The Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, is best known for the white puffy fur on the underside of its tail. Cottontails grow to 14 – 17 inches in length and weigh two to four pounds. Their cotton-like tail is most noticeable when they hop.
Cottontails can be found in woodlands, fields, briar patches, bushy areas, and yards. They are herbivores and are often seen dining on clover, grasses, and other green vegetation. When greens are not available, Cottontails will seek out young woody shoots and bark. You will most often see these solitary rabbits in the early morning or evening.
Breeding can occur any time during the year but happens most often in February through September. In about a month, the mother cottontail will give birth to a litter of 4 – 7 rabbit kittens. Female Cottontails can produce 3-4 litters each year.
Cottontails will stand on their hind feet to look for predators such as hawks, foxes, coyotes, or weasels. When one is spotted, these speedy rabbits can run up to 15 miles an hour and hop distances of up to 15 feet in a single leap.
Bobcats, Felidae rufus Floridanusare, one of two predatory cats native to the Florida region. The bobcat is more common and much smaller than the panther. Bobcats are found throughout the state from the deepest swamps to suburban backyards. The Florida bobcat is immediately identifiable by its short tail or bob. They also have fringes of fur that outline the sides of its head. It weighs between 13 and 30 pounds. Its tail has white on its underside and black markings on its top side. They have spots of white fur on all parts of its body, which can range in color from reddish-brown to grey. The adult bobcat can grow to about 50 inches in length and stands 21 inches tall on average. When an adult reached 35 pounds, the bobcat is similar in size to a young Florida panther for which it is sometimes mistaken. The female bobcat needs about 5 square miles of range while the male requires 15 to 30. The range may consist in part of both wilderness and developed areas and will include enough unpopulated land for a den. The bobcat lives for a period of up to 14 years in the wild and can coexist with the panther, as the two do not share prey. The den can consist of a hollow tree, cave, rock outcropping or other open shelters. Bobcats are mainly nocturnal hunters and their diet consists of small rodents and birds to carrion. They are opportunistic eaters and will eat local fauna including squirrels, opossums, rabbits, and raccoons. During winter months, they shift attention to the many species of migrating birds. The Florida bobcat has a litter of one or two kittens after a gestation period of 50 to 60 days. The mating season runs from August to March with the babies being born in the early spring. A single male may sire several litters at one time. Florida Bobcats are seen in all types of habitats including suburban yards, and even city streets from time to time. Bobcats typically do not approach humans but will do so if fed and taught to associate people with food. Bobcats can swim and climb trees with ease, two factors that prevent them from falling prey to natural enemies besides human hunters. The Florida bobcat is not endangered.
Twice the size of domestic cats and weighing 12-28 pounds, Bobcats, Lynx rufus, are beautiful, stealthy, and secretive. This native species is abundant in Florida and can be found in forests, swamps, and hammocks as well as rural, suburban, and urban areas.
Bobcats are often mistaken for Florida Panthers. Despite being the only two native wild cats to Florida, they diverged from two different lineages. Bobcats are a species of lynx. The lynx line diverged from a common ancestor 7.2 mya. The Puma lineage which the panther diverged from did not appear until 6.7 mya.
Dense shrub thickets and saw palmetto provide cover for private dens. Breeding takes place in August through March with the peak time occurring in February and March. After a gestation period of 50 to 60 days, mother bobcats give birth to 1-4 cubs. The cute cubs are spotted or mottled and have distinct facial markings.
Bobcats usually hunt at night but can often be spotted during the day. Dinner consists of rats, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and squirrels. Towhees, thrashers, catbirds and other ground-dwelling birds provide winter treats. Coyotes effectively regulate the Bobcat population when they prey on cubs.
Bobcats are elusive and show no interest in people. They play an important role in the ecosystems they inhabit by helping to control populations of their prey animals.
When living with Bobcats, we must do our part. Secure chickens and other small pets in an enclosed pen. Domestic cats and dogs should not be left alone in your yard or on a screened porch. Always walk your dog on a leash. With just a little common sense, we can truly coexist with these magnificent cats. #ConnectRespectCoexist
White-tailed deer are found throughout Florida. They are most often seen at dawn, dusk, or on overcast days near the edge of a forest where they browse vegetation and can quickly run back into the forest to avoid a predator. Some of their favorite foods include twigs, leaves, acorns, mushrooms, and fruit. Deer are herbivores and enjoy many of Florida’s native plants including buttonbush, tupelo trees, beautyberry, and persimmons.
