This beautiful male Boat-tailed Grackle is on lookout at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. He is a permanent resident of Florida. The bright sun makes the beautiful iridescence of his feathers glow for all to enjoy. Females have a brownish coloration and a smaller tail. Boat-tailed Grackles breed abundantly in salt and freshwater marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. These birds forage on the ground, in shallow water, or in shrubs. They eat arthropods, crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, turtles, lizards, grain, seeds, fruit, and tubers. At times they have been known to steal food from other birds, animals and humans. They overturn shells and stones with their beaks, dunk their heads in water to catch their prey and pry open mussel shells. Just like us, they will dunk food like rice, dogfood or bread before eating it.
What could be nicer than a native pollinator and a native flower. This southern carpenter bee, Xylocopa micans, is stopping by a flowering pennyroyal, Piloblephis rigida. The carpenter bee is a solitary bee that lives for one year. They nest in the wood of dead trees. Like other pollinators, carpenter bees are important to the survival of many species of plants. Pennyroyal is a member of the mint family and can be found in sunny areas of sandy soil along forest edges. It can be brewed into a tea as well.
Get ready for spring. The woods are beginning their transformation now and in a few weeks should be all dressed up in the spring attire!
Did you know that the Pileated Woodpecker, aka Dryocopus pileatus, is one of the largest woodpeckers in North America? With a black body, a red crest, white stripes on its neck, and black and white stripes on its face it is hard to miss. Pileated Woodpeckers love to eat insects, fruits, and nuts. A large part of their diet is made up of carpenter ants and beetle larvae. This is why they are always knocking on trees and wood sensing a ‘hollow area’ where the insects may be. Once they have located their dinner, they use their bill to drill into the wood and use their long sticky tongues to drag out the insects. Sometimes they will expand the holes that they create looking for food and make a roost inside the tree to lay their eggs. Tended by both mom and dad, the little hatchlings will be ready to fledge within 1 month. Males and females are similar, but males have a red forehead, and females have a gray to a yellowish brown forehead. If you hear knocking outside, be sure to look up and see if you can spot a stunning Pileated Woodpecker.
The most common mosquito in Florida is the Aedes aegypti. The females are carriers of West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Dengue fever, Chikungunya, and Zika virus. Female mosquitos need blood to produce eggs, therefore they love to live where people and pets are abundant.
What can you do to stop mosquito breeding in your yard?
Mosquitos only need 1-2 centimeters of stagnant water to breed.
1. Change water in birdbaths 2x/week.
2. Be sure flower pots and the dish underneath does not contain standing water.
3. Be sure gutters are debris free so water will not collect in a leaf “dam.”
4. Bromeliads are a perfect habitat for mosquitos to develop. Flush bromeliads with a garden hose 2x/week.
5. Check yard toys and yard ornaments for standing water.
6. Check for leaks from outdoor faucets and around your air conditioner.
7. Is there standing water in your boat or any other vehicle stored outdoors?
8. Look for standing water near your swimming pool, pool equipment and pool toys.
9. Check for standing water in holes in trees and bamboo.
10. Walk around and look for water in things like trash cans, trash can lids and any container or object where water can accumulate.
—— Install a Bat House ——–
Bats can eat up to 600 mosquitos in an hour!!
Alligators get a bad reputation but as long as we respect them from a distance we have no reason to fear them. Alligators have ears directly behind their eyes. Do you see that part that looks like this alligator’s eyes are smiling? That’s its ear. The structure of the ear is designed to pinpoint sound rather than hear a vast amount of sound.
Female alligators can lay between 35-50 eggs. If these eggs are hatched in the wild, and not a hatchery, there is a chance that only a few eggs will survive. Predators such as birds, snakes, racoons, otters, bobcats, bass, and other alligators can eat their eggs. According to FWC an average of 25 eggs will hatch but only about 10 alligators will survive their first year. These eggs and small gators become food so that another species can survive. In turn, large alligators may eat these same animals to ensure their survival. It’s all about balancing out populations.
