Wildlife

Purple Gallinule

(Porphyrio martinicus)

Plumage in shades of purple, teal, indigo, and olive along with a yellow-tipped red bill and bright yellow legs make this bird hard to miss. Purple gallinules are noisy rails who are most often found near freshwater marshes, ponds, and swamps. You may find them swimming, walking on lily pads, or in the branch of a tree.

In the spring and summer, a pair of Purple Gallinules will build one or more nests at or above the water level. The nests are supported by strong vegetation at the water’s edge and are made of grasses, cattails and other vegetation found nearby. Raising babies is a family affair. Both the male and female incubate 5-10 eggs for 22-25 days. Once hatched, the mother, father, and older siblings help feed the babies until they are 9 weeks old and able to fly.

Purple Gallinules are omnivorous. You may find them pecking the ground like a chicken as they forage along the shore for fruit, seeds, insects, worms, or snails. In the water, they will nod their head while looking for tasty aquatic greens or a fish dinner.

When you see a Purple Gallinule, spend some time watching this gorgeous bird with quirky movements. Note how their feathers appear to change color when they move from sunshine to shade. You will be amazed at how the Purple Gallinule’s brilliant colors perfectly blend into Florida’s wetlands.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #PurpleGallinule #Explore #Discover

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Eastern Hognose Snake

Eastern Hognose Snake Heterodon platirhinos

Eastern Hognose Snakes are found throughout Florida with the exception of the Keys. Their habitat is diverse and includes scrub, sandhills, turkey oak woodlands, hardwood hammocks, pine woodlands, meadows, and even cultivated fields. Hognose snakes secrete a mild venom that is toxic to their prey. They are not known to cause serious injuries to humans, however, some people may show signs of an allergy if bitten.

Hognose snakes are thick-bodied and vary in color from solid gray or black to various shades of brown, yellow, orange, olive, or red with large, randomly shaped markings. The underside can be off-white, gray, or yellow with the bottom side of the tail lighter in color. An average adult grows to 20-35 inches. Hognose snakes breed in spring. Females lay 15-25 leathery eggs in sandy soil or under logs. In 1-2 months, the hatchlings break free of their eggs and are 6 1/2 to 9 1/2 inches long.

Active only during daylight hours, Hognose snakes use their blunt noses to search through soil and leaf litter for their meals. They may dine on frogs, insects, salamanders, and invertebrates, but toads are their favorite dinner. When a toad is threatened, it will puff itself up. Immune to the toad’s poison, Hognose snakes are equipped with rear fangs which enable them to pop the toad-like a balloon before swallowing it whole.

Eastern Hognose Snakes are best known for their dramatic display when warding off danger. Also known as a Puff Adder, when a threat is detected, a hognose snake will suck in air, flatten its head, rise like a cobra, and hiss. With its mouth closed, it may strike. If this display does not scare away the predator, the hognose will flip itself over and imitate death. It may convulse, regurgitate, and emit foul-smelling fecal matter before becoming completely still with its mouth open and tongue hanging out. When the danger passes, the Hognose snake will simply roll over and get on with enjoying its day.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #EasternHognoseSnake #snakes

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Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers, Rynchops niger, are seen flying low to the water with the lower part of their bills skimming the water for food. Their bills are wide at the top and come to the point. When a skimmer senses a fish in the longer, lower mandible of its bill, the upper part instantly snaps shut.

Striking and easily recognizable, skimmers are medium-sized tern-like seabirds with red and black bills and a wingspan of 3 to 3.5 feet. They have black wings with white edging, black backs, and a white underside and head. Black skimmers inhabit coastal areas such as beaches, estuaries, and sandbars.

Breeding and roosting occur between May and early September in colonies of up to several hundred pairs. Skimmers lay three to five eggs which are incubated by both parents for 23-25 days. Skimmers are protective parents and the colony acts as a village when it mobs a predator as a group in an effort to protect nests. The young fly at 28-30 days old. A successful colony will use the same nest site next year.

Black skimmers are threatened in Florida and are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Coastal development and human activity without regard to seabirds pose the biggest threat. Predators such as crows, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, and feral hogs find skimmer eggs and chicks to be a delicious meal. Pets, beach driving, recreational activity, oil spills, shoreline hardening, and more cause parents to abandon their nests. Sea level rise poses another threat to the black skimmer population.

