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Florida Reef Gecko

The Florida Reef Gecko (Sphaerodactylus notatus) is the smallest lizard in the United States. They are tiny and only grow to 2 – 2.25 inches. They have a rounded body with large, overlapping, scales on their backs. The body and tail are covered with dark spots on a brown background. Females have three broad, dark stripes on their heads.

The Florida Reef Gecko is found in the Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys, and southeastern mainland Florida. They can be found in pinelands, hammocks, and vacant lots. They are active at dusk and feed on tiny insects and spiders. Females lay one egg at a time. When born, hatchlings are over an inch long.

The Florida Reef Gecko could be impacted by human development as well as competition from introduced geckos. At this time, the only native gecko in Florida, the Florida Reef Gecko abundant within its range.

Photo credit: FWC

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Saddleback Caterpillar

Saddleback Caterpillars, (Acharia stimulus), have hairs that cover their bodies which secrete venom. Contact with the hairs will cause a painful rash, burning, itching, swelling, blistering, and nausea. The cocoon and the larvae have the hairs as well. The hairs are hollow quills connected to poison glands beneath its skin. The venom will spread if the hairs are not removed from the skin.

Saddleback Caterpillars are easy to distinguish by their green-colored backs with a white-ringed, brown dot in the center. They are brown at either end, have skin with a granulated appearance and sport pairs of fleshy horns. The Caterpillar is one inch long with a slug-like body in its larvae stage.

The Saddleback Caterpillar is a general eater and can be found in oak trees, fruit trees, and many other plants. Females lay up to 50 eggs on the top leaves of a host plant. The eggs are tiny and transparent with a scaly look.

The adult Caterpillar is the Saddleback Caterpillar Moth which is dark brown with black shading. The dense scales on its body and wings make it look furry. The back wings are a lighter brown. The wingspan is between one to two inches wide. Near the front wing is a single white dot and another 3 white dots near the front apex.

The bright colors on this Caterpillar are a warning to predators. Never touch this or other brightly colored, hairy Caterpillars with your bare hands.
You can remove the hairs from the skin by using tape.

#Connect #Respect #Coexist
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #caterpillar #saddlebackcaterpillar

Photo Wikimedia Commons

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Rose of Plymouth

Rose of Plymouth (Sabatia stellaris)

This vibrant wildflower is found throughout the coastal regions of Florida, from the panhandle to the Keys. It is tolerant of salty and flooded soils. These plants are annuals and require open soil to spread and reseed. Depending on the conditions, the Rose of Plymouth can grow from 6 inches to 24 inches tall. The flowers are 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide and the plant creates many blooms. Flowers peak in the summer but can be seen blooming all year long. Rose of Plymouth can be grown from seeds and cuttings in wet to moist soils.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #RoseofPlymouth #wildflowers

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Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wekiwa Springs State Park, located in Orange County, is just waiting to be explored. Discover a longleaf pine forest and sandhill uplands. Hammocks at the river’s edge are thick and tropical-like. Wildflowers of multiple colors spring up at all times during the year to greet you. The park is home to an abundance of wildlife from iconic Florida black bears to the tiniest spiders who weave their intricate webs along the trails.

Wekiwa Springs State Park is best known for its crystal clear springs which are a refreshing 72* all year long. Swimming and snorkeling are favorite pastimes. A swim lift is available for those who have difficulty with the steps leading to the springs.

After enjoying a dip in the cool springs, cook an outdoor meal on one of the grills. Eat at a picnic table nearby or spread your blanket on the ground overlooking the springs. There is a playground for the kids, and a volleyball court and horseshoe pit for friends and family to enjoy.

If the river is calling you, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards are available to rent. Paddle the Wekiva river where you will see an abundance of wildlife including alligators and turtles basking in the sun and osprey high in the treetops.

Explore the trails of Wekiwa Springs State Park on foot, horseback, or bike. Trails range in length from 8/10 of a mile to 13.5 miles. The Tram Bed Horse Trail is perfect for horseback riding. Pedal along the bike trail or discover the many birds found along the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail within the park.