In northern Florida, male deer can reach weights of 190 pounds although the average weight in Florida is 115 pounds. The average weight for a female is 90 pounds. White-tailed deer in Florida are smaller than their northern relatives because their bodies have adapted to the steamy temperatures. Their smaller bodies allow deer to use less energy to regulate their body heat. Adults are 55-80″ tall.
Male deer, known as bucks, grow antlers to establish dominance and attract does. Their antlers begin growing in the spring and will grow a velvet-like tissue. The tissue will dry up and the buck will scrape it off by rubbing his antlers against a tree. The smooth, hard antlers are then ready to be used to fight if another male is pursuing the buck’s desired doe. Antlers are shed in late winter or early spring. They will regrow within 6 – 8 weeks which is perfectly timed to the beginning of the breeding season.
Deer breed from September to March. Gestation lasts approximately 200 days and the doe will give birth to 1-3 fawns. Fawns will start foraging with their mother at 3-4 weeks and are weaned at 2-3 months old. They will set out on their own when they are 6-18 months old
White-tailed deer get their name from the white on the underside of their tail. To alert other deer of possible danger, white-tailed deer will raise and wag their tails like a flag. You may also see them stomp a foot and hear them snort. Their predators are panthers, bobcats, coyotes, dogs, and humans.
Fun Fact: Fawns are born with no scent. To keep her fawn safe from predators, the doe will hide her fawn in tall vegetation. She will visit the fawn several times a day to nurse but will leave quickly so her scent does not attract predators. If you find a fawn hidden among the brush, leave it alone and know that mom will soon return. #NatureKnowsBest!
Opossums, Didelphis virginiana, are North America’s only marsupial.
Mother opossums have 2 litters each year and like other marsupials, nurse their babies in their pouches where they keep them safe and warm. Baby opossums, called joeys, are about the size of an acorn when they are born and immediately crawl into their mother’s pouch. They will stay there for almost 3 months before they take a ride on their mother’s back. At a little over 3 months, the joeys are weaned and set off to live on their own.
Opossums love trees. Their long prehensile tails, thumbs on all 4 paws, and sharp claws make them skilled climbers. You may find them resting on a branch or nesting in a tree hole.
When encountering a human, an Opossum may hiss, growl, and show all 50 of his/her teeth in an effort to tell you to leave. The 50 teeth are used to chew the different types of food in an opossum’s diet. Opossums are not picky eaters and will eat fresh fruit, grass, nuts, carrion, worms, birds, mice, insects, and snakes. They are immune to bee stings and snake bites. You will often find them enjoying a free human meal in unsecured garbage cans and open dumpsters.
Opossums play “possum.” When threatened, they will roll on their sides and play dead. Their eyes may be open or closed, they may urinate, let their tongue hang out, foam at the mouth, and secrete a foul scent from their anal glands. They will remain this way until the threat has passed.
Fun Fact: Each opossum can eat up to 5000 ticks each season.
The Gray Fox is a member of the dog family, Canidae. This fox is common in Florida and can be found statewide except for the Keys. Their preferred habitat is dense cover in thickets, forests, or swamps.
The Gray Fox is also known as the Tree Fox as they are the only fox species who climb trees to evade predators and to hunt prey. Gray foxes climb in a scrambling motion, grasping the tree trunk with its forepaws and forcing themselves higher with long claws on their hind feet.
Gray Fox’s diet consists of small mammals, insects, fruits, acorns, birds, amphibians, reptiles, carrion, and eggs. Due to their ability to climb squirrels are an important source of food. Rabbit, mice, and rats are their preferred food.
The upper side of their bodies is salt and pepper gray. The nose and the sides of its muzzle are black. A black line extends from the corner of their eyes to their neck. The sides of their neck, backs, legs, the underside of their tails, and the base of their ears are all bright reddish-orange. A black stripe runs along the bushy tail which measures 11 to 16 Inches. Gray Foxes grow to a height of 15 inches and 21 to 30 inches in body length. They weigh 7 to 13 pounds.
