Monday, December 15, 2014

Florida Mangroves a true treasure

Florida's coastal ecosystems are one of the greatest assets that Florida has. With more coastline than any other state in the contiguous United States, they are a source of both economic, environmental and recreational benefit. People come from all over the world to visit the beautiful Florida beaches. In addition to people sea turtles also come from all over the world to lay their eggs on Florida's Atlantic coast, one of only a handful of places in the world that they come. Mangroves are one of Florida's true natives. Three types of mangroves are found in Florida: red, black, and white. They cover south Florida with a verdant and life-giving shield that nurtures marine organisms of all kinds, provides nesting sites for shore.

 Mangroves are one of Florida's true natives. They thrive in salty environments because they are able to obtain fresh water from saltwater. Some secrete excess salt through their leaves, others block absorption of salt at their roots. Florida's estimated 469,000 acres of mangrove forests contribute to the overall health of the state's southern coastal zone. This ecosystem traps and cycles various organic materials, chemical elements, and important nutrients. Mangrove roots act not only as physical traps but provide attachment surfaces for various marine organisms. Many of these attached organisms filter water through their bodies and, in turn, trap and cycle nutrients.

The relationship between mangroves and their associated marine life cannot be overemphasized. Mangroves provide protected nursery areas for fishes, crustaceans, and shellfish. They also provide food for a multitude of marine species such as snook, snapper, tarpon, jack, sheepshead, red drum, oyster, and shrimp. Florida's important recreational and commercial fisheries will drastically decline without healthy mangrove forests. Many animals find shelter either in the roots or branches of mangroves. Mangrove branches are rookeries, or nesting areas, for beautiful coastal birds such as brown pelicans and roseate spoonbills. Mangroves also filter water and maintain water quality and clarity.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Watch out for Florida wildlife while driving

A Car accident this weekend at Big Cypress Indian Reservation resulted in three people losing their life and others injured. Unfortunately the accident occurred when an SUV hit a a 300 pound bear on Snake Road during foggy conditions. The bear did not survive the accident which caused a chain reaction. According to the report after the SUV hit the bear they pulled over to the side of the road and the car following them did the same. Because of the fog, an oncoming vehicle did not see the people on the side of the road. and it plowed into them.

There have been more and more black bear sightings in Florida. According to the FWC You are more likely to see a panther or a black bear today in Florida than someone here 40 years ago! There was a total of 2,257 Florida black bear sighting reports as of June 2014, with more than 500 of those reports containing uploaded photographs. Sightings of bears were reported in 59 of the state’s 67 counties. As the Florida bear population grows, so does the risk of accidents on our highways. Authorities estimate that about 230 bears died in car crashes last year, as opposed to 43 deaths in 1993.

Bears aren't the only one animals at risk from car accidents in Floridian natureFlorida panthers once enjoyed their perch atop the food chain across a vast dominion. They were all over the Florida peninsula, from the Panhandle to the Everglades. The biggest threats to the remaining panthers are their health and continuing loss of habitat. Florida panthers have an unusually large number of health problems. Most are related to poor habitat conditions and genetic defects. Around the Everglades, panthers have been contaminated with mercury by eating raccoons high in mercury, which passes through the aquatic food chain. It's sad to say that Florida panthers are killed by cars and trucks, particularly on State Road 29 and Alligator Alley (I-75), and,  although it is against the law,  hunters still shoot panthers occasionally.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Florida Everglades a moving river


Everglades National Park contains the southern 25 percent of the original Everglades marshland region of southwestern Florida. The park visited by one million people each year and has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, only one of three locations in the world to appear on all three lists. The Everglades is a slow-moving system of rivers, flowing southwest at about .25 miles  per day, fed by the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee.

Unlike most other U.S. national parks, Everglades National Park was created to protect a fragile ecosystem instead of safeguarding a geographic feature. Floridians hoping to preserve at least part of the Everglades first proposed that the area become a national park in 1923. Five years later, the Florida state legislature established the Tropical Everglades National Park Commission to study the formation of a protected area. Thirty-six species designated as threatened or protected live in the park, including the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee. Protecting the largest U.S. wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, the park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America, and contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere. More than 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles live within Everglades National Park. All of southern Florida's fresh water is recharged by the park, including that of the Biscayne Aquifer.

