Wildlife

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

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

 

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Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raccoon

— Raccoon: Procyon lotor —

The raccoon is found mainly in North America. These scrappy mammals are considered to be highly intelligent. They are recognizable by the mask-like black fur around their eyes and light and dark rings around their tail. The rest of their bodies are covered in grey-brown fur and they weigh 8-15 pounds

Raccoons are omnivores and very flexible eaters. Their diet is determined by their environment and can include frogs, fish, insects, mice, eggs, plants and garbage. They are most active in the late afternoon and throughout the night.

Raccoons are mammals who communicate through a variety of hisses, growls, and whistles. There are seven known species of raccoons but only the Procyon lotor is found in Florida. They will stay in urban areas or an area with water sources. In the wild, raccoons live for 2 or 3 years. Females give birth to between one and seven young, generally in a tree hole or log. Young raccoons are called kits.

FUN FACT:
Raccoons are known for putting their food in water and there are theories as to why they do this. They aren’t actually washing their food but rather wetting it. Some think it is to enhance the taste of the food.

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

— Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Family: Papilionidae —

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail can be found from Ontario Canada down to the Gulf states and west to the Colorado plains. There are 10 swallowtail species in Florida10 among. The most familiar is the yellow and black striped Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, which can be seen from the Georgia border south to the Big Cypress Swamp.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has an average wingspan of 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches. They love to eat the nectar of many plants including wild cherry, honeysuckle, lilac, Joe-Pye weed, azalea, and milkweed.

This beauty is identified as a male because there is no blueish coloring in the hindwings. Some females are melanic (dark colored). An adult swallowtail’s lifespan is only about 2 weeks. They produce 2-3 broods a year in the south. Females lay a single egg on host leaves. Caterpillars will eat the leaves and rest on silken mats on the upper surface of leaves. The caterpillar is brown and white when it is young, but it changes color as it grows older to green with orange and black false eyespots. The eyespots are thought to scare away predators.

Photo credit: Dan Kon.

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Marsh Rabbit

Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris)

Marsh Rabbits are found throughout Florida. They are strong swimmers and usually found near wetlands where they dine on a variety of plants. You can find Marsh Rabbits near fresh and brackish marshes, flooded agricultural fields, wet prairies and other habitats near water.

Breeding occurs year-round but peaks December through June. Each year, mother marsh rabbits produce an average of six or seven litters with two to four young per litter. Nests are found on the ground in thickets, stumps or logs. lined with grass and breast fur. Young rabbits are weaned and are foraging for themselves within four weeks.

Predators include owls, foxes, bobcats, and alligators who like the Marsh Rabbit are most active at dusk, dawn and throughout the night.

Marsh Rabbits are a bit smaller and darker than the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit. Instead of a white cotton tail, Marsh Rabbits sport a small gray-brown tail.

Photo Credit -Dan Kon

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Cooper’s Hawk

— Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) —
The Cooper’s hawk is widely known and dispersed throughout the U.S., lower Canada, and Mexico. You may see this stealth hunter gliding low to the ground to grab its prey in a split second. They are raptors who will eat other medium-sized birds such as robins and jays but will dine on rats, mice, squirrels, bats, and an occasional lizard or snake.
The Cooper’s Hawk was declining in population throughout the U.S. due to hunting and pesticide use, the worst of these was DDT. Since DDT has been banned and hunting in many areas has been curbed, populations have become more stable.
Cooper’s Hawk eggs and hatchlings are susceptible to being food for other animals like raccoons and raptors. When there is a threat near their nest, you will hear them ka-ka-ka-ka.
Remember the circle of life when removing unwanted wildlife from your home. If you use poison to kill a mouse or a rat, the dying animal will likely be eaten by a cat, snake or raptor which will die from the poison too. The poison can also kill a third animal such as a turkey vulture who feeds on the dead raptor, cat or snake.
Connect. Respect. Coexist.
Image by Kon Studio

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Baird’s Sandpiper

My Road trip to Siesta Key Beach on Florida’s West Coast yielded a Rare Baird’s Sandpiper. I have included a range map so you can see it’s way off course and an uncommon visitor here.
Here are some facts about it.
Named for Fullerton Baird, the second secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Baird’s Sandpiper breeds over a broad expanse of high-arctic North America and in parts of Russia, wintering from the Andes of Ecuador to the lowlands of Tierra del Fuego. Its migration is long but rapid. After departing high-arctic breeding grounds and staging in southern Canada and the northern United States, most individuals travel 6,000 kilometers or more directly to northern South America, some going on as far as Tierra del Fuego and many completing the entire 15,000-kilometer journey in as few as 5 weeks.#lifebird 354

Thank you Paul for sharing this rare sighting of a beautiful Baird’s Sandpiper with all of us at Imagine Our Florida.

