Wildlife

Roseate Spoonbill

— Roseate Spoonbill ( Ajaia ajaja) —
The Roseate Spoonbill is a dramatic comeback bird. Plume hunters had reduced the bird to just 25 in 1901. With the banning of the plume-hunting trade, Florida set a national example for preservation. By the late 1970s, there were nearly 1300 nests.This is an elegant, rose-colored, wading bird with a shovel-like beak. Spoonbills can be found in mangrove swamps, tidal ponds, and saltwater lagoons or other sources of brackish water. The bird is 30 to 36 inches tall with a wingspread approaching 3 to 4 feet. Spoonbills have a white neck with pink or rose feathers covering much of its body. The feathers on their wings are bright red to magenta depending on the age of the bird. The legs are pinkish red. The irises of the eyes of adult birds are bright red.

A Spoonbill’s most distinctive feature is the greenish-gray, spoon-shaped beak. On the beak, the nostrils are located near the head, allowing the bird to breathe even with much of its beak underwater. Water must be present for feeding because they can not feed on land. They open their beaks slightly and begin to swing their heads back and forth in the water. This creates small whirlpools and the vibrations of escaping prey are felt by sensors in the beak. The beak then snaps shut, not allowing the prey to escape. Their prey includes shrimp, crawfish, small fish, insects, and other small mammals. Their red color comes from the red algae ingested along with the crustaceans.

Males are slightly larger than females but their coloration is identical. March through June is mating season. Spoonbills form mating pairs for the season but not for life. Females attract males by shaking branches with their beaks. The male approaches while nodding his head and attempts to perch next to her. Six days after mating, 2 to 4 eggs are deposited in the nest. Both male and female help incubate the nest and feed the young. The young Spoonbills leave the nest at 8 weeks. They reach maturity at 3 years.

“How can hope be denied when there is always the possibility of an American flamingo or a roseate spoonbill floating down from the sky like pink rose petals?”
Quote -Terry Tempest Williams

Photo credit -Dan Kon

 

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Little Grass Frog

The Little Grass Frog (Pseudacris ocularis), is the smallest of frogs, they are 1/2 an inch long. They range in color from light beige to dark brown and tan. They have dark eye strips extending along the side of the body, and thin white strips above the lip and below the eye. They have tiny pads with slightly webbed toes. Despite its size, The Little Grass Frog can jump 20 times their body length.

The Little Grass Frog will lay between 1 to 25 creamy brown eggs on vegetation or submerged debris. The eggs hatch in less than 2 days. The metamorphosis happens in 10 days from tadpole to frog.

This frog can be found in wet prairies and flooded grassy meadows. They are active during the day climbing among the grasses.

The Little Grass Frog has a high pitched chirp which is difficult to hear. If you hear the chirping it is usually at night when the humidity is high or during rain and is coming from grassy areas.
To hear the Little Grass Frog call go to:
https://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/sounds/pseocu.mp3

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Agatized Coral

— Agatized Coral —
Agatized Coral (Cnidaria anthozoa) is Florida’s state stone. The Florida legislature designated it the state stone in 1979.
Coral is the limy outside skeleton of tiny ocean animals called polyps. Agatized Coral, AKA Fossilized Coral, is formed when agate, a form of chalcedony replaces the minerals in coral. This process takes 20-30 million years and is known as pseudomorphing.
These fossils are from the Oligocene-Miocene period. Agatized Coral is between 38-25 million years old. These fossils are found in a variety of colors, from white, pink, gray, brown, black, yellow and red. Trace minerals in the agate create these colors. They are found in ancient ocean beds, where silica-rich groundwater has percolated through the limestone around them. This may give the fossil a banded stone look.
Agatized Coral is most often found in the Tampa Bay area, the Withlacoochee/Suwannee River, and the Econfina River. Most Agatized Coral found in Florida lived in the vast Eocene seas which covered the state when Florida was part of the continental shelf.
Agatized Coral was used by the first inhabitants of Florida to make spearheads, containers, tools, knives. Remains have been found in archaeological sites dating back to 5000 B.C. The Agatized Coral is highly prized by collectors today

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Turkey Buzzard

Let’s talk about the Turkey Buzzard (Cathartes aura), nature’s sanitation engineer and when joined by friends, the ultimate clean-up crew.

