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."