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Florida Animals

Raccoon

— Raccoon: Procyon lotor —

The raccoon is found mainly in North America. These scrappy mammals are considered to be highly intelligent. They are recognizable by the mask-like black fur around their eyes and light and dark rings around their tail. The rest of their bodies are covered in grey-brown fur and they weigh 8-15 pounds

Raccoons are omnivores and very flexible eaters. Their diet is determined by their environment and can include frogs, fish, insects, mice, eggs, plants and garbage. They are most active in the late afternoon and throughout the night.

Raccoons are mammals who communicate through a variety of hisses, growls, and whistles. There are seven known species of raccoons but only the Procyon lotor is found in Florida. They will stay in urban areas or an area with water sources. In the wild, raccoons live for 2 or 3 years. Females give birth to between one and seven young, generally in a tree hole or log. Young raccoons are called kits.

FUN FACT:
Raccoons are known for putting their food in water and there are theories as to why they do this. They aren’t actually washing their food but rather wetting it. Some think it is to enhance the taste of the food.

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

— Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Family: Papilionidae —

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail can be found from Ontario Canada down to the Gulf states and west to the Colorado plains. There are 10 swallowtail species in Florida10 among. The most familiar is the yellow and black striped Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, which can be seen from the Georgia border south to the Big Cypress Swamp.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has an average wingspan of 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches. They love to eat the nectar of many plants including wild cherry, honeysuckle, lilac, Joe-Pye weed, azalea, and milkweed.

This beauty is identified as a male because there is no blueish coloring in the hindwings. Some females are melanic (dark colored). An adult swallowtail’s lifespan is only about 2 weeks. They produce 2-3 broods a year in the south. Females lay a single egg on host leaves. Caterpillars will eat the leaves and rest on silken mats on the upper surface of leaves. The caterpillar is brown and white when it is young, but it changes color as it grows older to green with orange and black false eyespots. The eyespots are thought to scare away predators.

Photo credit: Dan Kon.

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Marsh Rabbit

Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris)

Marsh Rabbits are found throughout Florida. They are strong swimmers and usually found near wetlands where they dine on a variety of plants. You can find Marsh Rabbits near fresh and brackish marshes, flooded agricultural fields, wet prairies and other habitats near water.

Breeding occurs year-round but peaks December through June. Each year, mother marsh rabbits produce an average of six or seven litters with two to four young per litter. Nests are found on the ground in thickets, stumps or logs. lined with grass and breast fur. Young rabbits are weaned and are foraging for themselves within four weeks.

Predators include owls, foxes, bobcats, and alligators who like the Marsh Rabbit are most active at dusk, dawn and throughout the night.

Marsh Rabbits are a bit smaller and darker than the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit. Instead of a white cotton tail, Marsh Rabbits sport a small gray-brown tail.

Photo Credit -Dan Kon

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Cooper’s Hawk

— Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) —
The Cooper’s hawk is widely known and dispersed throughout the U.S., lower Canada, and Mexico. You may see this stealth hunter gliding low to the ground to grab its prey in a split second. They are raptors who will eat other medium-sized birds such as robins and jays but will dine on rats, mice, squirrels, bats, and an occasional lizard or snake.
The Cooper’s Hawk was declining in population throughout the U.S. due to hunting and pesticide use, the worst of these was DDT. Since DDT has been banned and hunting in many areas has been curbed, populations have become more stable.
Cooper’s Hawk eggs and hatchlings are susceptible to being food for other animals like raccoons and raptors. When there is a threat near their nest, you will hear them ka-ka-ka-ka.
Remember the circle of life when removing unwanted wildlife from your home. If you use poison to kill a mouse or a rat, the dying animal will likely be eaten by a cat, snake or raptor which will die from the poison too. The poison can also kill a third animal such as a turkey vulture who feeds on the dead raptor, cat or snake.
Connect. Respect. Coexist.
Image by Kon Studio