Turkey Buzzards are also known as Turkey Vultures. They have black or dark brown feathers and their featherless heads and necks have pink skin. They are between 25 to 32 inches in length and weigh up to 6 pounds. They have a wingspan of 54 inches.

Turkey vultures use thermal currents to float on the warm air currents without flapping their wings which conserves energy. They will travel 30 to 50 miles on these currents in search of food. Their bills and feet are not designed to catch prey and they prefer to eat fresh road kill and other carrion.

The Turkey Buzzard has a keener sense of smell than other birds. They can smell the chemical breakdown of carrion from a mile away and will float and follow the aroma until they find it. Their bald, featherless heads, makes it safer for them to stick their heads deep into carrion and nothing will stick to the smooth skin.

As carrion eaters, many consider Turkey Buzzards spooky and harbingers of death. If you see one of these vultures circling above you, it doesn’t mean you are about to die. These Buzzards have a unique and ecological role because they prevent the spread of disease from rotting carrion by eating it.

Since they have weak legs and cannot carry food back to their young, they will gorge on a carcass and regurgitate to feed the young. They will also urinate on their legs and feet to cool off, their urine kills any parasites and bacteria from walking and standing on the carcasses. When threatened they will vomit to lighten their body weight to escape as a defense mechanism against predators.

Turkey vultures are highly social. They will fly in a small group and breed annually with the same mate. The vulture can be found in pastures, landfills, or anywhere they can find carrion. Eggs are laid on the ground in dense thickets, scrub areas, hollow logs, caves, or old buildings. The Turkey Buzzard lays between one to four clutches from March to July. Their eggs hatch in 35 to 40 days and the nesting period is 55 to 90 days.

Vultures are a protected species, which means that interfering with them physically has legal repercussions.

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Sand Crabs

Sand Crabs are also known as mole crabs or sand fleas. Sand crabs are crustaceans that are smaller than a human thumb. The two species predominant on Florida beaches are Emerita talpoida and Emerita benedicti. They are silvery or white in color and seem transparent. The Crabs have antennae, which they use to catch plankton for food. They have no claws and do not bite or sting. The Sand Crabs live between two to three years. The crabs are food for fish, Florida shorebirds and water birds. They feed on micro-organisms found in the Florida beach sand. That means that they ingest any toxins that might be affecting the shore or the water. Environmental engineers and scientists are able to draw conclusions about the health of the ocean based on the condition of sand crabs.

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Lightning Bug

—Let’s be a kid again – the Firefly/Lightning Bug—
Remember those nights of wandering outside in the spring and summer and being surrounded by amazing little flying strobe lights. They would come out at dusk and stay only for a few hours. We captured them in glass jars and looked in amazement as we tried to figure out how their lights worked.
Fireflies are a good indicator species for the health of an environment. Unfortunately, these little miracles of life are on the decline throughout the world because of overdevelopment, pesticide use and yes, light pollution.
The best thing you can do to support fireflies is to stop using lawn chemicals and broad-spectrum pesticides. Firefly larvae eat other undesirable insects. They are nature’s natural pest control.
If you miss seeing these little buggers, you’ll be happy to know Central Florida’s firefly season is the end of March and early April. In fact, Blue Springs State Park stays open a little past their usual closing time and has guided tours at this time so you can enjoy nature’s light show. 