Florida panthers once enjoyed their perch atop the food chain across a vast dominion. They were all over the Florida peninsula, from the Panhandle to the Everglades. The biggest threats to the remaining panthers are their health and continuing loss of habitat. Florida panthers have an unusually large number of health problems. Most are related to poor habitat conditions and genetic defects. Around the Everglades, panthers have been contaminated with mercury by eating raccoons high in mercury, which passes through the aquatic food chain. It's sad to say that Florida panthers are killed by cars and trucks, particularly on State Road 29 and Alligator Alley (I-75), and,  although it is against the law,  hunters still shoot panthers occasionally. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Giving Thanksgiving thanks for beautiful Floridian nature!

Everyone living in Florida should already know what a true blessing it is to live in such a beautiful state that abounds in nature. The word Florida  comes from  the Spanish Pascua Florida, meaning “feast of flowers” and it lives up to its name. Florida has some of the most beautiful and diverse plants in the country. Florida's plant life includes approximately 450 species of native trees and shrubs. From fall through spring Florida not only enjoys its best weather, this period also furnishes the year’s prime birding and wildlife viewing opportunities. 

As other states are trapped in November snowstorms, we are enjoying warm temperatures across the state.The climate has always been one of Florida's most important natural resources, which is reflected in its official nickname, the "Sunshine State." Florida is famous for it's generally warm climate. The climate of Florida is partially controlled by the fact that because it is a narrow peninsula, no part of the state is very far from the ocean. North of Lake Okeechobee, you will find a humid subtropical climate, while south of the lake it is a tropical climate. The seasons in Florida are determined more by precipitation than by temperature, with the hot, wet springs and summers making up the wet season, and mild to cool, and the relatively dry winters and autumns, making the dry season.

People aren't the only snowbirds that come to Florida in the winter.  Over 175 bird species are known to breed in Florida and almost three hundred birds migrate here in the fall spring or winter months.Florida bird habitats range from isolated islands of the Dry Tortugas to remote interior swamplands and our increasingly numerous suburban backyards. All of Florida's native birds are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and are also protected under state law, and may not be trapped or killed without federal permit. Endangered and threatened species are additionally protected.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Manatee Season

As the weather cools we get to manatee season here in Citrus County. If you have nor experienced manatees up and personal, you should make plans to do so this year. They are truly a pleasure to behold.Manatees are very gentle, slow-moving, graceful swimmers. A manatee uses its flippers and tail to steer itself through the water and moves its tail up and down to propel itself forward. Manatees are quite agile in the water. They can swim upside down, roll, do somersaults or move vertically in the water. Manatees emit sound under the water. They make these sounds when they are freighted, or interacting with another. Sound is not the only form of communication that a manatee will use there are sight, taste, touch, and smell.

Citrus County is currently the only place in the US where you can interact and swim with the West Indian manatee without that act being viewed as harassment by Law Enforcement. This endangered species makes Citrus County's spring fed rivers its wintering home. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, was established in 1983 specifically for the protection of the endangered West Indian Manatee. This unique refuge preserves the last unspoiled and undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay, which forms the headwaters of the Crystal River. The refuge preserves the warm water spring havens, which provide critical habitat for the manatee populations that migrate here each winter.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Florida's feral hogs

Wild hogs, often called feral hogs are common in Floridian nature. These hogs started as farm animals but once they escape they quickly turn feral and it doesn't take long for their looks to change. First brought to Florida in the 1500's when Hernando de Soto brought swine to provision a settlement he established at Charlotte Harbor in Lee County, wild hogs are now found in every county in the state. While hunters love the opportunity to hunt a large hoofed animal, homeowners and especially golf course owners are not as happy to find them in the area. Unlike coyotes that may live in your area and seldom be seen, wild hogs make their presence known by rooting up everything in site.  Wild hogs are omnivorous, opportunistic feeders. However, they consume far more plant than animal material, and may occasionally consume carrion. The list of foods eaten by hogs is diverse and includes grass, forb, and woody plant stems, roots, tubers, leaves, seeds, and fruits, fungi, and a variety of animals including worms, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, small birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