With all of these threats, most of the colonies in Florida are managed by local land managers and volunteers. Documented black skimmer colonies in Florida are managed with fencings and/or informational signs.

With your help, black skimmers can make a successful comeback. Heed the signs you see while at the beach. Call the number on the signs at a beach near you and volunteer to make a difference. Let’s all do what we can now to protects these beautiful Florida seabirds.

Photos courtesy of FWC and Kon Studio

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #blackskimmer #beach

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American Flamingo

The American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) stands 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 50 inches. Their bright pink color comes from their diet of snails, crustaceans, and crabs and algae. Without this specific diet, they would turn gray.

The most unusual thing about Flamingos is their tongue. It is encased in the lower jaw and does not move. The tongue squeezes mud through structures in the bill, called lamellae which act as a strainer to extract insects, brine shrimp, algae, and other small prey.

There has been some debate on whether or not Flamingos are native to Florida. If they are spotted, they are usually considered escapees from captive flocks. During the 1800s flamingos were considered native to Florida. John James Audubon came specifically to see Flamingos on his 1830 visit to Florida. By the 1900s Flamingos had almost completely vanished. They were hunted for food, skin, and feathers.

Flamingos are wading birds and can be found around a water source. They have very long, thin necks and legs. Their heads are small and their bills are large, heavy, and have a crook. Young flamingos have straight bills but the crook develops as they get older.

The Flamingo stands on one leg to conserve heat as their legs have no feathers. Conserving heat is also why they bury their heads in their feathers. It also makes it easier to stand on one leg and reach down into the water with their bills to catch prey.

Flamingos are monogamous. The flock will mate at the same time so the eggs will hatch collectively. The flock protects the young from predators. The mated pair will make a mound of mud and the female will lay one egg which is between 3 to 3 1/2 inches long. It hatches in 27 to 31 days. Hatchlings are born white and turn pink within 2 years. Both parents produce a crop of milk in their upper digestive tract which they feed to the young until they start to eat solid food.

Florida has already removed the American Flamingo from the non-native list. Hopefully, flamingos will regain their native species status and become subject to federal and state protections. Conservation efforts to protect American Flamingos will be necessary to ensure these birds continue to survive even as they face increasing threats from habitat loss, pollution, and invasive predators. This historic population is in the very beginnings of a recovery. When we work together, we will ensure that the American Flamingo will not become extinct.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #flamingo #pink

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Gray Fox

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.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #fox #grayfox

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Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

The Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, is part of the songbird family of thrushes. Once declining at an alarming rate due to introduced species, pesticides, and habitat loss, Eastern bluebirds have made a stirring comeback. The population increase has been aided by birdhouses built especially for the bluebirds along bluebird trails.

Eastern bluebirds prefer open habitat which is near trees. These areas include forest clearings, burned areas, savannas, pastures, parks, and golf courses.

Male bluebirds flutter and sing to attract a female. The new couple will find a tree with a cavity such as an old woodpecker hole or a birdhouse. The female does most of the nest building and will loosely construct a nest of twigs and grasses lined with softer material such as feathers, animal hairs, or fine grass. There she will lay 3-7 pale blue or white eggs.

Incubation takes 13-16 days and is mostly by the female. When the nestlings are born, both parents will feed their young. Since Eastern bluebirds have 2-3 broods per year, it is not unusual to see a young bird from a previous brood help with feeding. Meals consist of a wide variety of insects. They also enjoy berries, earthworms, and snails.

Eastern bluebirds are monogamous while nesting but can be found in small flocks during the rest year. We hope a flock of bluebirds will fly over the rainbow and visit all of you this year.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Bluebird #birds

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Florida Woods Cockroach

The Florida Woods Cockroach (Eurycotis floridana) is more commonly known as the palmetto bug.

The roach measures 1 to 1 1/2 inches long to 1 inch wide. They are reddish brown to black and do not have fully developed wings. They appear wingless but have short vestigial wings. These roaches are larger than other species so are easier to spot.

Florida woods cockroaches are usually found under palmetto leaves and decomposing matter. Contact with the bug may cause skin irritation as they secrete a chemical from a gland under their abdomen. This chemical secretion is used to ward off predators and it stinks.