If you see an alligator, don’t touch it. Take a few pictures and observe from a distance. In most cases if you get too close an alligator maybe become afraid and swim away. Alligators wait patiently for animals to come near and then use all their energy at once to take down their prey. This is one way they conserve energy.
This is an Eastern Spadefoot Toad, Scaphiopus holbrookii. This little guy has recently cast off his tail and emerged as a little toad. Now, it will spend most of its life burrowed underground, primarily emerging only after explosive, heavy rains.
When Hurricane Irma passed through Florida, many saw only destruction. For many species, the hurricane was the perfect setting for reproduction. These toads emerge by the thousands and breed in the temporary pools of water that form in the forests after such weather events. These pools have no fish in them to prey on eggs and tadpoles. The rainfall associated with hurricanes can result in millions of tiny spadefoot toads coating the forest floor before they find their way into the forest and burrow down into the sandy soil.
What have you seen this week as you saunter through Florida?
Hanging Thieves robber fly, Diogmites salutans. This large fly hangs from leaves and branches waiting for its favorite food, bees, dragonflies, and biting flies like horse flies to pass by. It then takes chase and captures its prey in flight. It takes its prey to a branch or leaf where it pierces it victim with its mouth parts and drinks its fluids.
In this photo, you can see the behavior that earned this fly its common name of Hanging Thieves.
The genus Diogmites consists of 26 species in the United States, with 12 of those species living east of the Mississippi river. This species is best found in damp, sandy areas that are more open with tall grasses. This photo was taken in just such a spot on the edge of a pine forest.
This little guy is a Shield-backed Bug, Orsilochides guttata. The shield-backed bugs are related to the stink bugs and are true bugs, unlike the beetles they closely resemble. Like other true bugs, shield-backed bugs go through several stages of development (instars) of nymphs until they reach adulthood.
They feed on plants, including many commercial crops.
There are hundreds of species of shield-backed bugs ranging in color from rather drab to bright metallic greens and reds. Like stink bugs, when disturbed, shield-backed bugs will emit an odor to deter predators.
This little bug is perched on a goldenrod flower in late September in the Lower Wekiva Preserve State Park in Seminole County, Florida
The Eastern Fence Lizard, Sceloporus undulatus, occupies a large range in the eastern part of the United States, including much of Florida. They are masters of camouflage. If you are paying attention while sauntering around the woods, you will see these lizards basking on the trunks of trees, most notably pine and oak. This one is sitting on the side of a turkey oak. They will remain motionless in hopes of going unseen. Only when they are approached to closely will they flee.
The mature males have an amazing, bright blue belly unlike the females white belly. Females lay 3-16 eggs in late spring and babies hatch in late summer.
They grow to about 7 inches and feed on small insects. They occupy a variety of habitats over their range but in Florida, they are most often seen in pine forests and scrub habitat.
Here, this mature male shows off his beautiful, metallic blue belly as he suns himself on a cool fall morning.
This guy, relying on his camouflage, allowed me to get quite close to him without so much as him flinching. He lives in a pine, upland forest with a wiregrass understory that sees an occasional fire. In fact, he is perched on the charred remains of a pine tree. The presence of fire is critical for the health of this type of ecosystem as well as the species that depend upon it, such as this fence lizard.
Keep your eyes open for these amazing residents!
The Black Racer is the most common snake found in Florida. It adapts easily to any habitat and therefore, is commonly found in low shrubs in urban areas.
Black Racers are not poisonous although they will bite when cornered. These snakes would prefer to race away through the grass, into a shrub, up a tree or into a hole. They are great swimmers too.
Their diet consists of whatever is available: Insects, frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards, snakes, birds and bird eggs, moles, mice, rats. Black Racers are not constrictors as their scientific name suggests. The Racer simply captures its prey and holds it tightly against the ground until the prey succumbs.