The the most part wild hogs are harmless, but males can be quite feisty and so are females with babies. I ran into a female hog on one of my walks and she had about 6-7 babies the size of a large football. I steered clear, although the babies started to come near me. I also ran into a male boar who came rushing out of the woods in a full sprint. I was startled to see the boar and more startled at the thought of what it was that the boar was running from! Average adult males may weigh 200+ pounds, stand 3 feet at the shoulder, have tails reaching 12 inches, and are almost 5 feet from the tip of the tail to the tip of the snout. However, males greater than twice this size have been recorded. Hogs have 4 continually growing, self-sharpening tusks (2 in the upper and 2 in the lower jaw; the rubbing of upper and lower tusks keeps them sharp). Tusks in females are relatively small,  while in males they become quite pronounced and have trophy value.

Monday, November 3, 2014


When I woke up this morning the outdoor thermometer read 37 degrees. This picture was from a few years ago when I awoke to some Florida snow. It certainly wasn't that cold this morning but wasn't typical a Florida temperature for November. With no clouds  to be found the day remained cool but that Florida sunshine felt great on the skin and I wasn't the only one who seemed to notice. I opened my back door and saw a black racer sunning in the grass but he didn't stick around long enough for a photo.
Black racers are large, active snakes with smooth, shiny scales. Adults average 23 to 50 inches in length, while young are about 15 inches long. Racers prefer dry open fields, meadows, forest clearings and prairies. They are active in the daylight hours and can be relatively easy to spot in the field because they often forage with their head and neck raised above their body. Racers often bask in the sun in low brush and can quickly disappear from view, thus the name “racer.” They are the only species that will occasionally charge at a person. This behavior is a bluff and the racer will retreat if challenged. Racers eat a variety of rodents, insects, amphibians, other reptiles, birds, and bird eggs. 

Our yard is heavy with both live oak and turkey oak trees and every few years our live oaks put out a tremendous amount of acorns. I'm talking needing to wear a hard hat to go in the back yard amount of acorns! Live oak is a large spreading tree of the lower Coastal Plain from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida. It normally grows in low sandy soils near the Coast but also occurs in moist rich woods and along stream banks. On the Gulf Coast, live oaks often support many types of epiphytic plants, including Spanish moss.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Smells like a skunk!

All of us had been driving down the road and got a sudden whiff of a dead skunk in the area. There are two varieties of skunks found in Floridian Nature. The most common is the familiar looking striped skunk.
Striped skunks are easily recognized by their characteristic colors and pattern. The fur is black with a white stripe that begins as a triangular shape on the top of the head, forks into two stripes that travel down the sides of the back, and usually merges again near the base of the tail. Another white stripe runs from the base of the snout between the eyes and ends on the forehead. Stripe width and length vary with each individual. Stripes sometimes occur on the tail, but more often the tail is composed of both black and white hairs intermixed.

Striped skunks are nocturnal, sleeping during the day in underground burrows and emerging around dusk to search for food. They use scent marking to communicate presence and reproductive state to other skunks. They also communicate visually, by raising their fur and changing posture. Skunks have a good sense of hearing, but their vision is poor. They are mostly silent, but do make a variety of sounds such as churring, hisses, and screams.