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Baird’s Sandpiper

My Road trip to Siesta Key Beach on Florida’s West Coast yielded a Rare Baird’s Sandpiper. I have included a range map so you can see it’s way off course and an uncommon visitor here.
Here are some facts about it.
Named for Fullerton Baird, the second secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Baird’s Sandpiper breeds over a broad expanse of high-arctic North America and in parts of Russia, wintering from the Andes of Ecuador to the lowlands of Tierra del Fuego. Its migration is long but rapid. After departing high-arctic breeding grounds and staging in southern Canada and the northern United States, most individuals travel 6,000 kilometers or more directly to northern South America, some going on as far as Tierra del Fuego and many completing the entire 15,000-kilometer journey in as few as 5 weeks.#lifebird 354

Thank you Paul for sharing this rare sighting of a beautiful Baird’s Sandpiper with all of us at Imagine Our Florida.

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Lovebug

The lovebug, (Plecia nearctica), is one species of insect that I think everyone in Florida knows and can identify. But, do you know ABOUT this species? There is a lot of misinformation about this species. Add to that, apart from the “flights” that occur, most know nothing else about the natural history of this species.

Let’s start with the one huge myth about this species. they are NOT a man-made insect, created in a lab at the University of Florida. This is a pervasive myth that has circulated for decades. They are a non-native species in Florida. The first time they were documented in Florida was 1947. They are found across the gulf coast and as far north as North Carolina.

In Florida, lovebugs can be found throughout the year. But, there are 2 big “flights” of lovebugs, when they occur in huge numbers across their range. As many already know, the first flight occurs in late spring in the months of April and May. The second flight occurs in late summer in the months of August and September.

The lovebug has some interesting reproduction behavior. When females emerge from the ground, they are met by swarms of males. The male will clasp a female in the air and the two will fall to the ground. When the males first begin to couple, the male and female are facing the same direction. Then, the male turns 180 degrees and remains that way for the duration of mating.

Large females lay an average of 350 eggs before they die. Adult lovebugs have a short lifespan with females living up to 7 days and males up to 5 days. The eggs hatch in 2 to 4 days. The larva feeds on decomposing vegetation in moist, grassy areas such as pastures. In this way, they are extremely helpful in converting decaying vegetative matter into organic matter.

The adults feed on the nectar of numerous species, particularly sweet clover, Brazilian pepper, and the goldenrod seen in these photos.

There are few predators of the adult stage of lovebug as their slightly acidic insides make them unpalatable. The larva is food for birds such as robins and quail as well as spiders, earwigs, and other insect predators.

They do not bite or sting, but they are considered a pest species. The huge flights often occur near roadways and interstates (think of all the moist grass of cow pastures and roadsides which is a wonderful home for larva). It also appears that the bugs are drawn to the exhaust of cars. It has been proposed that the chemicals in car exhaust, aldehydes and formaldehydes, are similar to the chemicals released by decaying organic matter. This means that lovebugs think they are hovering over a great spot to lay their eggs. Older car paints used to be damaged by the acidic internal organs of the lovebug, however, they do not have the same effect on new cars. Lovebugs can be very difficult to remove from the fronts of cars after the bodies dry and can clog radiators.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo

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Slaty Skimmer Dragonfly

— Slaty Skimmer Dragonfly. (Libellula incesta) —
The Slaty Skimmer is one of the most common species of the dragonflies. They are found in marshy ponds, lakes, and slow-flowing forest streams with muck bottoms. This male landed on a sand pile.
Females stay away from the water’s edge except during mating and when laying eggs in the water. After the eggs hatch, they emerge as wingless, water-breathing, immature forms called naiads. Naiads will live in the water for up to four years. Even as a naiad, the dragonflies are carnivores. They dine on mosquitos, butterflies, moths, mayflies, gnats, flies, bees, ants, crickets, termites, and other dragonflies. In short, if the Slaty Skimmer can catch it, it will become dinner.
The Slaty Skimmer dragonfly is found in all 50 states, Canada, and Mexico. Scientists are researching why their population is declining in Wisconsin.
Slaty Skimmers can see almost 360 degrees, however, they can not see what is behind or below them. The Slaty Skimmer’s vision lacks the clarity that we see. They can see ultraviolet and polarized light which allows them to navigate easily.
The dragonfly is one of the most beneficial insects to humans. They are revered in Japan as the country’s national emblem. Over the ages, dragonflies have been viewed as omens, a sign of good luck, a warning of caution, magical, and were once considered real dragons. When you see a dragonfly as beautiful as the Slaty Skimmer, just remember this – Dragonflies pre-date dinosaurs and had a 3-foot wingspan.
Connect. Respect. Coexist.

