Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park There’s something for everyone at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park!
Nature trails, birding, equestrian trails, biking, walking, jogging, camping, cabins, picnic areas, horseshoe games, volleyball court, pavilions, and playgrounds assure your entire family will enjoy their day. You can even bring your dog on a 6-foot leash to the hiking or paved bike trail.
You can easily spend an entire day here as you explore this beautiful park of 8,300 acres located in New Port Richey. Take your time as you wander through the wilderness and discover an abundance of wild plants and animals who make their home there. Leave your cares behind while you spend quality time with your family and friends reconnecting with nature. Get Outside. Explore. Discover.
A Florida Native, buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) blooms in late spring and throughout the summer. The blossoms of the buttonbush shrub resemble a pincushion more than they resemble a button. The blooms are 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and have a pleasant fragrance. They attract a variety of insects including butterflies, moths, bees, and wasps.
Buttonbush is an understory shrub and will grow 4-8 feet wide and can reach heights of 20 feet. They are commonly found in marshes, swamps, sloughs, and ponds and are used for nesting by many bird species. In the fall, the buttonbush will produce bright red fruits. Seeds are enjoyed by ducks, jays, cardinals, titmice, mockingbirds, and warblers.
Buttonbush is available at many native nurseries and will flourish in wetlands and on wetland edges.
This State Park is located near Palm Coast along A1A, between the Atlantic Ocean and Matanzas River. Washington Oaks Gardens is known for its formal gardens, a unique shoreline with rare coquina rock outcroppings, beautiful oak trees, and nature trails. You can hike, bike, and picnic in the park. The grounds feature brick pathways, benches, as well as its preservation of northeast Florida’s original native habitats. In the 425 acres, you will find a beach, coastal scrub, coastal hammock, and tidal marshes.
Over 144 species of birds can be found in Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. Some of the birds you may see are peregrine falcons, spotted sandpipers, scarlet tangler, and indigo bunting, and the endangered scrub jay. Take one of the hiking trails and perhaps run into bobcats, a gopher tortoise, raccoons, or whitetail deer. The waters surrounding the park are home to sea turtles, manatees and you may spot dolphins.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park was part of the Spanish land grants and is in an area steeped in history. The formal gardens are a showcase of the park. They were devised by the former owners Louise and Owen Young and feature rose gardens, birds of paradise, and orange groves, as well as the towering oak trees which the Youngs named the property after.
The park was donated to the state in 1964 with the stipulation that the gardens were kept and maintained as they were originally laid out. Spending the day at Washington Oaks State Park is worth the trip whether you go for hiking, picnics, bird watching, fishing, or just to spend a serene day enjoying nature.
The Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, is part of the songbird family of thrushes. Once declining at an alarming rate due to introduced species, pesticides, and habitat loss, Eastern bluebirds have made a stirring comeback. The population increase has been aided by birdhouses built especially for the bluebirds along bluebird trails.
Eastern bluebirds prefer open habitat which is near trees. These areas include forest clearings, burned areas, savannas, pastures, parks, and golf courses.
Male bluebirds flutter and sing to attract a female. The new couple will find a tree with a cavity such as an old woodpecker hole or a birdhouse. The female does most of the nest building and will loosely construct a nest of twigs and grasses lined with softer material such as feathers, animal hairs, or fine grass. There she will lay 3-7 pale blue or white eggs.
Incubation takes 13-16 days and is mostly by the female. When the nestlings are born, both parents will feed their young. Since Eastern bluebirds have 2-3 broods per year, it is not unusual to see a young bird from a previous brood help with feeding. Meals consist of a wide variety of insects. They also enjoy berries, earthworms, and snails.
Eastern bluebirds are monogamous while nesting but can be found in small flocks during the rest year. We hope a flock of bluebirds will fly over the rainbow and visit all of you this year.
The Florida Woods Cockroach (Eurycotis floridana) is more commonly known as the palmetto bug.