The Eastern spotted skunk is a small black and white mammal about 20 inches long, including the eight inch tail, weighing about two pounds. The Eastern spotted skunk is black with horizontal white stripes on neck and shoulders, and irregular vertical stripes and elongated spots on sides. This skunk also has white spots on top of it's head, between the eyes. The fur of the Eastern Spotted Skunk is the finest and silkiest of the skunk furs, and pelts were once considered valuable. The Eastern spotted skunk is the only skunk that can climb trees. And, when an enemy approaches, it can do a hand stand, point its anal glands towards the intruder, and spray away!  Faster and more agile than the larger skunks, the Eastern Spotted Skunk is more social than other skunks, and several individuals may share a den in winter. Highly carnivorous, the Eastern Spotted Skunk feeds mainly on small mammals, but also eats grubs and other insects, as well as corn, grapes, and mulberries. Except when rearing the young, this skunk does not occupy a particular territory, but rather moves about and dens wherever convenient.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Florida Foxes

Two different types of fox call Floridian nature home the common red fox and the grey fox. We have at least one red fox that lives in the woods behind our house and I can often hear her "yips".
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has the appearance of a small dog and weighs from 10 to 15 pounds and measures up to 2 feet long with another foot for a bushy tail. The end of the tail is black, tipped with white. The Red Fox is most commonly a rusty red, with white underbelly, black ear tips and legs, and a bushy tail usually with a distinctive white tip. The "red" tone can vary from dark chestnut to golden. Because the gray fox  frequently has quite a lot of red hair, it may be confused with the red fox. The red fox is essentially a nocturnal animal, but it occasionally feeds during the day, and more at dawn and dusk.

The red fox is probably not native to Florida except in the northern Panhandle. It has been introduced by hunting clubs, and is now found in many areas of the state. The red fox is normally found in uplands mixed with fields and weedy pastures. Unlike the gray fox it avoids heavily wooded areas.

Because the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) frequently has quite a lot of red hair, it may be confused with the red fox, and is sometimes referred to as a "red-sided gray". The adult gray fox may weigh from 7 to 13 pounds and measure up to 40 inches including a 12 inch tail. The female is slightly smaller than the male. The hair along the middle of the back and tail is tipped in black and has the appearance of a black mane. The face, sides, back, and tail are gray, while the under parts are white and the sides of the neck and underside of the tail a rusty-yellow color. The gray fox is essentially a nocturnal animal, and while seldom recognized, it has a yapping bark. The gray fox sometimes referred to as the "tree fox" can scramble-up a tree quickly, and is the only member of the dog family capable of climbing.

Not related to the fox at all, the Florida fox squirrel will make you take a double take if you aren't used to seeing them. In our area they seem to love hanging out at the golf courses, especially the one in Rainbow Lakes Estates. The fox squirrel is found in pinelands through out Florida, except for the Keys and perhaps Dade and Broward Counties. The fox squirrel – named for its striking fox-like tail - is the largest squirrel in the western hemisphere. Weighing in at about 1 kg, it is about twice the size of a gray squirrel. Fox squirrels are highly variable in color, and their coats can be anywhere from creamy tan to all black. Fox squirrels prefer open park-like habitats with scattered mature pine trees and an open understory. In some parts of southwest Florida fox squirrels are quite abundant on golf courses that have retained patches of open pine-oak forest. Fox squirrels use tree cavities for sleeping quarters and birth dens, but they also construct large leaf nests and stick nests in some areas. They are solitary, except during the breeding season, during which time mating chases sometimes occur..

Monday, October 13, 2014

Florida Bats- Nature's Insect Repellant

There are good reasons to appreciate bats in Florida. One of the wonderful things that most bats do is eat insects!  By eating their body weight in insects each night, bats are the most important controller of night-flying insects, including many crop pests. Some bats eat fruit, nectar and seeds from plants. When the bats spit out the seeds or leave them in their droppings, they help new plants to grow. They also pollinate many kinds of plants, including vanilla beans, peaches, bananas and avocados.

Found throughout the state, the most common species of solitary bat found in southern Florida is the northern yellow bat. A large, yellowish-brown bat with short ears and long, silky fur; These bats are larger than the red and Seminole bats. Clumps of Spanish moss make good daytime roosting places for northern yellow bats. Small groups of males or slightly larger groups of females are often found roosting together in forested areas near a permanent source of water. They are seldom found roosting in houses or other manmade structures. They feed over open spaces: they are seen over golf courses, beaches, and along the edges of ponds, hunting for mosquitoes, flies, and other insect prey. Barn owls are known to prey on them. Unlike most other Lasiurus bats, they have only two nipples, and if a female gives birth to more than two offspring, usually only two survive. Young are born in May or June and are flying by June or July.