Gray Fox dens are located in hollow logs, ground burrows, beneath boulders, and even under buildings in areas where the foxes have become acclimated to people. Breeding season occurs from late January to March. Females give birth to 3-7 dark-brown, blind pups after 50 to 55 days. The male stays with his mate to care for the young which are weaned at about 2 months. By 3 months they leave the den with their parents who begin to teach them to hunt and will stay with their parents until late summer or fall. Photo Credit: Broward County Parks and Recreation Division Gray Fox at Highlands Scrub Natural Area, Pompano Beach.
The Eastern Spotted Skunk, (Spilogale putorius), is native to Florida and the least studied. It was thought that they were abundant throughout Florida except in the Keys. This is a small skunk, about the size of a squirrel, with more of a weasel shaped body. Eastern spotted skunks have various areas of white on the body that mix with the black and vary on each individual. They have short legs and are slow moving. The spotted skunk is omnivorous and enjoys dining on plants, berries, nuts, fruits, rodents, frogs, snakes, small lizards, and bird eggs.
Eastern Spotted Skunks are nest predators of ground-nesting birds, Unfortunately, the critically endangered, Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is among the skunk’s prey.
A female spotted skunk will create a den in a tree hollow, gopher tortoise burrow, or abandoned structure. Her litter will range between 2 to 10 kits each year. At 4 weeks the young go out looking for food with their mother and are weaned at 8 weeks. By 4 months they are adults and leave the den. The life span of the spotted skunk is 1 to 2 years.
Like all skunks, the Spotted Skunk has well developed anal glands that emit musk, if they are threatened. These glands contain a “nipple” that allows the skunk to aim its spray accurately. The spotted skunk is noted for its characteristic “handstand” stance that it takes when threatened. Before spraying its opponent, the skunk raises up on its front legs and turns its head to watch as it sprays. It is also the only member of the skunk family that can climb. Their predators include humans, dogs, cats, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and owls.
The population of eastern spotted skunks has not been well-studied. Loss of habitat, insecticide use, and predators may indicate they are not as abundant as once thought.
Dolphin is a common name of aquatic mammals within the order Cetacea. Dolphins can be very large, reaching weights of up to 1400 pounds and lengths of 12.5 feet. They can live between 40 to 50 years and reach sexual maturity between 5 and 14 years. Like all mammals, dolphins reproduce through internal fertilization, and females give birth to live young. The gestation period is between 9 to 17 months, depending on the dolphin. Juveniles are able to swim from the moment they are born, but for two years they are dependent on their mothers for nursing. Dolphins are thought to be some of smartest animals on the planet. They are also extremely curious and their intelligence is both a result of and a driver of their complex social structures. They generally live in pods between five to several hundred depending on the type of dolphin. Their preferred prey includes small, schooling fishes and squids. There are over 40 species named as dolphins, from fresh water to salt water. Most species live in tropical and temperate oceans throughout the world. Five species live in the world’s rivers. They use echolocation to find prey and will hunt together by surrounding a school of fish, trapping them and taking turns swimming through the school to catch the fish. They have a vocabulary of danger sounds, food sounds, and seeking sounds. Sometimes they put these sounds together in a reasonably complex fashion. They are known to vocalize one to the other. Studies also indicate that there are differences among the species of dolphins regarding their skull size and form, variations that may lead to future changes. As with most species today, the dolphins most dangerous threat is man. Sometimes, humans kill dolphins not because they are a food source but because they prey on the same fish species than humans do. Therefore, many fishermen have killed dolphins only because they are a competition for the fish. In some countries, people eat dolphins. In Japan, the meat of some species is seen as a delicacy and can cost up to $25 USD a pound. The presence of humans on Earth does not give dolphins many possibilities to survive. If they are caught in the fishing nets, they are unable to breathe and drown. There is a loss of habitat due to pollution. Millions of gallons of polluted water, toxic substances such as pesticides, heavy metals, plastic trash and hundreds of other hazardous materials are released into the ocean and the rivers. Their habitat becomes contaminated and causes illness and death. There are many positive interactions between humans and dolphins. They have rarely attacked a person. Instead, they have helped them often. The truth is that there is nothing to indicate that dolphins feel particular empathy for man since they have a highly developed social behavior and they behave the same way with other animals. Fun Fact: While sleeping, the bottlenose dolphin shuts down only half of its brain, along with the opposite eye. The other half of the brain stays awake at a low level of alertness. The attentive side is used to watch for predators, obstacles and other animals. It also signals when to rise to the surface for a breath of air. After about two hours, the animal will reverse this process, resting the active side of the brain and awaking the rested half. This pattern is often called cat-napping