Young Black Racers have obvious blotches that gradually fade to solid gray-black by adulthood. Body of juveniles (< 2 ft.) is gray with irregular reddish-brown blotches that fade with age. Body of adults is solid black; chin and throat are white. South of Lake Okeechobee, body of adults may be bluish, greenish, or gray. In the Apalachicola River Basin, the chin and throat of adults may be tan. -UF Wildlife – Johnson Lab
These little beetles undergo metamorphosis. They start as a segmented cluster of eggs that look like a tangled mess. They then enter the larval stage, progress to a pupal stage, and then become adults. During the pupal stage they create an umbrella out of dead cells and feces. It’s held on by what is called anal forks. These beetles also create an oil that helps them suction to leaves with a force up to 60 times it’s own weight. This prevents most predators except the wheel bug from eating them.
Florida Box Turtle, Terrapene Carolina Bauri. This cute little girl is a great example of what Florida box turtle looks like. Florida box turtles are a terrestrial species which typically inhabit damp forests and marshes. They can be found from the Keys north to the very southern portion of Georga. Their shell is dark brown to black with yellow radiating stripes.
The males have a concave plastron and both male and female have a hinged shell, which allows them to fully close up in their shell.
They are omnivores, feeding on fruits, mushrooms, and various bugs and other small creatures. They are a protected species in Florida. The selling of them is prohibited in the state and you may not be in possession of more than two box turtles. Habitat loss and road mortality are two major causes of their decline in population.
Did you know dragonflies inhabited earth before dinosaurs? These amazing arthropods can be found near lakes, ponds, rivers, swamps and marshes. After hatching from eggs, dragonflies spend much of their life as nymphs. In this stage, they breathe through gills located in their anus and feast on tadpoles, worms and small fish. After shedding their skin, the adults crawl onto land. Dragonflies must warm up before setting off to do important work in our ecosystem. You will find them soaking up the sun early in the morning before spending the rest of their day on a search for food. Dragonflies control populations of many insects including those pesky mosquitoes. Known as nature’s helicopter, the wings of a dragonfly work both together and independently. This is why we see incredible aerial feats such as hovering, turns and backward flying. The next time you see a dragonfly, spend a few minutes watching one of nature’s wonderful gifts.
They are actually almost vegetarian!
Imperiled Species Management Plan rule changes are in effect
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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Jan. 18, 2017
Suggested Tweet: Imperiled Species Management Plan rule changes in effect. @MyFWC: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/…/bulletins/18133ff #Florida #wildlife
The Imperiled Species Management Plan rule changes are now in effect, including changes in listing status for many species. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved the groundbreaking plan in an effort to achieve conservation success with dozens of imperiled species throughout the state. The plan outlines the steps to conserve 57 species along with the broader vision of restoring habitats essential to the long-term survival of multiple fish and wildlife species.
“Florida is charting an ambitious new path for wildlife conservation success on a statewide scale,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “Seeing a roseate spoonbill wading in shallow waters, a black skimmer resting on the beach or a Big Cypress fox squirrel sitting in a pine tree is an essential part of the Florida experience. This innovative plan is designed to keep imperiled species like these around for many generations to come.”
Nine rules were revised in support of the ISMP, focusing on changes to listing status, adding authorizations in a management plan or Commission-approved guidelines, preventing possession of species coming off the list, and accomplishing overall rule cleanup and clarification. Among the nine rules, one rule affecting inactive nests of non-listed birds is still pending.
Under the rule change that updates species’ listing status:
Fifteen species will no longer be listed as imperiled species because conservation successes improved their status: eastern chipmunk, Florida mouse, brown pelican, limpkin, snowy egret, white ibis, peninsula ribbon snake (lower Keys population), red rat snake (lower Keys population), striped mud turtle (lower Keys population), Suwannee cooter, gopher frog, Pine Barrens tree frog, Lake Eustis pupfish, mangrove rivulus and Florida tree snail. These species still are included in the plan for guidance in monitoring and conserving them.
Twenty-three species are newly listed as state Threatened species, a change from their former status as Species of Special Concern: Sherman’s short-tailed shrew, Sanibel rice rat, little blue heron, tricolored heron, reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, American oystercatcher, black skimmer, Florida burrowing owl, Marian’s marsh wren, Worthington’s marsh wren, Scott’s seaside sparrow, Wakulla seaside sparrow, Barbour’s map turtle, Florida Keys mole skink, Florida pine snake, Georgia blind salamander, Florida bog frog, bluenose shiner, saltmarsh top minnow, southern tessellated darter, Santa Fe crayfish and Black Creek crayfish. Threatened species have populations that are declining, have a very limited range or are very small.