The silvered-haired bat is a medium-size bat. It's dark brown-black hairs are tipped with silver giving it an icy appearance. The silver-tipped hairs do not extend to the face or neck. Their ears are short, rounded and without fur. The silver-haired bats are migratory, and sometimes migrate in groups. There are several records of groups of weary bats descending upon ships at sea. Some bats netted during summer months and banded were recaptured over 100 miles away! A typical day roost for the silver-haired bat is the space behind a piece of loose bark on a tree. Individuals have also been found in woodpecker holes and on bird's nests. During migration they may be encountered in a wide variety of other shelters. Although they may appear in any kind of building, they favor open sheds, garages, and outbuildings rather than enclosed attics. They frequently rest in a pile of slabs, lumber, railroad ties, or fence posts, especially when migrating through the prairies where shelters are scarce.

The Eastern Pipistrelle, Florida's smallest bat, is a dainty yellowish to light-brown colored bat found throughout most of the state. Its individual hairs are tri-colored, giving the appearance of rings when the fur is blown on. Even though considered to be solitary in nature, Eastern Pipistrelles form small maternity colonies, usually no greater than 20 individuals. Summer colony roost sites include hollow trees, the underside of tree bark, manmade structures, the underside of shingles and Spanish moss. Colonies are often in the open and are exposed to more light than other bat species are exposed to. Eastern Pipistrelle's often use caves as winter roosts. They are one of the first to come out at night and are slow flyers with a somewhat erratic flight pattern. Because of their small size, Eastern Pipistrelles  are sometimes mistaken for moths. Adults weigh between 4 to 10 grams (or less than a half an ounce) and reach a forearm length of 1 to 1 1/2  inches. They are easily distinguished from other similar species by their tri-colored fur. Pipistrelles are nicknamed butterfly bats for their distinctive moth-like flight pattern.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall weather a welcome relief

Fall is definitely in the air in Florida and my air conditioner was able to take a much needed break yesterday. It was a cool 54 degrees yesterday morning and 52 degrees today. The seasons in Florida are determined more by precipitation than by temperature, with the hot, wet springs and summers making up the wet season, and mild to cool, and the relatively dry winters and autumns, making the dry season. Fall foliage is a common sight in North Florida starting around late November, and into Winter, and some trees either lose their leaves or change colors in the central region. Overall the best way to recognize that it is fall in Florida is through the onset  of College Football. As the weather cools down college football is heating up with the Seminoles ranked at number one and the Florida Gators pulling off a sloppy win in Tennessee.

With the cool weather came the lovebugs. They seem to appear from nowhere twice a year with some seasons being much worse than others. Two major flights occur each year, first in late spring, then again in late summer. (or in this case early fall). Lovebugs' (plecia nearctica hardy) are small black flies with red thoraxes. Lovebugs vary in length from one quarter to one third inch. Lovebugs do not sting or bite, but they do make a mess on motorist's windshields and front grills. Procrastination is never wise when dealing with lovebug splatters because they contain an acid that actually eats the paint off your car!

Urban legend holds that lovebugs are synthetic — the result of a University of Florida genetics experiment gone wrong. Speculation about the lovebug abounds. This is partly due to the fact that lovebugs are an unseen beneficial (lives and feeds in the thatch of grasses) for most of the year. As a result, most scientists are not as concerned with the details of this insect's life cycle, biology and other facets of its existence as they are with more serious pests. Research of L. L. Buschman showed that migration explained the introduction of the lovebug into Florida and other southeastern states, contrary to the urban myth that the University of Florida created them by manipulating DNA to control mosquito populations.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What's your favorite Florida beach?