Photo Credit: Dan Kon

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Hanging Crane Fly

—–The Hanging Crane Fly—–

Can you spot this stealthy insect? If you are out and about you may miss them. Much like stick bugs, the hanging crane fly blends into its surroundings by pretending to be a hanging twig. This male hanging crane fly was observed performing a mating dance. This dance involves very quick shaking motions. Having more little hanging crane flies in this wet area of Alderman Ford park would be very beneficial since their diet consists of eating mosquitoes. Do you have a favorite mosquito eating predator?

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Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

From forest floors to urban landscape, the Gulf Fritilary can be seen playfully frolicking throughout Florida. The life of a Gulf Fritilary usually starts as the tiny larvae emerge from their eggs which the mother usually lays on a passion flower vine. This little red caterpillar with black spikes quickly begins munching on the passion flower leaves. In about 20 days the caterpillar goes into it’s chrysalis to pupate. You can see in this first picture the Chrysalis is forming by breaking the skin. The exoskeleton of the caterpillar will form the chrysalis which looks like a dried leaf. This camouflage helps protect the caterpillar during this vulnerable stage. In about 5 days the butterfly will emerge with it’s beautiful red, black, and white wings. When the butterfly is ready it will search for a mate who will help bring about the next generation of Gulf Fritilaries. These butterflies are capable of mating while in flight and it can be very fascinating to watch their graceful dance.

What is your favorite butterfly?

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Shermann’s Fox Squirrel

—-Shermann’s Fox Squirrel—-

These gorgeous rodents feed off longleaf pine seeds, turkey oak acorns, and fungi. They have two breeding cycles per year but most females only have one little a year. They can be seen from the east panhandle down to the south-central portion of Florida.

This beautiful young mother was seen at the Dade City Pioneer Museum in Dade City, Florida. You can see she has been nursing recently. This curious squirrel kept a watchful eye on humans but eventually retreated to a nearby tree. She was quite a cooperative model.

What is your favorite rodent?

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Blue-Green Weevil

These little bugs get a bad reputation but such is the life of a weevil. The adults, such as this one, munch on plant leaves. The larvae fall to the ground and will munch on roots. This can be quite annoying in agriculture, especially citrus. For most plants, they aren’t much of a problem but if they seem to get overwhelming, the USDA recommends the Trichogrammatidae family of wasps can help by preying on their eggs.

Have you seen any little bugs that don’t get much love today?

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Common Moorhen

– The Common Moorhen —
also known as Marsh Hen or by its scientific name – Gallinula chloropus.

This medium-sized bird is a migratory bird in some parts of the U.S., Canada, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa but they love Florida and Mexico and stay year round. The Moorhen, a part of the rail family. spends its life on the water and is usually 12 to 15 inches in size when fully grown. In spite of having no webbing on their feet, they are good swimmers. Of course, you can not miss them with their gray-black feathers, a line of white feathers, and a red bill with a yellow tip.
Moorhens are omnivores and love to eat seeds and other plant material floating on the water. They also eat also eat algae, small fish, tadpoles, insects, aquatic roots, berries, grass, snails, insects, rodents, lizards, and worms. On land, you will see them ‘peck’ like a chicken for their food.
Moorhen pairs are monogamous. Females will lay 4 to 12 eggs, laying only one egg a day. The chicks will fledge within 5 to 7 weeks and Momma Moorhen might have another brood later in the season.
Predators such as foxes, dogs, coyotes, and raccoons are the main predators of the moorhen. Large reptiles and wildcats may also prey on them.
Here you see a moorhen family on the water’s edge.