With or without fertilization, the Florida woods cockroach produces an egg case known as an ootheca. The egg cases contain an average of 20 to 24 eggs and will hatch after 50 days. Without fertilization, only about 60% of the eggs are viable and those that hatch will not live to adulthood. The nymphs undergo 6 to 8 weeks of molts before becoming adults. They can live over a year.

Florida woods cockroaches rarely enter the home since abundant food is found outdoors. They eat mold, moss, lichens, and other organic material found in dark, damp places. However, they are primarily a detritivore since their diet consists mainly of organic waste and dead plant matter such as bark and leaves, thus returning vital nutrients to the ecosystem.

They may not be the most loved bug in our state, but the Florida woods cockroach plays a very important role in our ecosystem.

Connect. Respect. Coexist.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #palmettobug #cockroach

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Eastern Spotted Skunk

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.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #skunk #ecology

photo credit FWC.

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Limpkin

— Limpkin —

The Limpkin (Aramus guaraunas) is a unique looking bird. It is brown with white spots and streaks, densest on the head and neck, with a long yellow bill. The Limpkin is 25 to 29 inches long, with a wingspan of 40 to 42 inches. Because of their long toes they can stand on floating objects as well as swim. Limpkins get their name from the seeming limp when they walk. They are also known as the wailing bird or crying bird due to their loud, mournful call at night.

Limpkins’ diet consists of apple snails and freshwater mussels. Adapted for foraging on apple snails, the bill is slightly curved to the right so it can slip into the snail. When closed, the bill has a gap right before the tip. The bill then acts like tweezers when it needs to feed. They will also eat, worms, insects, frogs, and lizards.

The Limpkin’s habitat includes the shores of ponds, lakes, rivers, swamps, and open freshwater marshes. Their nests are made up of twigs and any kind of vegetation. They are built on anything from floating vegetation to tree limbs. Both parents incubate the eggs during the day but only the females incubate at night. The clutch size is between 3 to 8 eggs which range in color from grayish white to deep olive with brownish or purplish gray streaks. When they are born they can run, walk and swim. This bird was once very common in Florida but because of the decline of its primary food the Florida Apple Snail and loss of habitat, it is listed as a species of special concern.

Did you know: A group of limpkins is known as a “hobbling”.

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Barred Owl

— Barred Owl – Strix varia —

“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” hoots the Barred Owl in a rich, soulful voice.

Barred Owls are native to North America and can be found in low-lying swamps, dense forests and most commonly, in deciduous or mixed woods. A suburban neighborhood can offer ideal habitat for Barred Owls when large trees are present although risk of being hit by a vehicle poses a danger. Pleistocene fossils of Barred Owls have been dug up in Floridaindicating these magnificent birds of prey have inhabited our state for at least 11,000 years.

Adult Barred Owls are 16–25 inches long and have a wingspan of 38–49 inches. They weigh 1.10 to 2.31 pounds. Their faces are pale with dark rings around the eyes and they have yellow beaks. Their chests are barred horizontally and their bellies are barred vertically. Barred Owls are the only species in the Eastern United States who have warm, dark brown eyes.

Prey consists mostly of small mammals, however, Barred Owls will also prey upon other small animals such as amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Hunts generally occur during dusk or dawn, although Barred Owls may be found hunting during the day when it’s raining or when raising young. Barred Owls have keen eyesight and will often perch on a branch while waiting for prey to appear. Using their night-vision, they will take flight and silently swoop in on their prey. Without any warning, they will snatch up the unsuspecting animal in their strong talons.

Perched close to each other when courting, both male and female will bow and bob their heads, raise their wings, and call out to each other. Barred Owl nests are often found high in a tree cavity although they have been known to move into an abandoned nest originally created by hawks, crows, or squirrels. Clutches consist of 2 to 4 white colored eggs. Eggs are brooded by the female during which time the male brings the food. Owlets hatch in approximately 4 weeks and are ready to take flight in about 6 weeks.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Owl #BarredOwl

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Green Heron

The Green Heron (Butorides virescens), is a solitary, secretive bird. They inhabit coastal areas, mangrove swamps, freshwater ponds, and wetlands.

Green Herons stand with their bodies stretched and horizontal, ready to thrust their bill into prey. They use twigs, berries, and feathers as bait. They drop the bait into the water and wait for it to attract prey. Fish are the primary food but they also eat aquatic frogs, crustaceans, insects, grasshoppers, snakes, and rodents.