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Lovebug

The lovebug, (Plecia nearctica), is one species of insect that I think everyone in Florida knows and can identify. But, do you know ABOUT this species? There is a lot of misinformation about this species. Add to that, apart from the “flights” that occur, most know nothing else about the natural history of this species.

Let’s start with the one huge myth about this species. they are NOT a man-made insect, created in a lab at the University of Florida. This is a pervasive myth that has circulated for decades. They are a non-native species in Florida. The first time they were documented in Florida was 1947. They are found across the gulf coast and as far north as North Carolina.

In Florida, lovebugs can be found throughout the year. But, there are 2 big “flights” of lovebugs, when they occur in huge numbers across their range. As many already know, the first flight occurs in late spring in the months of April and May. The second flight occurs in late summer in the months of August and September.

The lovebug has some interesting reproduction behavior. When females emerge from the ground, they are met by swarms of males. The male will clasp a female in the air and the two will fall to the ground. When the males first begin to couple, the male and female are facing the same direction. Then, the male turns 180 degrees and remains that way for the duration of mating.

Large females lay an average of 350 eggs before they die. Adult lovebugs have a short lifespan with females living up to 7 days and males up to 5 days. The eggs hatch in 2 to 4 days. The larva feeds on decomposing vegetation in moist, grassy areas such as pastures. In this way, they are extremely helpful in converting decaying vegetative matter into organic matter.

The adults feed on the nectar of numerous species, particularly sweet clover, Brazilian pepper, and the goldenrod seen in these photos.

There are few predators of the adult stage of lovebug as their slightly acidic insides make them unpalatable. The larva is food for birds such as robins and quail as well as spiders, earwigs, and other insect predators.

They do not bite or sting, but they are considered a pest species. The huge flights often occur near roadways and interstates (think of all the moist grass of cow pastures and roadsides which is a wonderful home for larva). It also appears that the bugs are drawn to the exhaust of cars. It has been proposed that the chemicals in car exhaust, aldehydes, and 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.

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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Black and yellow garden spider

Here’s a little girl that many people will be quick to recognize. She’s a young black and yellow garden spider. These spiders range all across the United States and up into Canada as well as south into Mexico and Central America. The spiderlings emerge in spring from egg sacs laid the prior year.

The dense zigzag of silk in the middle of the web is known as the stabilimentum. The true purpose of this structure is in dispute. Some say it is to provide camouflage to the spider resting in the center. Others think it acts as an attractant to insect prey or as a deterrent to birds who could fly into the nest and damage it. Every night, the female eats the center of her web and then rebuilds it in the morning.

Their bites are comparable to a bee sting and are harmless to healthy adults and those who are not allergic to their venom. They maintain a clean and orderly web and help remove loads of insects. They are great to have around and are a truly beautiful arachnid. We hope everyone gets a chance to get out this weekend and enjoy the outdoors!

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Little Brown Cicada

Cicadas are some pretty neat little creatures that are all around us but go largely unseen. They do not, however, go unheard. I bet, at some point, just about everyone has heard these guys screaming from the treetops at some point in their lives. But, did you know that most of their lives are spent underground?

The species in the photos are of the Little Brown Cicada (or grass cicada), Cicadetta calliope. This is a small species of cicada, growing to just under 1 inch in size. Unlike its larger cousins to the north, this is not a periodical cicada. Those cicadas emerge every 13 to 17 years in numbers as great as 1.5 million per acre. For our residents who hail from the northeast, Florida has no periodical species. The closest location to observe the emergence of periodical species would be one of the 13-year varieties. Southeastern Louisiana will have its next emergence in 2027, and in central Alabama and Georgia, the next emergence will be in 2024.

So, some cool facts on these amazing insects. We all know their sound but did you know only the males actually make noise. Cicadas make noise using timbals, a drum-like structure on either side of their abdomen. Only males possess this structure. They make different songs, calling songs to attract mates, protest songs when captured by a predator, and in some species, courtship calls, which are softer and made when the male is in visual or physical contact with the female.

The nymphs feed on the xylem sap from the roots of grasses and trees. This low nutrient sap is partially the reason for their long duration as a nymph. The minimum time a cicada spends as a nymph is 4 years but, in the case of the periodical cicada species, can be as long as 17 years.

Every cicada species molts 4 times as a nymph. For its fifth molt, the nymph emerges from the ground and molts into its adult form.