The roach measures 1 to 1 1/2 inches long to 1 inch wide. They are reddish brown to black and do not have fully developed wings. They appear wingless but have short vestigial wings. These roaches are larger than other species so are easier to spot.
Florida woods cockroaches are usually found under palmetto leaves and decomposing matter. Contact with the bug may cause skin irritation as they secrete a chemical from a gland under their abdomen. This chemical secretion is used to ward off predators and it stinks.
With or without fertilization, the Florida woods cockroach produces an egg case known as an ootheca. The egg cases contain an average of 20 to 24 eggs and will hatch after 50 days. Without fertilization, only about 60% of the eggs are viable and those that hatch will not live to adulthood. The nymphs undergo 6 to 8 weeks of molts before becoming adults. They can live over a year.
Florida woods cockroaches rarely enter the home since abundant food is found outdoors. They eat mold, moss, lichens, and other organic material found in dark, damp places. However, they are primarily a detritivore since their diet consists mainly of organic waste and dead plant matter such as bark and leaves, thus returning vital nutrients to the ecosystem.
They may not be the most loved bug in our state, but the Florida woods cockroach plays a very important role in our ecosystem.
Florida tickseed (coreopsis floridana) is just one of Florida’s many diverse and beautiful wildflowers. This wildflower is endemic to Florida. It can be found throughout most of the state, except the extreme northern Panhandle counties. The Coreopsis was adopted as Florida’s State Wildflower in 1991.
Coreopsis grow best in wet open habitats such as the upper edges of marshes, savannas, and prairies. This is a robust fall bloomer and can stand 3 feet tall in ideal conditions. The petals are bright yellow, surrounding a dark disc. The flowers form a bloom that is two inches across. The leaves are narrow and elliptical in shape. This plant requires wet to moist soil to survive. In such settings, it blooms into showy, beautiful wildflowers.
Volusia County’s Spring-to-Spring Trail is an apt name for a trail which will link several of the state and county parks which feature natural springs. It is planned for more than 26 miles and should take approximately 3 hours to complete. The paved, path will be ideal for walkers, joggers, skaters, bicyclists as well as those with disabilities. Trailheads are Debary Hall Historic Site, Gemini Springs Park, Lake Monroe Park, Lake Beresford Park, Blue Spring State Park, and Grand Avenue in Glenwood. To date, 15 miles have been completed.
The Spring to Spring Trail is planned for the diversity of the land and wildlife. You will see open fields to jungle-like conditions and you may encounter bald eagles, rabbits, armadillos, alligators, otters, coyotes, and deer.
The most northern segment starts near the base of De Leon Springs State Park. De Leon Springs is known for its the lakes, creeks, and marshes. The trail travels south along Grand Avenue. To the west lies the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Here freshwater marshes and swamps provide critical habitat for nesting, migrating, and wintering birds. This 6-mile segment ends at W. Minnesota Avenue. The next part of the trail is an 8.9-mile segment which begins on the southwestern outskirts of DeLand. The trail travels over 2 miles along Lake Beresford. The trail then travels along Blue Spring State Park through an environment which features hammock and magnolias trees. This park is a designated manatee refuge. You can learn more about this endangered animal through ranger programs as well as view them from an observation platform during the winter when manatees gather in the warm waters of the spring. The last part of the trail route is the most scenic. It traces the northwestern shoreline of Lake Monroe.
Pineapples have been cultivated by indigenous people throughout the tropical areas of the Americas and the Carribean for thousands of years. The pineapple was introduced to Florida in 1860. While there is no commercial farming of pineapples in Florida, it is known as the dooryard yard plant. A dooryard garden plant is a plant that is in the front of the house. The goal of a dooryard garden is to have curb appeal while guiding the steps of the visitor to the front door.
The pineapple is created by the fusion of all of the flowers into one fruit. Pineapples love good drainage and areas that are not prone to flooding or puddling.