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Southern Five-lined Skink

Adult Southern Five-lined Skink. This fella is in the process of regenerating his tail. Young skinks have a bright blue tail which detaches when a predator tries to capture them. This gives them a chance to get away. As they get older, skinks get a reddish head and the stripes on the males fade. These lizards move fast so keep your eyes open when exploring damp trails.

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Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed

The Monarch Butterfly population is in trouble due to loss of habitat, pesticides, and climate change. As the only butterfly who migrates, a single Monarch can travel hundreds to thousands of miles. Monarchs are born with an internal compass that guides them on their migration. Each year, three to five generations will be born. A Monarch’s lifespan is6 – 8 months but will live only 2-6 weeks as a butterfly.
—— You can Make a Difference —–
Plant native milkweed and nectar plants that have been grown organically.
Milkweed contains glycoside toxins that are harmless to the Monarchs but is poisonous to its predators.
—– Conservation Begins in Your Backyard ——

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Black soldier fly

The black soldier fly is an excellent pest control companion. The larvae help break down organic matter for fertilizer and help reduce damage from manure pollution. Their presence will also keep those other pesky flies away. If you have a composter the larvae from this guys can help compost organic matter much faster. This fly is a Batesian mimic of the wasp. It resembles a wasp but isn’t harmful.

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Red Shouldered Hawk

Many neighborhoods have hawks who linger about the area. While they mostly prey on small rats, squirrels, and other birds, they will make a meal out of stray animals. If you have a pet, keep them inside or on a leash, secure all holes in your backyard to limit the exposure range, and for extra security, you can get a raptor-proof vest for when you walk your small dog. Making small changes in human behavior helps us coexist with our native critters. It also helps keep them on a diet that may just get rid of the invasive rat species.

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Black and yellow garden spider

Here’s a little girl that many people will be quick to recognize. She’s a young black and yellow garden spider. These spiders range all across the United States and up into Canada as well as south into Mexico and Central America. The spiderlings emerge in spring from egg sacs laid the prior year.

The dense zigzag of silk in the middle of the web is known as the stabilimentum. The true purpose of this structure is in dispute. Some say it is to provide camouflage to the spider resting in the center. Others think it acts as an attractant to insect prey or as a deterrent to birds who could fly into the nest and damage it. Every night, the female eats the center of her web and then rebuilds it in the morning.

Their bites are comparable to a bee sting and are harmless to healthy adults and those who are not allergic to their venom. They maintain a clean and orderly web and help remove loads of insects. They are great to have around and are a truly beautiful arachnid. We hope everyone gets a chance to get out this weekend and enjoy the outdoors!

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Little Brown Cicada

Cicadas are some pretty neat little creatures that are all around us but go largely unseen. They do not, however, go unheard. I bet, at some point, just about everyone has heard these guys screaming from the tree tops at some point in their lives. But, did you know that most of their lives are spent underground?

The species in the photos are of the Little Brown Cicada (or grass cicada), Cicadetta calliope. This is a small species of cicada, growing to just under 1 inch in size. Unlike its larger cousins to the north, this is not a periodical cicada. Those cicadas emerge every 13 to 17 years in numbers as great as 1.5 million per acre. For our residents who hail from the northeast, Florida has no periodical species. The closest location to observe the emergence of periodical species would be one of the 13-year varieties. Southeastern Louisiana will have its next emergence in 2027, and in central Alabama and Georgia, the next emergence will be in 2024.