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Dolphin

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

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Burrowing Owl

Florida Burrowing Owls are small owls with long legs and short tails. The head is rounded and does not have ear tufts. They are between 7-9 inches tall with a 21-inch wingspan. Burrowing owls have brown back feathers with patches of white spots. As well as a white underside with brown bar-shaped spots. The body color pattern helps them blend in with the vegetation in their habitat and avoid predators. They also have large yellow eyes and a white chin. They make their burrows in sandy prairies and pastures with very little vegetation. Due to development, the majority of Florida’s Burrowing Owls have had to adapt to living in urban habitats such as golf courses, ball fields, residential lawns and other expanses of cleared land. They are a very social species and families will live in close proximity to each other. They are the only species of owl in the world that nests underground. They will dig their own burrows. Or occupy burrows, up to 8 feet in length, that have been dug out by a Gopher Tortoise. They are active more during the day then the night. The female lays 6-8 eggs and incubates them, while the father stands guard outside and collects cockroaches, lizards, insects, and rodents. The chicks take several weeks to learn to fly before that they take short runs along the ground. The Florida Burrowing Owl is listed as threatened due to loss of habitation as well as harassment by humans and domesticated animals.

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Horse Conch

Florida’s State Shell – The Horse Conch

The state shell of Florida is the Horse Conch (triplofusus giganteu). It was designated the state shell in 1969. The Florida horse conch is the largest snail to be found in American waters. It can grow to a length of two feet. The shell protects their soft bodies from predators. They use a foot, that extends from their shell that allows them to drag the shell along. Horse Conchs are commonly found in seagrass beds and reefs. This snail is carnivorous and will feed on clams and mussels as well as other snails. The shell is grayish white to salmon in color and covered with a brown, scaly outer layer which you will see peeling. The 10 whorls of the shell are knobbed. Young shells are orange. The animal inside the shell is orange to brick red in color. The female attaches capsule-like structures to rock or old shell. Each capsule contains several dozen eggs. Not all eggs are fertile. Non-fertile eggs are eaten by those who are maturing in the same capsule. When the young emerge they are an orange color and usually 3.5 inches in diameter.
The Horse Conch’s predators are mainly humans who use them for their shells and food. Other predators are the octopuses who use their suction cups to suck the conch out of its shell. Some starfish are able to slip one of their arms into the opening of the conch and will then force its stomach out and ingest the conch right from its shell. The word “conch” comes from a Greek word meaning “shell.”

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Bobcats

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.

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Green Sea Turtle

Marine habitats surrounding the Keys provide habitat for threatened and endangered species. The Florida population of Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) has been considered endangered since 1978. The declining population has been victim to commercial harvesting for eggs and food as well as incidental bycatch in the shrimp fishery. Florida is an important sea turtle nesting area. The majority of nesting in Florida occurs between May 1st and October 31st. About 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place on Florida’s beaches. In order to prevent nesting and hatchling turtles from wandering off track, your beachfront property should use sea turtle friendly lighting. Never touch a sea turtle or pick up the hatchling, it interferes with the process of imprinting on their beach. The Green Sea Turtle has a rounded, oval body with a distinctive smaller head. Its name is derived from the greenish fat in its upper and lower shell. Incubation lasts approximately sixty days. As the nursery due date, between 4 to 5 days come closer, a depression forms in the sand that indicates hatchling movements. Soon, the babies begin digging out en masse, to start their journey to the water’s edge. The reflection of the moonlight on the water inspires their pathway to the sea. Turtles deposit approximately 100 golf ball size eggs, gently cover the eggs with sand and then they spread sand over a wide area to obscure the exact location of the chamber. A single female may nest several times during a season and then not nest again for one or two years. A male Sea Turtle never leaves the ocean. The Turtles live between 12 to 50 years. Once in the water, the hatchlings swim directly out to sea, facing a struggle to survive to adulthood. They range in size between 3 to 5 feet and weigh anywhere between 240 to 420 pounds. They mostly eat sea grass and algae, the only sea turtle that is herbivorous as an adult. Their jaws are finely serrated which aids in tearing vegetation. The estimate is there are between 85,000 to 90,000 nesting females. It may seem like a lot of nesting females laying eggs but the Green Sea Turtle is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.