After maturing, the pineapple is ready to eat when it starts to turn yellow and smells sweet. With first-hand experience, if you wait until this time to pick your fruit, it is usually too late. Why? The squirrels, raccoons, and other animals will usually feast on it before that time.
Pineapple can be eaten fresh, juiced, dried, made into candies, and made into dishes and desserts. The fruit is a good source of potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A. Pineapple upside down cake anyone?
Located near Christmas Fl, the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area includes an 18.6-mile loop trail that features a lake.
The trail is located along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail so expect to see plenty of wildlife enjoying the area. Wading birds, eagles, ospreys, turkeys, deer, and alligators are some of the wildlife you may meet. Beautiful cabbage palm hammocks and freshwater marshes are waiting for you to explore. Discover bromeliads, orchids, ferns, and abundant wildflowers. Be on the lookout for rare pitcher plants, hand ferns, and cutthroat grass.
Short hikes can lead to many sightings and new discoveries like the virgin bald cypress stand in James Creek Swamp. There are trails for day hikes and hiking with overnight camping. Primitive campsites are available for the more adventurous including one along the 12 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail. The unpaved roads are bicycle friendly. For those who would rather view the scenery from the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle, you are permitted to do so when the roads are not too wet or sandy. Dogs are welcome when on a leash.
Whether on foot, by bicycle or from your vehicle: Get Outside. Explore. Discover.
The longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) gets its name from the shape of its needle-like leaves. They can grow as long as 18 inches and come in bundles of three. The tree with it’s thick, scaly bark grows almost completely straight, boasts a 3-foot diameter, and can reach 80 to 100 feet tall. These slow-growing trees can live up to 300 years.
Prior to restoration efforts, longleaf pines once only occupied 3% of their former range. Forests of longleaf pine were cleared for development and agriculture.
The seeds are developed in cones and dispersed by the wind. They must come in contact with the soil to grow. Fires caused by lightning would clear away leaf litter and brush allowing this to take place. When fire is suppressed, the seeds can not reach the soil. The seeds that take root go through a grass stage. During this stage, the longleaf pine starts to develop its central root, called a taproot, which will grow up to 12 feet long. After the tap toot grows the tree will begin to grow in height. Both the tree and the grass stage are resistant to fire.
There are more than 30 endangered and threatened species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers and indigo snakes who rely on the longleaf pine habitat. The longleaf pines are more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change than other pines. The tree can withstand severe windstorms, resist pests, tolerate wildfires and drought, as well as capture carbon pollution from the atmosphere. The restoration of the longleaf pine has become a major restoration effort.
The Eastern Spotted Skunk, (Spilogale putorius), is native to Florida and the least studied. It was thought that they were abundant throughout Florida except in the Keys. This is a small skunk, about the size of a squirrel, with more of a weasel shaped body. Eastern spotted skunks have various areas of white on the body that mix with the black and vary on each individual. They have short legs and are slow moving. The spotted skunk is omnivorous and enjoys dining on plants, berries, nuts, fruits, rodents, frogs, snakes, small lizards, and bird eggs.
Eastern Spotted Skunks are nest predators of ground-nesting birds, Unfortunately, the critically endangered, Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is among the skunk’s prey.
A female spotted skunk will create a den in a tree hollow, gopher tortoise burrow, or abandoned structure. Her litter will range between 2 to 10 kits each year. At 4 weeks the young go out looking for food with their mother and are weaned at 8 weeks. By 4 months they are adults and leave the den. The life span of the spotted skunk is 1 to 2 years.
Like all skunks, the Spotted Skunk has well developed anal glands that emit musk, if they are threatened. These glands contain a “nipple” that allows the skunk to aim its spray accurately. The spotted skunk is noted for its characteristic “handstand” stance that it takes when threatened. Before spraying its opponent, the skunk raises up on its front legs and turns its head to watch as it sprays. It is also the only member of the skunk family that can climb. Their predators include humans, dogs, cats, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and owls.