Florida is famous for its beautiful beaches  Many people may not realize that Florida has a longer coastline along the Gulf of Mexico than the Atlantic Ocean. Of course when you visit beaches like this one in Key West the Gulf and the Atlantic merge as one beautiful setting. With 580 miles along the Atlantic Ocean and 770 miles along the Gulf of Mexico the state of Florida has a total of 1,350 miles of coastline! No matter where you are in Florida, there is a beach just a short drive away.

The  Canaveral National Seashore, including Merritt Island, is located midway on Florida’s east coast between Daytona Beach and Melbourne. The 100 Timucuan Mounds that are within it's boundaries are evidence of past generations of people that lived here. Canaveral National Seashore covers 57,000 acres and  the 24 mile stretch of undeveloped beach  is the longest stretch  on Florida's east coast. The refuge is  home to nineteen endangered species, most notably the southern bald eagle and the brown pelican. Porpoises, manatees, and whales are occasionally glimpsed offshore.

Blue Mountain Beach is located in the South Walton area of Florida’s panhandle, a 200-mile stretch of silky white sand beaches, towering dunes, pine forests and crystal blue waters. Beautiful Blue Mountain Beach has the distinction of being the highest point on the Gulf Coast, which in Florida is only 345 feet above sea level. The unique sand of the beaches in the Destin area is among the whitest and most homogenous of the world. The area celebrates the name "Florida Panhandle Pure & Simple" because of the clean and clear water, which appears vivid emerald-green due to its purity and the shallowness of the gulf.

Anclote Key is the largest of a collection of small islands, known as the Anclote Keys, found three miles offshore from Tarpon Springs and the mouth of the Anclote River. The islands were named Anclote, Spanish for anchor, due to the method Spanish sailing vessels would use to navigate the shallow channels in the area. The navigation was accomplished by attaching a line to a kedge anchor, dropping the anchor at a distance in the desired direction of travel, and then using the line to pull the boat to the anchor. Although the name Anclote appears on maps dating as far back as 1715, it wasn’t until the mid 1860s that the area was permanently settled.

Dog Island is located in the northwestern Florida Gulf coast just 3.5 miles off-shore from Carrabelle, Florida in Franklin County, Florida. The island’s location, its beauty, its uncrowded white sandy beaches, surf fishing, and several protected anchorages make Dog Island an appealing location for small boat sailors. Supplies should be purchased before leaving Carrabelle. Motoring or sailing on the Carrabelle River heading for Apalachicola Bay is very scenic.

Indian Key State Historic Site is an island within the Florida State Park system located just a few hundred yards southeast of U.S. 1 within the Florida Keys. Visitors can access Indian Key island by canoe or kayak.The island is very secluded and gives you the feel of going back in time! It is truly Floridian nature at its best!

St. George Island is a 22-mile barrier island with some of the most beautiful and serene beaches on the Gulf Coast. It is one of the last inhabited, yet unspoiled, barrier islands of Florida, with miles of uncrowded beaches for sunning and shelling, clear Gulf waters for swimming and excellent fishing, pristine marshes for wildlife viewing.

Located within Lee County, Sanibel is a barrier island – a collection of sand on the leeward side of the Gulf Stream from the more solid coral-rock of Pine Island. Sanibel Island has breathtaking white sand beaches and clear blue water and an abundance of colorful shells - "treasures from the sea."

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Florida's deadly snakes

While most snakes in Florida are harmless and provide important services such as controlling rodent colonies, we do have six venomous snakes that call Florida home. By learning to identify these snakes we can protect both our self and  non-venomous snakes that live in Floridian nature. This rat snake was enjoying investigating my fence and although I was startled when I saw him, I was happy to see he was not a deadly snake! All five of Florida's deadly pit vipers, including the Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake can be recognized by their stocky bodies, relatively small necks, large triangular heads, and eyes with vertical slit pupils. The coral snake is easily recognized with its color band design (red on yellow kill a fellow).