Nests are constructed near water. The male begins building the nest and the female finishes it. The female lays 3-5 eggs and both Mom and Dad incubate the eggs for 19-21 days. Once hatched, both will feed the young with regurgitated food. The young learn to fly at about 23 days but both parents will continue to feed the young until they fledge at about 30 days.

The Green Heron is a dark colored, stocky bird. They have a dark neck, gray belly, and a greenish, blue back. The upper part of the bill is dark, and the legs are bright orange. Green Heron populations seem to be stable but accurate numbers are difficult because of its secretive nature.

For the Green Heron, protection of wetlands is especially important.

Green Heron – St Petersburg Mangroves
#ImagineOurFlorida #GreenHeron #IOF #Mangroves #Wetlands

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Miami Blue Butterfly

(Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri).

Miami blues are as big as a blueberry and have the weight of a dandelion puff. They were once found abundantly through 700 miles of Florida coastline, up and down both of Florida’s coasts and the Florida Keys. Their preferred habit is the beach berm. These butterflies pollinate the shoreline which helps prevent shore erosion. Due to the development and remodeling of the natural seashore and mosquito control spraying, Miami blues were unofficially declared extinct after Hurricane Andrew wiped out their last known colony in 1992.

Wildlife biologists found a couple of small populations in an uninhabited island in the Florida Keys Wildlife Refuge and began a breeding program. The butterfly uses two coastal plant species to lay its eggs, blackbead and gray nickerbean. Each can be found in abundance on many of the untouched Key Islands. These plants are ideal for the butterfly, who in its caterpillar stage, feeds on new growth found on the branch ends.

Adult Miami blues have a lifespan of between one and two weeks. They will stay within 30 feet of their birthplace. During that time, the females will lay between 20 and 100 eggs a day on host plants. It is suspected that when there is no new growth on the plants for them to feed on, ants colonies are store the butterfly eggs until more favorable conditions arise for them to hatch and become caterpillars. In exchange for this, the ants receive a sweet sugar substance from the caterpillar cocoon and do not harm it.

Miami blues are an endangered species and part of a 25-year long conservation effort. Vulnerable to hurricanes and climate change, this endemic butterfly can now be found only in Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo: Mark Yokoyama

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Cane Toad

The cane toad (rhinella marina) is an invasive species. Native to Central and South America, it was released in Florida in the 1930s-1940s to control sugar cane pests.

Cane toads grow to between 4 to 6 inches. Their coloration ranges between tan, brown, reddish brown to gray. The skin is warty and the back is marked with dark spots. They do not have ridges or crests like the native southern frog. They do, however, have large triangle-shaped parotoid glands, which appear prominently on the shoulders. Breeding takes place from March to September along vegetated, freshwater areas and they lay their eggs in a long, string line, like native toads.

Cane toads are predominantly found in Central and South Florida. They can be found in urban areas as well as agricultural areas, flood plains, and mangrove swamps.
Cane Toads prey on anything that fits in their mouths. Unfortunately, their prey often consists of native frogs, lizards, snakes, and small mammals.

Toxin from a cane toad can irritate a human’s skin and eyes. If a pet bites or swallows a cane toad, they will become sick and the toxin may be fatal. FWC states, “A cane toad’s toxin can kill your pet in as little as 15 minutes without proper treatment. If your pet bites or licks a cane toad, it will likely start acting strangely with frantic or disoriented behavior. It may also have brick-red gums, seizures, and foam at the mouth.”

FWC recommends “If you see these symptoms and believe your pet licked or bit a toad, immediately wash toxins forward out of the mouth using a hose for 10 minutes, being careful not to direct water down the throat. Wipe the gums and tongue with a dish towel to help remove the toad’s milky, white toxins that will stick to your pet’s mouth. Once you have done this, get your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.”

Keep your cats indoors and your dogs close by when you take him or her outside.

FWC offers these tips to make your yard less attractive to cane toads:
Cut your grass regularly and keep it short.
Fill in any holes around structures.
Trim the underside of shrubs and keep branches off the ground.
Clear away brush piles and remove clutter.
Feed pets indoors when possible and bring outdoor pet food and water bowls indoors at night.
Clean up any food scraps from pet bowls or outside tables and grills.

