Because if its extreme rarity, there is a major effort underway to save this species of tree. The Florida Park service along with the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, are taking seeds from individuals growing in Torreya State Park and growing new trees that are being replanted inside Torreya State Park to help increase their numbers.
Despite their low numbers, it is quite easy to see this tree for yourself. Torreya State Park has a nice planting of these trees along their brick walkway leading to the Historic Gregory House. there are also trees planted along the nature trails in the park. The park is also a wonderful place to spend time hiking. When there, you may forget your even in Florida. The ecosystems there are unlike most of what you’ll see in Florida and the hiking is amazing!
— American Alligator – Alligator mississippiensis — Alligators are found across Florida. These large, water-dwelling reptiles have a powerful bite and should be treated with extreme caution. They will generally seek to swim away if approached, but if they think their young are in danger or they feel threatened in some way, they will strike out. Alligators have round snouts, range between 9.5 to 15 feet, can weigh as much as 1000 lbs. and have a maximum speed of 20 mph in the water. The alligator is a rare success story of an endangered species not only saved from extinction but who is now thriving. State and federal protections, habitat preservation efforts, and reduced demand for alligator products have improved the species’ wild population to more than one million today. They live nearly exclusively in the freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps, and marshes. The hatchlings are usually 6 to 8 inches long with yellow and black strips. Juveniles fall prey to dozens of predators including birds, raccoons, bobcats, and other alligators so they will stay with their mothers for about two years. They are opportunists and will eat just about anything, carrion, pets and, in rare instances, humans. They feed mainly on fish, turtles, snakes, and small mammals. Adult alligators are apex predators critical to the biodiversity of their habitat.
Alligators get a bad reputation but as long as we respect them from a distance we have no reason to fear them. Alligators have ears directly behind their eyes. Do you see that part that looks like this alligator’s eyes are smiling? That’s its ear. The structure of the ear is designed to pinpoint sound rather than hear a vast amount of sound.
Female alligators can lay between 35-50 eggs. If these eggs are hatched in the wild, and not a hatchery, there is a chance that only a few eggs will survive. Predators such as birds, snakes, raccoons, otters, bobcats, bass, and other alligators can eat their eggs. According to FWC an average of 25 eggs will hatch but only about 10 alligators will survive their first year. These eggs and small gators become food so that another species can survive. In turn, large alligators may eat these same animals to ensure their survival. It’s all about balancing out populations.
If you see an alligator, don’t touch it. Take a few pictures and observe from a distance. In most cases, if you get too close an alligator maybe become afraid and swim away. Alligators wait patiently for animals to come near and then use all their energy at once to take down their prey. This is one way they conserve energy.
This is an Eastern Spadefoot Toad, Scaphiopus holbrookii. This little guy has recently cast off his tail and emerged as a little toad. Now, it will spend most of its life burrowed underground, primarily emerging only after explosive, heavy rains.
When Hurricane Irma passed through Florida, many saw only destruction. For many species, the hurricane was the perfect setting for reproduction. These toads emerge by the thousands and breed in the temporary pools of water that form in the forests after such weather events. These pools have no fish in them to prey on eggs and tadpoles. The rainfall associated with hurricanes can result in millions of tiny spadefoot toads coating the forest floor before they find their way into the forest and burrow down into the sandy soil.
What have you seen this week as you saunter through Florida?
Hanging Thieves robber fly, Diogmites salutans. This large fly hangs from leaves and branches waiting for its favorite food, bees, dragonflies, and biting flies like horse flies to pass by. It then takes chase and captures its prey in flight. It takes its prey to a branch or leaf where it pierces it victim with its mouth parts and drinks its fluids.
In this photo, you can see the behavior that earned this fly its common name of Hanging Thieves.
The genus Diogmites consists of 26 species in the United States, with 12 of those species living east of the Mississippi river. This species is best found in damp, sandy areas that are more open with tall grasses. This photo was taken in just such a spot on the edge of a pine forest.
This little guy is a Shield-backed Bug, Orsilochides guttata. The shield-backed bugs are related to the stink bugs and are true bugs, unlike the beetles they closely resemble. Like other true bugs, shield-backed bugs go through several stages of development (instars) of nymphs until they reach adulthood.
They feed on plants, including many commercial crops.
There are hundreds of species of shield-backed bugs ranging in color from rather drab to bright metallic greens and reds. Like stink bugs, when disturbed, shield-backed bugs will emit an odor to deter predators.
This little bug is perched on a goldenrod flower in late September in the Lower Wekiva Preserve State Park in Seminole County, Florida
The Eastern Fence Lizard, Sceloporus undulatus, occupies a large range in the eastern part of the United States, including much of Florida. They are masters of camouflage. If you are paying attention while sauntering around the woods, you will see these lizards basking on the trunks of trees, most notably pine and oak. This one is sitting on the side of turkey oak. They will remain motionless in hopes of going unseen. Only when they are approached closely will they flee.
The mature males have an amazing, bright blue belly, unlike the female’s white belly. Females lay 3-16 eggs in late spring and babies hatch in late summer.
They grow to about 7 inches and feed on small insects. They occupy a variety of habitats over their range but in Florida, they are most often seen in pine forests and scrub habitat.
Here, this mature male shows off his beautiful, metallic blue belly as he suns himself on a cool fall morning.
This guy, relying on his camouflage, allowed me to get quite close to him without so much as him flinching. He lives in a pine, upland forest with a wiregrass understory that sees an occasional fire. In fact, he is perched on the charred remains of a pine tree. The presence of fire is critical for the health of this type of ecosystem as well as the species that depend upon it, such as this fence lizard.
— Southern Black Racer – Coluber constrictor priapus —
The Black Racer is the most common snake found in Florida. It adapts easily to any habitat and therefore, is commonly found in low shrubs in urban areas. Black Racers are not poisonous although they will bite when cornered. These snakes would prefer to race away through the grass, into a shrub, up a tree or into a hole. They are great swimmers too. Their diet consists of whatever is available: Insects, frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards, snakes, birds and bird eggs, moles, mice, rats. Black Racers are not constrictors as their scientific name suggests. The Racer simply captures its prey and holds it tightly against the ground until the prey succumbs. Identification: Young Black Racers have obvious blotches that gradually fade to solid gray-black by adulthood. Body of juveniles (< 2 ft.) is gray with irregular reddish-brown blotches that fade with age. Body of adults is solid black; chin and throat are white. South of Lake Okeechobee, body of adults may be bluish, greenish, or gray. In the Apalachicola River Basin, the chin and throat of adults may be tan. -UF Wildlife – Johnson Lab