The Florida Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin, is a serpent that strikes terror in the hearts of hikers, swimmers, and freshwater fishermen. This snake is a heavy bodied pit viper with a large triangular head. The coloration of the Cottonmouth is variable. Older and larger snakes tens to be uniformly black, brown to reddish brown. the young are banded with a dark color against a lighter background. Like all pit vipers, Cottonmouths have a deep facial pit between the nostril and the eye. Unlike the harmless water snakes, the Cottonmouth tends to hold it's ground rather than go into the water, when approached. The Florida Cottonmouth  swims with his head well out of the water, a trait that other water snakes don't have. 

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the most feared and dangerous snake in both Florida and the United States! Diamondbacks are found throughout the state of Florida. he average adult size of the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is 36-72 inches, with the record length being 96 inches. The tail of the Diamondback is usually a different shade, brownish or gray, and toward the end of the tail the diamonds fade out or break into bands. The large and thick head has a light bordered dark stripe running diagonally through the eye and there are vertical light stripes on the snout. The pupil is vertical and catlike. The snakes venom is produced in glands which are located below and behind the rattlers eyes. These bulging glands, on either side of the head help give the head a triangular appearance. The Eastern Diamondback rattle is made of of a substance called keratin, similar to human fingernails. At birth, a rattlesnake has only a single button at the end of its tail. As the snake grows, another loosely interlocking segment is added each time it sheds its skin.

The legendary and colorfully banded  Eastern Coral Snake can be distinguished from the Scarlet Snake and the Kingsnake by its blunt black snout and the fact that its red and yellow bands touch each other. "Red on yellow, kill a fellow" is an old jingle that most Florida children (and adults) are familiar with. It is a quick way to know if the snake you see is a deadly coral snake or one if it's mimics, the Scarlet Kingsnake or the Scarlet Snake. Coral snakes have a wide black band touching a smaller yellow band, with a third band of red surrounded on both sides by the yellow bands. The tail is black and yellow, without any red rings. Another distinguishing feature of the Eastern Coral Snake is that it's rings go all the way around their body, although they are not as intense on their bellies. The Scarlet snake has both a red head and a white belly, two easy features to distinguish the two. Most coral snakes are less than thirty inches long, averaging between 20 to 30 inches.  The record length for a Coral Snake is 47.5 inches long.

 The Feisty little dusky pygmy rattler is rarely longer than twenty inches, and is common throughout the state of Florida. The Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake is a hot-tempered snake, usually striking repeatedly at the slightest threat. This pit vipers venom is very potent but the dose it delivers is small. Although the Pygmy Rattler vibrates its tail when annoyed, the little rattles are barely audible, sounding more like the faint buzz of an insect. The Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake is a small snake, but very thick for its size. The top of the triangular shaped head is covered with nine large scales. The body color is light to dark gray. A longitudinal row of black or charcoal, transverse blotches disrupts a reddish brown stripe running down the middle of the back. Dark spots on the side line up with the blotches. The tail is slender and ends in a miniature rattle. The belly is heavily mottled with black and white.
The Southern Copperhead  inhabits the Florida panhandle and is not found in southern Florida. The average length of adult copperheads is 30 inches. They have an unmarked copper-colored head, reddish-brown, coppery bodies with chestnut brown cross bands that constrict towards the midline. Copperheads are thick-bodied and have keeled scales. Copperheads feed on baby cottontails, swamp rabbits, rats, mice, birds, snakes, lizards, baby turtles, frogs, toads, and insects, especially grasshoppers and cicadas.