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Crocodiles

Crocodiles

Florida is famous for many things, one of them being the only environment on earth in which American Alligators and American Crocodiles coexist. You may wonder what the difference is between the two. While they are related and do look very similar, crocodiles and alligators have some major differences. Crocodiles exist both in freshwater and saltwater, whereas alligators prefer freshwater environments. The obvious difference is their appearances. Crocodiles have longer, pointier snouts, alligators have shorter, more rounded snouts. When an alligator has its mouth shut, you won’t see any of its teeth. When a crocodile has its mouth shut, its back teeth stick up over the top lip. Because they are broader, alligator snouts are stronger than crocodile snouts, that allows them to crush hard-shelled prey such as turtles. Crocodiles are typically lighter in color, with tans and brown colors. Alligators are darker, showing more gray and black colors. Both members are excellent hunters. They have sharp, above water vision, night vision, sensitive hearing, and vertical pupils that take in additional light. Both have small sensory pits along their jaws that allow them to detect pressure changes in the water, and to locate and capture prey. They both prefer to swallow large chunks or swallow their prey whole. Crocodiles have higher functioning salt glands, that allows them to excrete higher amounts of salt from water than alligators can. Alligator glands do not function as strongly, which makes them less tolerant of saltwater environments so they prefer freshwater. Crocodiles can successfully migrate across multiple bodies of salt and fresh water. Alligators are regarded as more docile than crocodiles, only attacking if hungry or provoked. Crocodiles are regarded as more aggressive than alligators. Crocodiles are known to attack just because someone or something is near them. Crocodiles prefer to spend more time in the water. Alligators prefer to sunbathe on the banks or in mud close to the water. Female alligators will continuously mate with the same male alligators for life. Crocodile babies come from multiple mates. Crocodiles live longer than alligators. The average lifespan of a crocodile is between 70-100 years, while the average lifespan of an alligator is usually between 30-50 years.
You should avoid contact with both animals at all costs.

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Red Velvet Ant

—-Red Velvet Ant—-

The name is a bit misleading. These fuzzy little insects aren’t actually ants but rather wasps. The males have wings and can fly but are harmless. The females, however, can deliver a powerful and painful sting. Fortunately, they do not have wings and can easily be avoided. These differences in sexes are called sexual dimorphism.

These wasps create burrows in the ground that look like small holes. Chances are you have walked by the burrows without noticing. These photos were taken at Circle B Bar Reserve in Polk County.

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Golden Silk Orb Weaver

—-Golden Silk Orb Weaver—-

The golden silk orb weaver is frequently dreaded by hikers and bikers in the forest. Their webs pop out of nowhere and despite their size, their color variation helps them blend into the forest. These heart-attack inducing spiders might give us a scare but they are harmless. Their large webs catch flies, bees, wasps, moths, and butterflies. There is at least one friend of these spiders. Orange and pecan farmers appreciated their cooperation in keeping pests away from their harvests.

Smaller males come out to mate between July and September. The females produce at least two egg sacs per year but have been recorded to produce up to nine.

Climate change has mildly affected these spiders behavior but they have adapted by creating a reflective carapace and by turning the cylindrical part of their body towards the sun to reduce the body surface that is heated. They also reduce heat by holding a drop of water in their chelicerae (mouth-part) and allowing it to evaporate. This has allowed them to adapt very well to their environment.

Next time these little guys give you a scare, take a second to appreciate the hard work they do in helping crops and keeping other insects from overpopulating.

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Robins

Robins – Florida Snow Birds

* Robins prefer cooler temperatures which is why they fly north to escape the southern heat.
* Robins will start to migrate back north when they feel a 37-degree average daily isotherm ( ground temperature above 37*).
* Male robins will arrive at their northern destinations about 2 weeks earlier than the females. This gives them time to claim their territory. 
* Robins do not mate for life, however, the male will stay to help feed his chicks.
*Chicks leave the nest in August and live to be 5-6 years old.
* Robins begin to migrate south when the temperature causes the ground to become too hard to dig for earthworms, their main source of food.
* Robins will resort to eating berries and insects until that food supply starts to dwindle.
* During migration, robins can fly up to 36 mph and cover 100-200 miles a day.
*Winter months are spent in Florida, southern Louisiana, southern Texas, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, Southern California, and northern Mexico.
* Most robins migrate intermediate distances but some have migrated from Vancouver to as far south as Guatemala.