Cicadas do little to no harm to plants. They are harmless to food crops and landscape plants. They do not bite or sting and are an important food source for wildlife.
Watch our video here: https://youtu.be/be80lm4fn7k

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Florida Softshell Turtle

This Florida Softshell Turtle, aka. Apalone ferox, made her way into a human neighborhood. Softshell Turtles will lay their eggs under the edge of a driveway or sidewalk. The sun will warm the concrete and keep her eggs warm until they hatch. If you see a Softshell Turtle in your neighborhood, just give her space and she will make her way back to the pond here she akes her home.
Softshell Turtles usually eat snails and small fish but have been known to eat waterfowl such as ducks and small herons. Florida Softshell turtles will hide in the sand at the bottom of lakes and streams and ambush passing schools of fish for lunch or dinner. Softshells take 10 years to reach full maturity. They play a role as predator and scavenger. Animals who prey on these turtles are raccoons, bears, other turtles, skunks, snakes, eagles, otters, armadillos, and alligators. Their biggest predators are human.

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Eastern Five-Lined Skink

These pictures might look like different skinks but they are the same species. You can see in the first picture that the eggs look painfully larger than the young skink next to them. Don’t worry. They are much smaller when laid. The eggs start out small but will swell with water. The eggs are usually laid in a damp location with some burrowed areas around them. You may find them under flower pots or bricks. The second picture shows the vibrant color of the newborn skink. Newborns are about 4 cm in length. The bright colors will fade over time but juveniles will retain the bright blue tail. In the third picture, you can see the bright coloring has faded leaving just the black and yellow stripes. This skink has just entered adulthood. Females will retain this appearance throughout the rest of their lives. In the fourth picture, you can see a full grown male skink. The stripes have faded and the head is a bright red color. These little lizards are very fast and it’s difficult to see them but they are very fascinating to watch as they hunt for small insects. Much like a cat, they flicker their tail as they stalk their prey. Have you been lucky enough to spot one of these little skinks around your yard?
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Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Today, we look at a very important member of Florida’s ecological community. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is one species almost everyone can identify. Found across the entire state of Florida including the Florida Keys and several barrier islands, the only snake that looks even a little similar is the timber (otherwise known as Canebrake) rattlesnake.

The largest recorded eastern Diamondback was 96 inches (8 feet!) in length. Today, however, you would be considered lucky to see one as large as 6 feet long. They are found in pine flatwoods, longleaf pine, and turkey oak, and sand pine scrub areas. These areas are also prime for development.

A combination of a loss of habitat and the indiscriminate killing of these snakes by the general public upon site has caused a major population decline. They are currently afforded no protected status in Florida.

This is a species that must be respected when encountered. They can strike up to 2/3 the length of their body. Like other snakes, we are not prey to the D and they would be just as happy if we would leave them alone. If you encounter one of these amazing animals, observe from a safe distance and allow it time to pass, or simply walk around it.

In the United States, the vast majority of venomous snake bites occur when someone is trying to kill the snake. Attempting to kill these snakes greatly increases your risk of being bitten. They will not chase you and in fact, are very afraid of you. One of our Facebook friends commented with a wonderful little rule of thumb that I really like, 30/30. Stay 30 feet away for 30 minutes and they will leave. As he pointed out, this will hold true most of the time so long as they are not waiting for food to go by.

Please, give these wonderful creatures the respect they deserve as fellow residents of our great state!

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Thread Waisted Wasp

The thread-waisted wasp (Ammophila pictipennis) is an ambush predator that will attack small worms, spiders, or other insects. It carries the prey back to the nest made out of packed dirt and stores it with its eggs. When the eggs hatch the larvae feed on the treat left by the mother. Adults are excellent pollinators and feed on the nectar from flowering plants, such as this firebush, or from small insects including those pesky aphids. They are relatively docile but if they feel threatened will attack defensively. However, they would much rather save their energy for something they can eat. What is your favorite native pollinator?

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Boat-tailed Grackle

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.

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Southern Carpenter Bee

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! 

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Pileated Woodpeckers

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.

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mosquito Aedes aegypti

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.

