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Wildlife

Florida Coyote Story

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.

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Black Vulture

Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus, feed mainly on carrion. These birds and their relatives, the turkey vultures, are the garbage folks of the ecosystem. Black vultures lack vocal cords and only make occasional hisses or grunts. They defecate on their legs to cool down on hot days which is a process called urohidrosis. Both mother and father Black Vultures incubate 2 Pale gray-green eggs which are blotched with brown for 37-41 days. Both parents feed their young ones by regurgitation. The babies stay in the nest for about 2 months and may move to high areas nearby. They are capable of flight at about 75-80 days, however, the young may be partly dependent on their parents for several more months.

 

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Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

As you saunter through a longleaf pine forest, tortoises feeding on wiregrass and other herbaceous plants of the open forest floor pay you little mind. If you are lucky. If the forest has been able to have fire keep it clean. If there are enough old-growth longleaf pines present to sustain them. If all these things are in your favor, you may be lucky enough to see this little gem.

The red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) is an endangered species across its remaining range. Once found from Florida north to New Jersey and Maryland and west to the eastern parts of Texas and Oklahoma, they are now extirpated from Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, and Tennessee. There are now just over 14,000 estimated individuals in 5,627 known groups left in their shrunken range.

There are a few species that look similar to the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the good ways to identify this species is by the large, white cheek patch on each side of the head. In males, this patch will have a very small, almost invisible red streak on each side of the white patch (the cockade). They feed on small insects such as grasshoppers, roaches, ants, beetles, caterpillars, and some berries.

Unlike other woodpecker species, the red-cockaded woodpecker nests only in live, old growth pine trees that are infected with red heart fungus. This fungus makes the wood softer for cavity construction. It can take up to two years to construct a cavity and a breeding group, or cluster, will have multiple nest cavities in their home range. The red-cockaded woodpecker is a cooperative breeder with a breeding pair and several helper birds, usually sons from prior hatches. The breeder male will also drill holes under the nest cavity to cause the pine to produce sap flows. This helps prevent nest raiding snakes from entering the hole.

Why did this species decline? Why are they endangered? This species requires old-growth longleaf pine forests that experience frequent fires which keep the forest floor clean and open. That type of forest is among the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Only 3% of the longleaf pine forests remain. Loss of habitat combined with the fire suppression policies of the recent past combined to cause their rapid decline.

BUT……. it’s not all bad news! Through the hard work of hundreds of forest rangers and biologists, there is a population increase in the red-cockaded woodpecker. Restoring the pine forests, returning fire, and carefully relocating individuals to new, healthy forests have helped this species to increase their population. They are not in the clear yet, but with the continued hard work and efforts of these dedicated individuals, this species will delight for generations to come.

Imagine Our Florida would like to thank one of our members, Lynn Marie, for providing these wonderful images she that took in The Ocala National Forest!

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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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Witches Broom

Witches’ Brooms are an interesting sight when out in nature. This mutation can be found in numerous conifers and deciduous trees. There are several factors that can cause this.

Witches’ brooms are caused by stress to the plant. Trees can be infected by a fungus, phytoplasmas (which are wall-less single-celled organisms), or parasitic plants like mistletoe.

These structures can be beneficial to wildlife, providing shelter for animals such as flying squirrels. There are also species of moths that rely on these for shelter as well as providing food for their larva.

Cutting from witches’ brooms can be grafted onto normal root-stocks creating weird, dwarf cultivars that people collect.

The photos here are of a Witches’ Broom growth on a sand pine, Pinus clausa in Wekiva Springs State Park.

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Lake Wales Ridge

We all know Florida has some very unique ecosystems. One of the most unique of these ecosystems is The Lake Wales Ridge. The ridge runs about 150 miles along the spine of Central Florida. The city of Lake Wales is located roughly at its center. The highest point of the ridge is Sugarloaf Mountain. At an elevation of 312 feet., this is the highest point in peninsular Florida.

As you can see in the satellite image, the ridge is actually visible from space as a bright white line. This line is caused by the dune sands of this former island chain. That’s right! The Ridge used to be a chain of islands 2 million years ago when the rest of the peninsula was under the raised waters of the ocean.

These ancient dunes and their white, powdery sand, provide a unique habitat for many rare and endangered plants and animals. These plants and animals have evolved to deal with the hot conditions and quick draining soil.

Species such as the scrub jay, gopher tortoise, Florida scrub lizard and sand skink make their homes here. Many of the plants have also adapted to the heat and lack of regularly available water. Scrub oaks have thick, curved leaves adapted to conserve water. Yucca, pear cactus, and scrub palmetto are all common plants along the ridge.

 

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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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Giant Air Plant

This cool looking plant is Tillandsia utriculata, or the Giant Airplant. Its status in Florida is Endangered (listed as a result of Mexican bromeliad weevil attack).

This one was still small, only about 18 inches in height but these can get up to 2 meters long. When they mature, they produce a single flower spike then die.

The Lake Wales Ridge is home to many rare and endangered plants and animals. Make sure to get out and explore. Use our state parks, wildlife management areas, and National parks. This shows, to government officials, how valuable natural spaces really are to people. Attendance matters.

 

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