Stargaze at one of the 60 spacious campsites in Sandhill habitat. Camp with your horses at Big Fork or experience primitive camping at Camp Cozy or Big Fork. A concession is available for your convenience should you forget to pack something.

Make your day at the park a family affair. Bring your dog! Just be sure he or she is on a 6-foot leash.

Plan your adventure today! Explore and discover Wekiwa Springs State Park!

Wekiwa Springs State Park is located at 1800 Wekiwa Cir. Apopka FL 32712
Plan your trip here: http://www.wekiwaspringsstatepark.com/plan.html
Note- the park reaches capacity early in the day during the summer. It is best to arrive when the park opens.

Photo credit: Andy Waldo images captured during several hikes throughout the year.

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Eastern Grasshopper Lubber

The Eastern Grasshopper Lubber, (Romalea guttata), is very distinctive in its coloration. They are yellow with black along the antenna, body, and abdomen. Their forewings which are rose or pink in color extend along the abdomen. The hind wings which are rose in color are short. They can grow as large as 3 inches and can be seen walking very slowly and clumsily along the ground. Lubbers cannot fly or jump but they are very good at climbing.

The Grasshopper Lubber can be found in wet, damp environments but will lay their eggs in dry soil. The eggs are laid in the fall and begin hatching in the spring. The female will dig a hole with her abdomen and deposit 30-50 yellowish-brown eggs. They are laid neatly in rows called pods. She will produce 3-5 egg clusters and closes the hole with a frothy secretion. Nymphs wiggle through the froth and begin to eat. The male will guard the female during this time.

Nymphs have a completely different appearance from the adults. They are black with yellow, orange or red strips. They will have 5-6 molts to develop their coloration, wings, and antennae. The coloration of adults will vary throughout their lives as well and they are often mistaken for different species. There is no diapause in the egg development and they take just 200 days to develop depending on temperature. A month after the Grasshopper becomes an adult, they begin to lay their eggs.

Both females and males make noise by rubbing their front and hind wings together. When alarmed they will secrete and spray a foul-smelling froth. This chemical discharge repels predators and is manufactured from their diet. The Grasshopper’s diet is so varied that it makes it difficult for predators to adapt to the toxin produced. Their bright color pattern is also a warning to predators that they are not good to eat. Birds and lizards avoid them but nymphs will be infected by parasites from the tachinid fly. Loggerhead Shrikes will capture the Grasshopper and impale it on thorns or barbed wire. After 2 days, the toxins in the lubber’s body will deteriorate enough for the prey to be consumed.

Lubbers are long-lived and both the adults and the nymphs can be found year-round in Florida. This Grasshopper occurs in such large numbers in Florida that they can cause damage to your landscape’s plants. Lubbers will bore holes throughout a plant regardless if they are vegetables, citrus, or ornamentals. If their numbers are large enough they can decimate a plant.

Did you know:
Lubber is an old English word. It means a big, clumsy, stupid person, also known as a lout or lummox. In modern times, it is normally used only by seafarers, “landlubbers”.

Photo credit: Dan Kon

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Short-tailed Kingsnake

Short-tailed kingsnakes, (lampropeltis extenuata), are as thin as a pencil and grow to an average length of 14 to 20 inches long. Their scales are smooth and gray in with a spotted pattern. They have dark spots down the middle of their backs as well as on their sides. The lighter color between the spots has an orange center.

The Short-Tailed Kingsnake has a small oval-shaped head and round eyes. As the name implies, their tails are shorter than the tails of other snakes. This snake is nonvenomous and is not a threat to people. The Kingsnake consumes other snakes and lizards. They spend their lives below ground and are rarely seen. This snake is so rare that it is assumed eggs are laid below ground where it burrows. Reproduction has not been studied therefore, nothing is known about the number of eggs in Short-tailed kingsnake’s clutch. They can be found in habitats of north-central Florida such as pine or coastal live oak hammocks and sand pine scrub.