In Florida, the Timber Rattlesnake is often called the Canebrake Rattler. The Timber Rattlesnake is not as aggressive as the Diamondback. This viper will usually try to slither away when approached, but if it is stepped on on, the Timber Rattlesnake will probably strike. The venom of the Timber rattlesnake is potentially lethal! The adult Timber or Canebrake Rattlesnake is usually 36-60 inches long, with the record being 74.5 inches. Males get larger than females. The reddish brown stripe running down the center of the back is disrupted by a series of large, black, chevron-like crossbands on the pinkish gray or tan body. The tail is uniform black. The head is large and sometimes with a dark diagonal line through the eye or just behind the eye. The pupil is vertical and catlike.  The tail  of the Canebrake Rattlesnake ends in a rattle.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Florida frogs are singing in the rain

It has been a wet summer in central Florida and all this rain is getting frogs out and about like this green treefrog I saw peeking in my living room window. The Green Treefrog is one of the most common treefrogs found in Floridian nature. Green treefrogs don't seem to mind sharing their environment with people and are often spotted on windows or the exterior walls of homes. This species of frog doesn't croak but makes a sound more like a ringing bell. Usually vivid green, the Green Treefrog can change to brown quickly. The well defined strip that runs the length of its side makes identifying the Green Treefrog easy.

When a heavy evening rain is impending during the spring or summer, many frogs and toads begin to call. This is the first signal of intense breeding activity. Frogs and toads generally mate at night, since the darkness conceals them from sharp-eyed predators, especially wading birds. As rain starts to fall more and more frog voices are heard, until in certain places it becomes almost deafening.  Although it may seem like frogs are just singing for fun, it is actually the males who are calling to set up territories and to attract females. Most frogs in Florida breed and lay their eggs in shallow, temporarily flooded ponds, ditches, and depressions. Temporary water holes do not have large resident populations of predators, such as fish, salamanders, and water snakes, that would feed on the eggs or tadpoles because theses shallow pools usually dry up quickly.

 The Pig Frog is Florida's second largest frog. Pig Frogs are rarely found on land, being almost entirely aquatic. The Pig Frog gets his name from it's call, which sounds like a loud guttural grunting of a pig. The male pig frog calls while sitting on a lily pad or other floating vegetation. Like the bullfrog, the pig frog is often collected for it's edible hind legs. Pig Frogs main diet consists of crayfish. These frogs are olive to blackish brown and sometimes have prominent dark spots. Like most of the ranids, the pig frog has a white venter. But small flecks of brown or black can be found in its groin area. The Pig Frog's  webbing on the hind feet extends to the very tip of the longest toe

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Grasshoppers & Walking Sticks

Fall must be a busy time for grasshoppers in Floridian nature because I sure have seen a lot of them in my garden this month. This southern green-striped grasshopper is a common insect  found in Florida as well as other southern states. The greenstriped grasshopper feeds mainly on grasses with a preference for succulent plants.This one was feeding off my banana tree and had eaten about 1/8 of a large leaf when I discovered him.

The greenstriped grasshopper possesses long wings that extend 2 to 8 mm beyond the end of the abdomen. A strong flier, it often travels a great distance from where it hatched. This grasshopper seems to be a female based on her size and color and she has attracted at least one male who I caught trying to put the move on her!

This two-striped walking stick is also a common sight around here. Other names for this skinny creature are devil's riding horse, prairie alligator, and stick bug. These bugs are not harmless because they have the ability to spray a defensive chemical that is strong-smelling and painful to the eyes and mucus membranes! Unlike other stick insects, two-striped walking sticks have glands at their heads and they are able to use them as soon as they are born.. These glands  shoot a chemical spray to ward off enemies like ants, birds, beetles, mice, and anything else they might consider as a threat. If the spray gets into you or your pet's eyes it can cause intense immediate pain with a burning sensation, then a dull aching pain that wears away in a few hours, then the next day or two, light and pressure sensitivity, and redness in entire cornea can be expected. Although no long term damage should occur you may want to visit the doctor or have your pet looked at by a vet.

I'm not sure how often stick bugs mate, but I always see them together like this. Like all stick insects, the two-striped walking stick is herbivorus, feeding on the leaves of trees and shrubs. The life history of this species has not been reported in detail, but in Florida at least, the adults are most abundant in the fall, and that is when they lay their eggs. A botanist observed these types of walking sticks  laying eggs in the Ocala National Forest and noted that the female actually dug small pits in the sandy soil where she deposited eight to ten eggs in the pit, then covered them over with sand before repeating the process in a different area.