Fourteen species keep their state Threatened status: Everglades mink, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Florida sandhill crane, snowy plover, least tern, white-crowned pigeon, southeastern American kestrel, Florida brown snake (lower Keys population), Key ringneck snake, short-tailed snake, rim rock crowned snake, Key silverside, blackmouth shiner and crystal darter.
Five species remain Species of Special Concern: Homosassa shrew, Sherman’s fox squirrel, osprey (Monroe County population), alligator snapping turtle and harlequin darter. These species have significant data gaps, and the FWC plans to make a determination on their appropriate listing status in the near future.
Important things to know about the Imperiled Species Management Plan:
It includes one-page summaries for each species, including a map of its range in Florida and online links to Species Action Plans. The 49 Species Action Plans contain specific conservation goals, objectives and actions for all 57 species.
It also has Integrated Conservation Strategies that benefit multiple species and their habitats, and focus implementation of the plan on areas and issues that yield the greatest conservation benefit for the greatest number of species.
Learn more about the plan at MyFWC.com/Imperiled.
Sabal Trails Gopher Tortoise Turmoil
by: Aymee Laurain
A recently released bi-weekly report on the Sabal Trail pipeline demonstrated some insight on the ecological effects of the gopher tortoise in the area. The report Docket No. CP15-17-000 stated the following:
●Spread 3, Georgia, a total of 4 burrows were investigated and eliminated and 2 gopher tortoises were captured and excluded from the workspace.
● Spread 3, Florida, 80 burrows investigated, 43 excavated, and 20 tortoises relocated.
●Spread 4, 135 burrows were investigated, 103 excavated, and 35 gopher tortoises were captured and excluded from the workspace.
● Spread 5, 602 burrows were investigated, 369 excavated, and 153 gopher tortoises were captured and excluded from the workspace.
●Spread 6, excavations continue, 20 burrows were investigated, 15 excavated, and 7 gopher tortoises were excluded or relocated.” Is there a reason the remaining tortoises are not being relocated?
Imagine Our Florida, Inc. contacted FWC regarding the information in the document. The response was as follows:
“I am happy to answer your question, but would like to know what report you are referring to in your request below since it is not from a FWC report. Knowing the source and dates of your information will be helpful! Also the reports to FWC are not yet submitted, but I am told that the Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent is working on entering the data this week. So we may not have the info you are asking about right now. This information contained in the gopher tortoise permits are viewable/searchable by the public online at http://myfwc.com/gophertortoise/permitting. See attached for an overview of the FWC permit system.
As I noted previously we do not yet have reports from ST about the relocation that has occurred. However, I was able to obtain clarification regarding the data in the FERC report. The burrows investigated included all gopher tortoise burrows that had been documented during any of the previous tortoise burrow surveys. Some of those burrows had either become abandoned or were no longer intact burrows. The remainder of the non-excavated burrows ether occurred outside of the pipeline work area corridor or were just at the edge and going off-site; those burrows were excluded from the corridor work area with silt fencing. They only excavated and relocated tortoises could not be excluded, and were in the right of way, resulting in the difference of numbers of burrows v. excavated v. tortoises.
Once the report is entered into the online permit system, you will be able to access the tortoise data from that system. Please let
me know if you have any further questions on this project.”
With the numbers previously documented compared to those recently found it would appear there has already been a reduction in the population. Following the message we asked if there be any follow-up research to determine the actual impact of this project on the tortoises?
“Each tortoise will use multiple burrows over the course of a season or year, but each burrow does not typically host multiple tortoises. The average occupancy rate for gopher tortoise burrows is 50%, but that rate fluctuates per site. On sections of the corridor, the occupancy rate was lower, which is not uncommon, as rates can range from 30%-70% depending on habitat conditions and soils. Therefore the number of burrows does not indicate the population size. There was no evidence of mortality and the population appears healthy.