You might be surprised to hear that 80 species of mosquitos call Florida home. This means that Florida has more mosquito species than any other state in the country. Of those eighty species, only 33 bother people and pets. We can narrow it further than that, 13 make people sick.
Some species are only located in certain areas of the state and others throughout the state. Mosquitos can spread a host of diseases from yellow fever, Zika, dengue, encephalitis. In your pets, they can spread heartworm and equine encephalitis. You can’t really avoid mosquitos as some feed during the day and others at night. You will run into one or the other eventually. In Southern Florida, mosquito season begins as early as February and continue through most of the year. In Northern Florida, mosquito season starts in March and follows a similar pattern. The warmer it is, the more active mosquitoes will be, especially at dusk and dawn. Permanent water mosquitos are attracted to standing pools of water which they need for their eggs to hatch. Females will lay their eggs on the water surface and the eggs will typically hatch in about 24 hours. Water is necessary to complete the life cycle, and soon the larva will change into a pupa and then emerge into an adult that is hungry for blood. Florida permanent water mosquito species include Anopheles quadrimaculatus, Culex quinquefasciatus, and Mansonia dyari. Make sure your house and yard are free of standing pools in flowerpots, buckets, and containers. Cut back overgrown yards. Lush plant life can be beautiful, but it’s also a mosquito magnet. They love resting in dense vegetation that can keep them warm and moist. Floodwater mosquitos, lay their eggs in moist soil, not standing water. One female floodwater mosquito has the potential to lay 200 eggs per batch in moist areas. The eggs need to dry out before they can hatch into larvae. The eggs survive in the dry soil, in cracks and crevasses. Once the rain from storms begins, the areas become inundated with water and the eggs are able to hatch. Florida floodwater mosquito species include Culex nigripalpus, Ochlerotatus taeniorhyncus, and Psorophora columbiae. Seal up cracks and holes in windows and doors, anything that may let a mosquito in. If you have a patio which is not enclosed use mosquito netting. It is recommended that you use a net that is sturdy and contains 156 holes per square inch at a minimum. Frogs, birds, dragonflies and certain kinds of fish all eat mosquitoes. Attract birds by putting up a bird feeder or introduce beneficial bugs into your garden to help keep mosquitoes away. You won’t get every mosquito, but it may help in cutting down the numbers.

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!!

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American Alligators

— American Alligator – Alligator mississippiensis —
Alligators are found across Florida. These large, water-dwelling reptiles have a powerful bite and should be treated with extreme caution. They will generally seek to swim away if approached, but if they think their young are in danger or they feel threatened in some way, they will strike out. Alligators have round snouts, range between 9.5 to 15 feet, can weigh as much as 1000 lbs. and have a maximum speed of 20 mph in the water. The alligator is a rare success story of an endangered species not only saved from extinction but who is now thriving. State and federal protections, habitat preservation efforts, and reduced demand for alligator products have improved the species’ wild population to more than one million today. They live nearly exclusively in the freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps, and marshes. The hatchlings are usually 6 to 8 inches long with yellow and black strips. Juveniles fall prey to dozens of predators including birds, raccoons, bobcats, and other alligators so they will stay with their mothers for about two years. They are opportunists and will eat just about anything, carrion, pets and, in rare instances, humans. They feed mainly on fish, turtles, snakes, and small mammals. Adult alligators are apex predators critical to the biodiversity of their habitat.

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, raccoons, 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.

#alligator #nature #florida

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Eastern Spadefoot Toad

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?

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Hanging Thieves robber fly

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.

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Shield-backed Bug

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

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Eastern Fence Lizard

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 turkey oak. They will remain motionless in hopes of going unseen. Only when they are approached closely will they flee.

The mature males have an amazing, bright blue belly, unlike the female’s 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!

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Southern Black Racer

— Southern Black Racer – Coluber constrictor priapus —

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.
Identification:
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

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Palmetto Tortoise Beetle Larva

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.

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Florida Box Turtle

Florida Box Turtle, Terrapene Carolina Bauri. This cute little girl is a great example of what the 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.

 

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Dragonfly

Dragonfly warming up before getting to work.

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.

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Manatees and their babies

On March 21, 2017 a mother manatee was seen swimming the waters of Pinellas County, Florida. Manatee babies known as calves, will stay with

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Bears bite off their foot pads in the winter

—–Fun Fact—-

Did you know that bears bite off their foot pads in the winter?!
They grow fresh foot pads so they won’t have callouses.
It’s like a mani-pedi for bears!

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Imperiled Species Management Plan rule changes

Imperiled Species Management Plan rule changes are in effect

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
(Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.)
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.

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Sabal Trails Gopher Tortoise Turmoil

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?

 References:

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. [73126]


http://www.fwspubs.org/doi/suppl/10.3996/062015-JFWM-055/suppl_file/062015-jfwm-055.s7.pdf?code=ufws-site

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/reptile/gopo/all.html

https://etd.auburn.edu/bitstream/handle/10415/1024/Beauman_Richard_19.pdf?sequence=1

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URSUS AMERICANUS FLORIDANUS – THE FLORIDA BLACK BEAR – AN UMBRELLA SPECIES

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/

bear-map

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.

Source: http://myfwc.com/hunting/by-species/bear/rules/

bear-bmus

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

dead-bear-cub

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.

monitors

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%

command-center

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

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