The Florida Cracker Horse is a valuable and vital part of Florida’s heritage. While still rare, there are now over 1,000 registered horses, and the number continues to grow each year. The Florida Cracker Horse traces its ancestry to Spanish stock brought to Florida in the 1500s. They were given their name from the sound of the whips cracking as they worked cattle. The Florida Cracker horse exhibits great endurance in an unfavorable environment. This horse exemplifies great patience and strength. The Cracker horse can work all day and night, traveling without any additional care requirements. When the horses were left to roam freely, they evolved over time as a result of natural selection. They were tempered and molded by a challenging environment. And, in addition to playing an important role in the lives of Seminole Indians, they eventually helped Florida become a state of agriculture and ranching. Through the efforts of several private families and the Florida government, the breed was saved from extinction, but there is still concern about its low numbers. The breeds low numbers are considered to be at a critical point. The state has three small herds in Tallahassee, Withlacoochee State Forest, and Paynes Prairie State Preserve. The state maintains two lines for breeding purposes and the line that roams the Paynes Prairie State Preserve for display purposes. By 1989, these three herds and around 100 other horses owned by private families were all that remained of the breed. The population is considered to be “critical,” meaning that there are between 100 and 300 active adult breeding mares in existence today. Effective, July 1, 2008, the Florida House of Representatives, declared the Florida Cracker Horse the official state horse.
The Florida mouse is the State’s only endemic mammal. This mouse is a microhabitat specialist, centering its activities on gopher tortoise burrows in sand pine scrub or longleaf pine, turkey oak habitats. Florida mice construct their own burrows within the larger burrow of the gopher tortoise. Each adult female mouse uses about two tortoise burrows, alternating her residency with successive litters. Females begin to breed when they reach a weight of approximately 27 grams. Litter size is between 2-4 and the young mature very slowly. Occasionally two adult females will use the same tortoise burrow. Their diet consists of crickets, ticks, fruit, seeds, and berries. A baby of a Florida mouse is called a pinkie, kitten or pup. The females are called doe and males buck. A Florida mouse group is called a nest, colony, harvest, horde or mischief. They are listed as Vulnerable, considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. It is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are not on the federally protected species list. They average between 5 to 8 inches long and their tails are between 2 to 3.5 inches long, weighing between 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce. The Florida mouse has soft silky fur that is brown or brownish orange in color. Its underparts are white. Their ears are large and furless. Their tails are long and their back paws are large in size and have 5 pads. Their teeth are sharp and they use them for gnawing. They are nocturnal, resting in its nest during the day and active at night searching for food. They communicate by emitting high pitched squeals and when they are excited they thump the ground with their front paws producing a drumming sound. The Florida mouse also has a distinctive odor almost like a skunk. They are also known to carry several diseases such as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, salmonellosis, leptospirosis and tularemia which can be transmitted to humans. If one should enter your house, be sure to use a live trap and release the Florida mouse outside where Nature intended.
The coyote (Canis latrans) is a medium-sized omnivore. The average size of a coyote in Florida is about 28 lbs. Fossils of their remains have been found in Florida as far back as 2.6 million years ago. Due to the annihilation of the red wolves in Florida, coyotes are thriving. They are also stepping up to the plate to carry out the ecological task previously carried out by the red wolves. The role of a tertiary predator is important in maintaining balance and order in an ecosystem. They do this by regulating the trophic levels below them. If there are too many primary consumers the vegetation can be depleted causing problems with soil and water. If there are too many secondary consumers, the primary consumer population can deplete resulting in overgrowth. If prey isn’t available, coyotes adapt by eating vegetation.