The Short-tailed Kingsnake is endemic to Florida. This snake is listed as threatened and protected by Florida state law. Their range is limited and conversion of habitat to citrus, mining, and development pose ongoing threats.

Photo credit: Andy Waldo

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #shortailedkingsnake #snake

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Florida Leafwing

The Florida Leafwing (Anaea troglodyta floridalis), is native to Florida. It can be found in the pine rocklands of Florida. The Leafwing was once found throughout Miami -Dade, and Monroe counties. This imperiled butterfly is now found in only one place on Earth, the Everglades National Park. The causes of its decline are the destruction of pine rockland habitat, the introduction of exotic plants and insect species, fire suppression, the use of insecticides for mosquito control, and collecting.

When in flight the Florida leafwing’s upper side of its wings is red or bright orange. At rest, the lower side of the wings are visible and are brown or gray which makes the butterfly look like a dead leaf. The front wing is slightly hooked and the back wing has a pointed tail. Its dead leaf coloration is effective camouflage in its rockland habitat. A leafwing’s wingspan is between 3 to 31/2 inches wide.

Eggs are laid on the leaves of the host plant so caterpillars can eat the leaves. Young caterpillars will make a resting perch from a leaf vein. The older caterpillars live in a rolled-up leaf.

Florida leafwing caterpillars feed only on pineland croton (Croton linearis), which is its larval host plant. This shrub grows in the understory of pine rockland habitat. Leafwings are dependent on the health of its host plant. The croton and other plants in the pine rockland are dependent on fire to maintain an open rockland where it reduces the competition and infestation of non-native species.

The Florida Leafwing is federally endangered. Scientists at the Everglades National Park are working with conservation groups, to ensure that the endemic, Florida leafwing does not disappear into extinction.

Photo credit: USFW

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #FloridaLeafwing #Everglades

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Orange Blossoms

The Orange Blossom from the sweet orange tree, Citrus x sinensis, was made Florida’s state flower in 1909. The sweet orange tree that bears this flower was introduced to Florida by the Spaniards in the 15th century. The orange tree is not endemic to Florida but has been naturalized.

Orange Blossom flowers have waxy petals that are small and white. Each flower has 5 petals with 20 to 25 stamens in a compact spiral. In the spring flowers grow in clusters of 6 flowers per cluster. Each flower is a point of where an orange will grow in the spring. Orange Blossoms have a strong citrus scent and are an incredibly fragrant flower. The scent of the blossoms has been described as creamy, sweet and rich, with a hint of a tart, citrus essence.

A full sunlight location and soil with a mixture of sand, clay, and organic matter is needed to produce these vibrant flowers. The orange tree begins to bloom at 2 to 5 years and blossoms can appear while there are oranges on the tree. The Orange Blossom is the only state flower used to make perfumes, colognes, toiletries herbal teas, and the ever-popular Orange Blossom Honey.

Did you know?
Throughout history, the Orange Blossom has come to symbolize good fortune and brides often include the fragrant blossoms in their bridal bouquets.

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #stateflower #orangeblossom

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Schaus’ Swallowtail

The Schaus’ swallowtail, Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus, is a large black and yellow butterfly endemic to Florida. This butterfly is found only in Florida and is restricted to intact tropical hardwood hammocks.

The Schaus’ swallowtail was listed as a federally threatened species on April 28, 1976. It was reclassified as a federal endangered species on August 31, 1984. Population estimates range from 800 to 1200 individuals. It remains the only federally listed butterfly in Florida.

Once ranging from the Miami area south through the Florida Keys, the Shaus’ swallowtail is currently restricted to only a few remnant tropical hardwood hammock sites on the south Florida mainland, northern Key Largo, and several small islands within Biscayne National Park. Adults fly slowly and leisurely and are very adept at flying through the dense hardwood hammock.

Adults have a wingspan range of up to 2.3 inches with females being the largest. Males have yellow-tipped antennae. The upper surface of their wings is black with a row of yellow or white spots and a broad yellow or white band. The hindwing tails are outlined in yellow. The undersides of the wings are yellow with brown markings and a broad blue and rust-colored band.