The population of eastern spotted skunks has not been well-studied. Loss of habitat, insecticide use, and predators may indicate they are not as abundant as once thought.
In 1947 a beautiful clear lake full of fish began to change. Land from the north was purchased for agriculture. With agricultural practices at the time, lots of nutrients, including phosphorus, we’re drained into the lake. This caused an algae bloom that depleted the fish population and ultimately deteriorated the ecosystem. Fortunately, there was hope for Lake Apopka (Bauchmann et al 1999).
Thanks to the Surface Water Improvement and Management Act of 1987 Lake Apopka was identified for restoration. Plans were created to help bring life back to the ecosystem. In 1996 chapter 96 – 207 of Florida statutes was passed by the Florida legislature. This act allowed the agricultural lands to the north to be purchased and converted into wetlands (St. John’s Water Management District).
Because of dedicated legislators, biologists, volunteers, and citizens, the fish population has been restored, plenty of birds flock to the area to feed, deer and otters call this 48.4 square mile area their home, the hydrology has drastically improved, and the ecosystem is thriving.
The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is an 11-mile scenic route where visitors can enjoy Nature and the beauty of this Florida success story.
When entering the Wildlife Drive you can access an audio guide for your smartphone.
Bauchmann, R. W., Hoyer, M. V., & Canfield, D. E., Jr. (1999). The restoration of Lake Apopka in relation to alternative stable states. Hydrobiologia, 394(0), 219-232.
St. John’s Water Management District, Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive General Information Guide
Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa) is a Florida native shrub that gets its name from the small, red fruit it produces. Other names are wood balsam, Seminole Balsamo, and café marron. It is extremely cold sensitive. If it freezes it resprouts in the spring producing a shorter plant.
Wild Coffee, grows as a dense, round, multi-stemmed shrub about 5 feet tall and spreads between 4 to 8 feet. You will see it in pinelands, shell ridges, coastal hammocks, and sandy shaded areas. Its leaves are glossy, puckered, waxy, and light green when in full sun. When in the shade the leaves are deep forest green. The leaves are 5 inches long with veins running through them. Small, white flowers bloom in spring and summer and produce a fragrance similar to the gardenia.
Many butterflies, including the Florida state butterfly, the zebra longwing, and the spicebush swallowtail drink nectar from the flowers of wild coffee. Honeybees visit the flowers and pollinate them. Bright red, half-inch berries appear, in late summer or fall, each with two seeds. These seeds are an important food source for cardinals, catbirds, mockingbirds and blue jays, as well as other birds. Wild coffee berries were once used as a coffee substitute even though they do not contain caffeine.
The shrub grows well in alkaline soil. It is not salt-tolerant, but germinates readily, has few pest problems, needs only varying amounts of water and is not invasive. Is also prevents soil erosion. With its contrasting green leaves and red berries, its fragrance when in bloom and its wildlife benefits, the Wild Coffee shrub will make a wonderful addition to a shady spot in your landscape.
The Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii,) is rare and endangered. There are only an estimated 2000 left in Florida. This orchid is prized for its long, white delicate petals. It is leafless and its roots attach to the host tree. The mass of green roots clings tightly to the trunks. It is distinguished from other species of orchid by the presence of thin white markings dotting its roots.
The Ghost Orchid gets its name from its ability to move at night. It appears as if it’s floating, like a ghost.
The Ghost Orchid is pollinated by the Giant Spinx Moth, whose long tongue can reach the nectar that is not accessible to many insects. The swamps of cypress, pond apple, and palm trees are its preferred environment. The orchids specific habitat requirements are high humidity, mild temperatures, and dappled shade.
The Ghost Orchid does not flower reliably. It will typically flower one to two weeks once a year. It requires a specific fungus (mycorrhizal) to be able to thrive. because it is leafless, the orchid relies on its roots to produce sugars from sunlight. The Ghost Orchid has a symbiotic relationship with the fungus as it gathers nutrients from it in exchange for extra sugars.