So, some cool facts on these amazing insects. We all know their sound but did you know only the males actually make noise. Cicadas make noise using timbals, a drum-like structure on either side of their abdomen. Only males possess this structure. They make different songs, calling songs to attract mates, protest songs when captured by a predator, and in some species, courtship calls, which are softer and made when the male is in visual or physical contact with the female.

The nymphs feed on the xylem sap from the roots of grasses and trees. This low nutrient sap is partially the reason for their long duration as a nymph. The minimum time a cicada spends as a nymph is 4 years but, in the case of the periodical cicada species, can be as long as 17 years.

Every cicada species molts 4 times as a nymph. For its fifth molt, the nymph emerges from the ground and molts into its adult form.

Cicadas do little to no harm to plants. They are harmless to food crops and landscape plants. They do not bite or sting and are an important food source for wildlife.
Watch our video here: https://youtu.be/be80lm4fn7k

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Florida Softshell Turtle

This Florida Softshell Turtle, aka. Apalone ferox, made her way into a human neighborhood. Softshell Turtles will lay their eggs under the edge of a driveway or sidewalk. The sun will warm the concrete and keep her eggs warm until they hatch. If you see a Softshell Turtle in your neighborhood, just give her space and she will make her way back to the pond here she akes her home.
Softshell Turtles usually eat snails and small fish but have been known to eat waterfowl such as ducks and small herons. Florida Softshell turtles will hide in the sand at the bottom of lakes and streams and ambush passing schools of fish for lunch or dinner. Softshells take 10 years to reach full maturity. They play a role as predator and scavenger. Animals who prey on these turtles are raccoons, bears, other turtles, skunks, snakes, eagles, otters, armadillos, and alligators. Their biggest predators are human.

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Eastern Five-Lined Skink

These pictures might look like different skinks but they are the same species. You can see in the first picture that the eggs look painfully larger than the young skink next to them. Don’t worry. They are much smaller when laid. The eggs start out small but will swell with water. The eggs are usually laid in a damp location with some burrowed areas around them. You may find them under flower pots or bricks. The second picture shows the vibrant color of the newborn skink. Newborns are about 4 cm in length. The bright colors will fade over time but juveniles will retain the bright blue tail. In the third picture, you can see the bright coloring has faded leaving just the black and yellow stripes. This skink has just entered adulthood. Females will retain this appearance throughout the rest of their lives. In the fourth picture, you can see a full grown male skink. The stripes have faded and the head is a bright red color. These little lizards are very fast and it’s difficult to see them but they are very fascinating to watch as they hunt for small insects. Much like a cat, they flicker their tail as they stalk their prey. Have you been lucky enough to spot one of these little skinks around your yard?
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Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Today, we look at a very important member of Florida’s ecological community. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is one species almost everyone can identify. Found across the entire state of Florida including the Florida Keys and several barrier islands, the only snake that looks even a little similar is the timber (otherwise known as Canebrake) rattlesnake.

The largest recorded eastern Diamondback was 96 inches (8 feet!) in length. Today, however, you would be considered lucky to see one as large as 6 feet long. They are found in pine flatwoods, long leaf pine, and turkey oak, and sand pine scrub areas. These areas are also prime for development.

A combination of a loss of habitat and the indiscriminate killing of these snakes by the general public upon site has caused a major population decline. They are currently afforded no protected status in Florida.

This is a species that must be respected when encountered. They can strike up to 2/3 the length of their body. Like other snakes, we are not prey to the D and they would be just as happy if we would leave them alone. If you encounter one of these amazing animals, observe from a safe distance and allow it time to pass, or simply walk around it.

In the United States, the vast majority of venomous snake bites occur when someone is trying to kill the snake. Attempting to kill these snakes greatly increases your risk of being bitten. They will not chase you and in fact, are very afraid of you. One of our Facebook friends commented with a wonderful little rule of thumb that I really like, 30/30. Stay 30 feet away for 30 minutes and they will leave. As he pointed out, this will hold true most of the time so long as they are not waiting for food to go by.

Please, give these wonderful creatures the respect they deserve as fellow residents of our great state!

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