As the temperature warms in our neighboring states, robins will begin to make their way across Florida. Keep an eye on your bird bath. A flock of robins just might stop by for a quick dip and drink.

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Florida Cracker Horse

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.

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Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, is more than the symbol of the United States. They are interesting enough to have an entire day dedicated to them. While Save the Eagles Day originated as a way to raise awareness about the then endangered species, it now serves as a time to learn about the thriving animals. Here are five facts you may not know about eagles:

1. Females weigh more than their male counterparts. The males weigh between 7 and 10 pounds, and females can weigh up to 14 pounds.

2. Eagles can see as much as eight times further than humans and their eyes are equipped with infection-fighting tears.

3. While the bald eagle population has steadily increased after a severe drop, most of the population’s fatalities remain human related. Such as impact with manmade structures, gunshot and poisoning are the leading causes of death.

4. The Bald Eagle emits a surprisingly weak sounding call. Usually, a series of high pitched, whistling or piping notes. The female may repeat a single, soft, high pitched note that signals her readiness to copulate.

5. Eagles can dive up to 100 mph while hunting. When they’re flying casually, they go about 30 mph.

The bald eagle, the national bird of the United States, once on the endangered species list, being on it from 1967 until 1995. It was then reclassified as being threatened. The Eagle was subsequently removed from that list in 2007 and is now listed in the least concern category.
The bald eagle is strongly associated with the United States but eagles are on the coat of arms of Germany and Egypt, as well as Albania’s flag and coat of arms. If you live near eagles, work to protect their habitat. The bald eagle is another example of a species brought to the brink of extinction, that is now thriving.
Photo credit Aymee Laurain

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Florida mouse

Florida Mouse Podomys floridanus

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.

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Florida Worm Lizard

The Florida Worm Lizard, Rhineura floridana, is neither a worm or a lizard. It is the only member of the genus Rhineura. This odd little creature has no eyes. It spends most of its time underground and has no need for vision. In the event of heavy rain, you may see these odd like fellows above ground. They feed on any invertebrate they can, including spiders, earthworms, maggots, and ants. To make them even weirder they are sex-less in that they are neither male or female. They reproduce by a process called parthenogenesis. This means that they basically make clones of themselves. A benefit of this method is that they do not need to find a mate which could be difficult when you spend your life in the dirt. Our most common ancestors are the amniota. This section of our clade represents animals that develop from an egg, either internal or external. The Florida worm lizard may not be the cutest creatures but we think there is something lovable about these unique little underdogs. What have you seen in Nature this week?

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Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum A. s. floridanus, is one of the most endangered birds in Florida with less than 50 breeding pairs left in the wild. A subspecies of the Grasshopper Sparrow, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow has darker and more gray tones in its plumage and is the only grasshopper sparrow who breeds in Florida. They weigh no more than one ounce as adults. Their coloration and habit of living and nesting in the grass make them almost invisible. The sparrow forages on the ground for small invertebrates, grasshoppers, and seeds. The Sparrow’s nest is a concealed under vegetation but they are extremely vulnerable to predation by snakes, birds of prey, crows, rodents, raccoons, skunks, armadillos, opossums, coyotes, fire ants, and box turtles. Females incubate three to five eggs for approximately 12 days. Chicks leave the nest at around eight days old but will stay in the area and be fed by the parents for a few weeks. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow’s decline began in the 1970s when native prairie grasslands were converted to cattle grazing pastures, sod production, and other agricultural uses. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow responds well to restoration efforts. Current conservation efforts in Florida to restore native grasslands and breeding programs may help this critically endangered bird recover.

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Coyote

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.

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