The Schaus’ swallowtail produces one generation each year from April to July with the peak time occurring typically from mid-May to mid-June. Adult emergence and reproduction are correlated with the beginning of the Florida rainy season. However, the pupae may remain in diapause for more than one year if optimal weather conditions are not present. Females lay green eggs singly on new growth. The developing larvae then feed on the young growth.

Listed as an endangered species, threats to the remaining population include the loss of genetic diversity due to inbreeding, climate-related impacts such as drought, habitat disturbance from fire, tropical storms or hurricanes, mosquito spraying, and loss of habitat. Hurricane Andrew left behind only 73 butterflies in 1992 after sweeping through the butterflies’ home range. Because their habitat is limited, it is possible that a single hurricane can make the Schaus’ Swallowtail extinct. However, the protected status and their rebounding numbers after Hurricane Andrew bring renewed hope that this gorgeous butterfly will survive and thrive in our beautiful state.

Photo credit:entnemdept.ufl.edu

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #butterfly #swallowtail

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Cattail

There are two species of cattails that are found in Florida. They are Typha domingensis (southern cattail) and Typha latifolia (common cattail).

Cattails are important to our water since they continuously filter the water where they grow and thrive. They are capable of filtering arsenic, pharmaceuticals, and explosives. Cattails also store algae-producing nutrients in their leaves while their roots stabilize the water edge and prevent erosion.

Cattails are a great haven for protective nesting areas for animals and birds. Cattail seeds can remain in a dormant stage for up to 100 years. Once established, cattails grow up to 8 feet tall and multiply from thick, underground rhizomes.

Cattails are used as a buffer between sugar farms and the Everglades where they remove phosphorous from the water before it flows into the Everglades. Unfortunately, cattails love phosphorous and can grow out of control and block out the sun while outcompeting the native sawgrass. Spraying herbicides to kill them have a negative effect on the water quality and local wildlife. Of course, any plant given the right conditions, albeit unnatural conditions, can become invasive and will need to be thinned out at times.

Cattails can be used to prevent excess methane emissions in an effort to slow global warming. Currently, scientists are exploring the possibility of using cattails as a biofuel.

Other fun facts – Cattails can be woven into baskets, hats, mats, and beds. The dried seed heads attached to their stalks can be dipped into oil and used as torches. The honey-like substance of the plant near the root has been used as an antiseptic and for toothaches. The roots and cattails themselves can be cooked and turned into a sweet flour that has gluten similar to wheat. The sap in between the leaves is an excellent starch and can be used to thicken stews and soups.

So the next time you see a cattail remember, some may call it a super plant.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #cattail #aquatiplant

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Southern Hognose Snake

The Southern Hognose Snake, Heterodon simus, is a species often considered non-venomous. They do, however, possess a mild toxin that is considered medically insignificant and harmless to humans (A few people have had allergic reactions to hognose bites). They inhabit areas with sandy soils, sandhills, pine-oak forests, scrubs, agricultural areas, and coastal dunes, from northern to central Florida.

As the smallest of the hognose snakes, they will grow to between 1 and 2 feet. Their eyes are round. Body color runs gray-brown to tan and the tail’s underside is the same color as the body. Their bodies’ back and sides have irregular, dark brown-black blotches which are separated by orange-red blotches running along the spine. The neck has large blotches and the forehead is marked with a dark band which runs from each eye to the corners of the jaw. The snake’s scales have lengthwise ridges. The scales on the tip of the snout are strongly upturned.

The diet of a Southern Hognose snake consists of frogs, toads, and lizards. They have rear fangs which are used to puncture inflated toads and are immune to the poison produced by toads.

When a Southern Hognose snake feels threatened, it may play dead or flatten its neck and hiss. They live underground and are active during the day. However, you will rarely encounter one of these snakes as they have declined in number.

In the summer, females lay 6-14, thin-shelled, leathery, whitish eggs in either sandy soil or logs. The eggs hatch between September and October.