Habitat destruction and development, as well as over collecting, have been responsible for the decline of ghost orchid populations. The Ghost Orchid is a protected species in public land areas.
With gratitude to Jay Staton for his patience and perseverance in capturing this rare sight. JAY STATON -Published on Oct 20, 2014 “A ghost orchid’s flower takes, on average, 2 days to fully open. This short video shows the remarkable beauty of the most sought-after orchid in the world, including background sound that gets you in the mood.”
The Sea Grape thrives in Florida’s sandy soils. This plant tolerates windy conditions and can act as a windbreak. As well as being salt and drought tolerant, it will stabilize sand dunes while providing habitat for wildlife. This includes protection for nesting sea turtles from artificial light. Look for Sea Grapes in their natural habitat along the beach.
The Sea Grape has an unusual texture with big, round leaves which grow upright on the branches. The leaves are leathery and grow 8 to 10 inches with a reddish tint. They have red veining and some leaves will turn completely red. The female shrubs produce clusters of fruit that resemble grapes that will start out green, and ripen to purple. This plant needs a male and female to cross-pollinate and bear fruit. A Sea Grape plant with its outstretched branches will grow between 6 to 8 feet tall and wide.
The Sea Grape is a small native evergreen tropical tree which can grow as a shrub or be trained as a hedge and does best in full to partial sunlight. Although sensitive to frost, Sea Grape plants can be grown in your yard or garden. Be sure to water until established. Their fruit is very sweet and when ripe provides a tasty treat for people, birds, and squirrels. Jellies and wine are made from the Sea Grapes. Consider planting a Sea Grape Plant in your Florida Native Garden.
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.
Coquina (“co-keen-ah”) is a sedimentary rock consisting of loosely consolidated fragments of both shells and coral. The cemented fragments are generally calcium carbonate or phosphate. The shells and coral are compressed and turned into a mass as rainwater filters through. The rainwater dissolves the shell’s and coral’s calcium carbonate which then glues them together. Coquina forms inshore environments such as marine reefs.
In the Oxford English Dictionary, coquina is a loanword from Spanish meaning “shell-fish” or “cockle” which is a type of bivalve mollusk. The word Coquina was first used as a reference to building stone in 1837 in the book The Territory of Florida by J.L. Williams.
There are many different kinds of shells and coral that can cement together. By identifying the shells or coral you can determine the age of the coquina. Sometimes the coquina may be covered in mud or weathered with age making the identification of the shell and coral difficult and that particular piece may remain a mystery. Many coquina rocks have only been formed in the last few thousand years but others can go back to different periods of time such as the Miocene age (20 million years).
Identifying the coquina and where it’s found is important to local geology. Since Coquina forms inshore environments, either marine or on land, determining the ages of coquina deposits can help reconstruct sea level rise and fall over time.
Florida has large deposits of coquina, and the soft, white rock was ideal for building. Coquina is a very soft building stone and needs to be dried out for a few years before it can be used. The Castillo of San Marcos Fort in Saint Augustine was built of coquina by the Spanish in the late 1600s. When the British attacked the Fort in 1702 during the Siege of Saint Augustine, they fired cannonballs at the Fort which had no effect. The cannonballs kept sinking into the soft coquina. Coquina is used as an ornamental landscape material today.
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.
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.
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
— 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
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.
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.
—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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Muhly grass is naturally found in Florida’s pine flatwoods, coastal uplands and even along its highways. This grass produces clumps that can reach 2 to 3 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide. In the fall, muhly grass produces fluffy pink to purple flower stalks, that can reach up to 5 feet tall and give the plant a distinctive and attractive appearance. This grass is resistant to heat, drought, humidity, and salt tolerant, as well as deer and rabbit resistant. Consider planting this native grass in your yard and garden. Native plants typically are adapted to native soils and climate, which also means they thrive with natural rainfall levels. Pink Muhly grass needs little attention and is definitely low maintenance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.