For more info, click here: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/239ad8f?reqfrom=share

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Sweat Bee

Sweat Bees (Halictidae) are also known as Halictid bees. They vary greatly in appearance. The majority are dull to metallic black, with the remaining species being metallic green, blue or purple. These bees do not sweat, they are attracted to human sweat. These non-aggressive Bees use the salt from human sweat for their nutritional needs. Sweat bees are important pollinators for many wildflowers and crops, including stone fruits, pears, and field crops. Halictids typically nest in bare soil located in a sunny location. Most halictids nest underground, but some will nest in rotting wood. The bees help speed the decay and decomposition of deadfall trees. In the spring or summer the female mates. She then begins digging a nest and providing cells with pollen and nectar. Cells containing an egg or larva are lined with a waxy substance which is extruded from a gland on the underside of the bee’s abdomen. In each cell, a single egg is laid. When the larva hatches it eats the pollen provided. Once that is eaten it must become self-sufficient and find its own food source. Males will usually resemble the female of the same species but the male sweat bee does not have an area of long dense hairs on its hind legs used for carrying pollen. They may have a yellow spot below the antennae on their face. As these bees feed on nectar and pollen they are pollinating in the process. These technicolor bees do add a flash of brilliance to a spring garden.

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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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Black Vulture

The Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus, is smaller than the Turkey Vulture, although it still is a large raptor. They have a dull black head and body with wrinkles covering their head and face. The tips of their bills are gray and their legs are pale white. Black Vultures have a wingspan of 54 inches and their wings have white tips on the underside. They weigh 3 to 5 pounds and stand 22 inches tall. While in flight, they will hold their wings flat and will flap them more often than the Turkey Vulture.

Black Vultures are monogamous, often not straying far from their mate. Females will lay 1 to 4 egg clutches between February and June in caves, hollow logs, or thickets. Although they do not build nests, they will dig a hollow and put vegetation around it to make it secure. The nesting period can be up to 100 days with the eggs hatching within 40 days. Together, they will feed their young for up to 8 months. This dependence helps establish the strong social bonds these birds exhibit.

As carrion eaters, they are often found in landfills or along roadways where they feed on roadkill. They will usually return to known food sources instead of actively hunting. Black Vultures do not have the keen sense of smell other vultures have and must find their food by sight. You will find them roosting in tall trees or on electrical pylons where they can easily spot food in open areas.

The Black Vulture is protected under Federal Law and can not be killed without a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo Credit: Dan Kon

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #BlackVulture #vulture #raptor

 

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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 formaldehyde, 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.

Love Bug Season usually occurs during May and September. Love Bugs (Plecia nearctica), are not a genetic experiment. They are actually a small black fly, with a velvet looking appearance and a red area on the back of the head.

Love Bugs were not created and released by the University of Florida to control mosquitos. They do not eat mosquitoes. They are nectar drinkers and pollinators. They feed on Brazilian Pepper, sweet clover, and goldenrod. Adult Love Bugs do not eat at all.

Love Bugs are an invasive species from South America and have been in Florida since the 1940s. They are attracted by car exhaust, lawnmowers, other engines, and heat. The white splat on your car is their eggs. Love Bugs do not bite, sting, or transmit diseases.

Love Bugs serve an important ecological role in Florida. Their larvae convert plant material into organic components which growing plants recycle for food. Love Bugs live between 3 to 4 days.

Female Love Bugs lay between 100 to 350 irregular shaped, gray eggs on decaying topsoil material such as cut grass or thatch. Once the eggs hatch the larvae will live and feed in the organic material until they turn into a pupa. The larvae are gray with a darker head. They will stay in the larvae stage between 120 to 240 days depending on the season. They are in the pupa stage 7-9 days. Mating takes place right away once they emerge as adults. The male emerges first then waits for the female. Females fly into the swarming males. Once the adults copulate they will remain joined until the female is fertilized. The male stays attached to the female to prevent another male from fertilizing her. This takes 2-3 days, then the female detaches, lays her eggs, and dies.

Remember, if the University of Florida had created Love Bugs, they would be orange and blue, not black and red. : )

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 landscapes, 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 its 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 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 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 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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Red Shouldered Hawk

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

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