These snakes are of Conservation concern throughout their range. Their decline is due to introduced fire ants, the loss of longleaf pine forest, urban sprawl, and the conversion of habitats to agriculture. The Southern Hognose Snake is listed as vulnerable, and at risk of extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Photo credit: Andy Waldo

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #southernhognosesnake #snake

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Sea Oats

Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata) —

Sea Oats are an important species to coastal sand dunes. The dunes provide housing and food to a variety of wildlife. The Florida beach mouse is an endemic species isolated to coastal dunes. Roseate terns, least terns, loggerheads, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, and Black skimmers rely on dunes for nesting. Piping plovers and southeastern snowy plover spend the winter in Florida where they breed in coastal dunes. American oystercatchers feed on small invertebrates and breed on sand dunes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife).

Reconstruction of coastal dunes is a common method of fighting climate change. In an effort to determine if this approach was offering a benefit to vertebrates, a study was conducted between June 2015 and June 2016 to compare natural coastal dunes and reconstructed coastal dunes. After collecting 2537 photos, 33 species were recorded. Common species overlapped both natural and reconstructed dunes. Differences were a result of rare species that were isolated to one area. Overall, the two types of dunes attracted similar types and numbers of vertebrates (Martin et al 2018).

Sea oats may not be endangered but they are protected under Title XI Chapter 161 Section 242 of Florida Statute due to their ability to stabilize sand in coastal regions and protect coasts from erosion. Can you think of any beautiful spaces with sea oats?

References

Martin, Scott A., Rhett M. Rautsaw, M. Rebecca Bolt, Christopher L. Parkinson, and Richard A. Seigel. 2018. Estimating the response of wildlife communities to coastal dune construction. Vol. 161.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Beach Dune, Coastal Strand and Maritime Hammock. Multi-Species Recovery Plan for South Florida. 3:72-76

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain

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Naples Botanical Gardens

Discover Naples Botanical Gardens located 4 miles from downtown Naples. It is made up of 6 gardens, with a 2.5-mile walking trail as well as dog walks in the park.

The Botanical Gardens are a 90-acre preserve made up of seven unique ecosystems which include mangroves, marshes, and untouched forests. It features native Florida plant life, over 300 exotic plants, and hundreds of animal species.

You can visit tropic and subtropical landscapes of Asia in the Lea Asian Garden. The Brazilian Garden offers the bold display of the indigenous people’s use of plants in the landscape. This Garden features the only original Burle Marx, ceramic mural in the United States. He is considered the father of landscape architecture. The Kapnick Caribbean Garden gives the visitor a view through the natural landscapes islands of the Caribbean. You will encounter diverse landscapes, from mountain tropical forests, dry forests, savannahs, scrubs and different species of cactus. Take your child through the saw palmetto tunnel at the Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Children’s Garden. To a child’s and adult’s delight, they will encounter a world of flowers, vegetables, butterflies, a babbling stream, and tree houses. The Water Garden in the Naples Botanical Gardens is atop the river of grass. It is filled with water lilies, lotuses, and papyrus complete with a boardwalk.

The Karen and Robert Scott Florida Garden is the essence of the Florida landscape. Visiting this garden encourages visitors’ connection with the natural elements. This garden features The Great Circle which is formed by a circular planting of sabal palms, Florida’s State Tree. The underplanting is bougainvillea and silver palmetto. In this Great Circle are Florida’s beautiful grasses and wildflowers.

The Naples Botanical Gardens offer something for everyone. Demonstrations, talks, tours, and tastings of tropical fruit plants are experiences not to be missed. You may see a performance on the boardwalk that will definitely leave an impression.

Plan your trip today to explore Naples Botanical Gardens located at 4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples, Florida.

Photo Credit: Alex Clark

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Naplesbotanicalgardens #SaturdaySaunter

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Hanging thief robber fly

The hanging thief robber fly (Diogmites crudelis) is an ambush predator that catches prey by either catching it from the ground or by catching it while on a plant. Once they obtain their food they will use two legs to hang from a leaf or stem and use the rest to maneuver the food as they consume their catch.

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