We partnered with UCF and Sabal Trail on a research project at Halpata Preserve associated with temporary exclusion of tortoises from the right of way corridor, and the UCF researcher will complete this study next fall. We have issued permits for the temporary exclusion (v. permanent relocation to another site) for many years and will learn more about the tortoises re-homing ability back to the corridor once the exclusion fencing is removed. Regardless of the study, temporary displacement is much preferred over permanent relocation as typically done with development projects since the habitat will be available to tortoises again after the pipeline project is completed. This also helps keep the resident population intact and minimizes stress to the animals cause by longer translocations.”
One study identified 31-68% occupancy rates throughout pine forests in Florida. (Ashton, 2008) With survival rates at only 5.8% (Auffenberg, 1969) due to predation. With odds such as these every effort should be taken to reduce threats to this already threatened species. Perhaps we need to take a step back and ask ourselves if projects such as these are really even necessary. Given the number of pipeline incidents have increased from 381 in 1996 to 715 in 2015 is would seem we should be using more modern technology and steer clear of these incidents in the future. On the brighter side, the number of fatalities appears to have dropped from 53 in 1996 to 10 in 2015 with a total of 347 deaths overall in the past 20 years. Add in the overall 1,346 injuries and that is a deal breaker for many of us. For others, perhaps the average cost of these incidents at the amount of $342,970,468 annually might be a more pressing matter. Is it really worth the risk to humans, wildlife, or tax payers?
Auffenberg, W. 1969. Tortoise behavior and survival. Rand McNally, Chicago, IL.
Ashton, Ray E.; Ashton, Patricia Sawyer. 2008. The natural history and management of the gopher tortoise Gopherus polyphemus (Daudin). Malibar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company. 275 p. 
URSUS AMERICANUS FLORIDANUS – THE FLORIDA BLACK BEAR – AN UMBRELLA SPECIES
Did you know…
Florida black bears historically roamed throughout Florida and into parts of southern Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. In the 1970s, there were 300-500 individuals left due to habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as overhunting. For 21 years, Florida black bears were protected from hunting and their numbers increased. However, in 2012 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) removed them from the list so they are once again in danger of being hunted to extinction. Even though numbers have rebounded, they now inhabit only about 18% of their historic range.
Source: University of Florida: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/blog/2014/04/25/our-recovering-florida-black-bear-population/
Did you know…
There are seven Bear Management Units (BMUs) in Florida, each representing a distinct subpopulation of the subspecies of Florida black bear. Hunting was permitted in four of the seven BMUs in 2015. Isolated from each other due to human encroachment on their habitat and lack of a contiguous wildlife corridor, each of the subpopulations of Florida black bear is in danger of inbreeding depression due to genetic isolation, thus weakening the gene pool.
Did you know…
Although classified as carnivores, the Florida black bear’s diet consists of 80% plant material, 15% insects, and 5% animal matter. A major source of the bear’s diet, saw palmetto berries, has been harvested by humans for years. The berries are sold as herbal supplements. In July 2015, three months before the hunt, the state of Florida temporarily halted the harvesting of saw palmetto berries on state land. Destruction of acorn-producing oak trees is also taking away food from the bears and other wildlife. Trees are being destroyed for timber and to make way for more cattle-grazing land in our state and national forests.
Did you know…
The perceived threat of bears hurting humans is based on irrational fear. There is no documented case of a human being killed by a Florida black bear…EVER! However, humans kill an alarming number of black bears, even excluding legal hunting. While precise figures are not known, annual roadkill numbers have been close to or exceeding 150 (down from the peak of 282 in 2012). Approximately 100 so-called “nuisance” bears are killed every year, most often due to human carelessness such as leaving trash, pet food, bird seed, and dirty barbecue grills outside or in patios. Within the last few years, the FWC has adopted the “one strike you’re out” policy with regard to so-called “nuisance” bears.