February is part of the mating period. I suppose you could say Valentines Day is a romantic time for Coyotes as well as humans. After about a 63 day gestation period the females will give birth. They will have to rely on the male to provide food for the mother and pups. The pups start weaning between April and May. This is done by eating the regurgitated food of their parents. By July they are eating solid food. They begin hunting in August and will be ready to venture out on their own by December.
Coyotes are often called “song dogs” because of their variety of sounds. People frequently overestimate the number of coyotes in an area due to their singing. The phenomenon of hearing multiples is called the Beau Geste effect. This term means “fine gesture” in French and comes from a book published in 1924. The story explains how a group of brothers used dead soldiers to give the illusion of several soldiers in an attempt to intimidate approaching forces.
Coyotes get a bad reputation, but with changes in human behavior, we can learn to coexist with them. Don’t leave food out for other animals. Walk dogs on a short leash if you know coyotes are around. Secure trash. Keep your yard clear of any debris they could use as a den. Secure livestock and their feed. If you see coyotes, make a loud noise to scare them away. As we learn to live with coyotes we can learn to appreciate the role they play in keeping Florida’s ecosystems healthy.
Coyotes are a perfect example of an omnivore because they will eat almost anything. Their meals consist of plants, berries, dead things, insects (they love bugs), rodents, foxes, small animals of any kind including birds, small livestock, cats and small dogs, and of course human and pet food!
Unlike wolves, coyotes do not hunt in packs. However, they will hunt with family members until their siblings go on their way.
Why are we seeing more coyotes in Florida? Humans have killed most of the wolves. Because wolves are now nearly extinct in Florida, coyotes have moved in and become king of the hill. They have no natural predators and will coexist in the wild with other animals including panthers and bobcats. Coyotes love open grassy areas where rodents and other small animals live. Since man has cleared out many forests to make way for ranching and farming, the coyote has a free range with plenty of food.
An adult coyote weighs 25 to 40 lbs. At times they may appear to be starving and seem very thin. This is their body build. Since they are extremely adaptable to almost any environmental condition and will eat almost anything, there is never any worry about coyotes finding enough food. When coyotes inhabit a new area their population will grow quickly. Five to six pups may be born in a single litter. Once an area is established the coyote population will level off.
Can we send them back to their original range? It has been tried in many states for hundreds of years and the answer is no. Snare traps will most likely catch some other wild animal or someone’s pet before it captures a coyote. Two Florida black bears were found dead with coyote snares around their necks here in Central Florida. If we kill them, coyotes will just have more pups to quickly repopulate the area. Unless we reintroduce their natural predator, the red or grey wolf, and allow nature to take its course through Trophic Cascade, coyotes are here to stay.
What can you do to keep them wild and in the forests or uninhabited areas? We use the same techniques for coyotes as we do for our amazing Florida Black bears. Take in pet food and bird feeders, secure all attractants, scare that coyote if it is in your yard by yelling at it, making loud noises, etc. Never leave small pets outside unattended. Coyotes don’t know the difference between a small cat or dog and any other prey. It’s our responsibility as pet owners to keep pets safe.
Let’s learn to respect nature, and not fear it, to coexist and not destroy it.
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.
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.
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.
—-Endangered Florida Bonneted Bat -Eumops floridanus—-
Florida deemed these bats endangered in 1993 but they were not federally listed until 2010. This cool animal, a large free-tailed bat, is approximately 5.1-6.5 inches in size and is considered critically endangered. Color varies from black to brown to brownish gray to cinnamon brown. Bats love to forage over ponds, streams, and wetland. They drink as they are flying over open water. If their water source becomes dry, they will move to where this is water. Bonneted Bats have been seen drinking out of swimming pools and other open sourced waterways. Bonneted bats have been seen nesting in the holes left be red cockaded woodpeckers in Longleaf pine trees as well as in the shafts of royal palms. These wonderful animals live in some Central Florida counties with most living in South Florida. The total number of Bonneted Bats worldwide is estimated to be at around 250 . Bats in South Florida, including this species, appear to have declined drastically in numbers in recent years due to loss of roosting sites, effects of pesticides, hurricanes, and habitat loss from development.
Remember, what we may fear is not bad for us or the environment. Our fears demand us to educate ourselves about the amazing reasons why these animals are here and how they contribute to our Circle of Life.