Did you know…
Bears are deemed a “nuisance” merely for going in search of food carelessly left out by humans in residential neighborhoods. In preparation for denning in the winter, bears can consume in excess of 20,000 calories per day. When natural food sources are poor, bears must go in search of food often traveling many miles, which unfortunately puts them in danger of encounters with humans.
Did you know…
There is no science to support the supposition that hunting decreases human-bear conflicts or that bears that habituate to humans are more likely to be aggressive.
Did you know…
3,778 permits were sold to hunt only 320 Florida black bears in 2015, more permits than bears in the state of Florida. The first two days of the hunt, Saturday October 24th and Sunday the 25th, were guaranteed hunting days, no matter how many bears were killed. Since bears had not been hunted in 21 years, they were trusting and naïve, a recipe for disaster.
Did you know…
When the injunction to stop the bear hunt was denied, it was decided that bear monitors would be stationed at each of the hunter check stations to count dead bears. Every hour, each volunteer bear monitor across the state called in to report the number of bears brought in by hunters. It was their effort that helped prevent the Florida black bear from essentially being completely wiped out by hunters in 2015.
Did you know…
There were 28 lactating females killed during the bear hunt of 2015. With 1 to 4 cubs born to each mother, that means that an average of 70 cubs were left orphaned. Bear cubs remain with their mother for 1 ½ to 2 years. With cubs born in January, these cubs were only 9 months old at the time of the hunt in October.
Cubs weighing less than 100 pounds were also killed, although the rules stated by the FWC included that the bear must weigh at least 100 pounds (live weight). For the most part, hunters were not fined for these infractions.
This cub weighed only 76.7 pounds field dressed, which would put it at about 88 pounds intact (add approximately 16 percent of the field dressed weight). The hunter got away without even a warning. Photo by Alex Foxx
Did you know…
The number of bears killed in the hunt was 304. However, that number doesn’t count:
- The bears who were injured by hunters, ran away, and later died
- The orphaned cubs that didn’t survive without their mothers
- The bears illegally poached, including a bear cub later found floating in the Suwannee River
While FWC’s target was 20% including death from means other than hunting, the known death toll was over 21.5% of the total population of Florida black bears. Meanwhile, the human population in Florida continues to grow by more than the entire bear population every week.
Did you know…
Approximately 78% of the bears killed were on private lands. Many hunters bragged that the bears they shot just walked under their tree stands. While baiting was prohibited, many bears killed had corn in their teeth indicating they had recently visited deer feeding stations set up by hunters. According to the rules set forth by the FWC, both the hunter and bear were to be at least 100 yards away from a feeding station to be legally killed. However, there was no way to enforce this rule.
Did you know…
An estimated 75% of Florida residents who voiced their opinion were opposed to the bear hunt. This includes phone calls, letters, and emails to the governor and FWC, as well as media polls. Still, the FWC and Governor Scott ignored public opinion and did not stop the hunt.
Did you know…
Most hunters do not eat the bears that they kill, making this a blood sport, thrill kill, and trophy hunt. Most of the hunters wanted a bear rug or to mount the head of their kill on a wall, and this could be seen by the overwhelming number of bears brought into the hunter check stations unpreserved (not on ice) hours after they had been killed.
Did you know…
The hunt was supposed to last a week with a guaranteed hunt in the first two days without regard to numbers killed. Within 13 hours of the hunt, quotas were exceeded in the East panhandle and Central regions. The hunt in these two regions was brought to a halt on the first day, thanks to the efforts of Chuck O’Neal, volunteers who took the calls keeping a tally of dead bears, and the monitors themselves who volunteered to count dead bears. By the end of the 2nd day, the hunt was called off completely.
Region Orig. Est. Targeted Actual % of Target
East 600 40 112 280%
North 550 100 23 23%
Central 1,300 100 139 139%
South 700 80 21 26%
Did you know…
Non-lethal solutions exist to prevent human-bear encounters. A 12-month study in a Volusia County neighborhood showed that bear-resistant trash cans reduced such encounters by 95%. Coupled with preservation of the bears’ natural food sources, providing bear-resistant trash cans in every county within bear country is a compassionate, non-lethal solution to the prevention of human-bear conflict.
We will never forget