Sunday, December 22, 2013

Bad snake, good snake at Highlands Hammock State Park

 BAD SNAKE...Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus).  This is an adult about 4' long.

GOOD SNAKE...Southern Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata).

Note the head shape of these two snakes.  The Cottonmouth above has a diamond shaped head, typical of pit vipers, all of which are venomous.  Not a particularly aggressive snake, BUT, it's bite can be fatal.

Webb MD First Aide for Snake BiteSnakes of Florida ID guideSnakes of Florida ID guide

Here is a much narrower head shape on the Southern Water Snake.  The coloration of this species is quite variable with this Central Florida race being quite dark.  Non-venomous collubrid, also not aggressive..but will bite if threatened.
I really don't mean to infer that venomous snakes are BAD...all creatures have a place in our natural world.  BUT, I would be a bit more careful around the Cottonmouth.....and any other snake I could not positively identify.

 Highlands Hammock State Park, near Sebring, was built by the CCC and has a beautiful picnic area, many interesting trails, and a nice CCC museum.  

 The Ranger at the front gate recommended the Cypress Swamp Trail........on a boardwalk and through an old Live Oak Hammock.  It was really beautiful.  

 The boardwalk provided a stable platform for some nice photos.

 Golden-Silk Spider (Nephila clavipes).  Big and scary for hikers as it spins it's web over trails (and boardwalks).  But, bites only if handled....and the bite is mild...less than a bee sting.

 Quill-Leaf (Tilandsia fasciculata) epiphyte and Christmas Lichen (Cryptothecia rubrocinta) growing on a Bald Cypress (Taxodium distchum) tree.

 Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)...a small flycatcher and winter visitor to Florida.

 Not many butterflies around, but did spot this large Skipper....short of a DNA identification, I'll call it a Three-spotted Skipper (Cymaenes tripunctus).  

 There is always something in bloom in Florida.  Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana).

Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly (Calopteryx maculata).

Wife Olivia and son Andy enjoying the Christmas vacation outing.

 Nice museum about the Civilian Conservation Corps....part of America's history.

 FDR's New Deal provided work for many and the projects still grace our parks and preserves.

 The museum had a friendly docent and we learned a lot.

What a nice family outing.  Sure beats Christmas shopping!!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilla)

 Native to Southern Asia, the Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilla) has been found in peninsular Florida since the mid 1970's, and is our only non-native odonata.

Female Scarlet Skimmer.  The Skimmer family, Libelluidae, comprises the largest odonate family in North America.  Many are brightly colored and thus easy to spot and identify.

Range of Scarlet Skimmer.

Phaon Crescent

Not often seen here in SW Florida, but recently "locally abundant" in Venice (Maxine Barritt Park), the Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon) is difficult to photograph as it's wings appear "fuzzy."

Luckily I happened on a brood nectaring on patches of Beggars Tick (Bidens alba).

Beggars Tick (also called Spanish Needle locally) is one of our better nectaring plants, but seen as a weed by most folks...and summarily pulled up or sprayed.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Sarasota "Bug Walk!"

Sarasota County (Florida) hosted a guided insect identification walk at the Curry Creek Preserve in Venice, FL.  A small group of entomology enthusiasts followed host, Dr Fred Santana Phd along the trails of the 80 acres of pine flatwoods and oak hammocks.

Retired entomologist, Dr Fred volunteers his time and expertise so that others can learn and enjoy the insect diversity in SW Florida.

The first thing Fred pointed out were some Sweat Bees, members of the Halicitdae family.  Great pollinators, but also can be a nuisance as they seem to be attracted to human perspiration and the females can give a mild sting.
These bees nest in the ground and are mentioned in E.O. Wilson's book, "The Social Conquest of Earth" as exhibiting behavior leading to eusociality in insects.  Great read!

Before even leaving the parking area, Dr Fred discovered a friendly annual Cicada on his shoulder!  The Florida varieties don't bite, don't sting, don't do crop damage....but they do make a racket (males) with their tymbals, which are drum like organs on the sides of their abdominal segments.  

Sharp eyed retired biology professor, Dr Bill Dunson, along with the group, found a Tersa Sphynx moth(Xylophanes tersa) instar!  WOW!  It looks like a snake with fake eyes!  You've already seen it on the lead photo. 


wikipedia creative commons image

An interesting conversation about biomimicry ensued between Dr's Fred and Bill!  Lots to learn on these outings.

Dr Fred recommended Kaufman's Field Guide for everyone, neophyte to expert. 

If you like this Field Guide, you will love Eric Eaton's blog

A strikingly iridescent Long Legged Fly was collected.  It got away quickly, so this photo is from my backyard.

Members of the large family, Dolichopodidae, these handsome and tiny true flies are great to have in a garden as they are predaceous on soft bodied invertebrates like mites!

In the collection tube is a Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus), a fast moving and small member of the Licaenidae family.

The dorsal wings show the beautiful blue of the Ceraunus.  This is also a photo I took our specimen was quickly released to prevent injury.
With over 5000 species worldwide, Lycaenidae is the second largest family of butterflies.

In the container is a Hover Fly (Syrphid spp) which is a great thing to have in your they love to eat aphids!

wikipedia creative commons image
Another example of nature's biomimicry, as these harmless flies sure to look like bees!

What a great outing.....we also saw more butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, spiders, ants, honey bees, paper wasps.  Thanks to Sarasota County and Dr Santana for hosting this event....and I'll be sure to get back out to the Curry Creek Preserve for some more exploring on my own.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

South Creek Trail Landscapes at Oscar Scherer State Park

 A cool, overcast afternoon in late fall.  What to do?  How about a stroll along the South Creek Trail at Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey, Florida.

 This is one of our local State Parks, popular with hikers, campers, bikers (it connects with the Legacy Bike Trail) and birders.

 The cool, still air provided a great opportunity to enjoy the landscapes along the trail....oak hammock, which is typical for inland SW Florida.

 Live oaks, saw palmetto, vines, Spanish moss.

 Quill-leaf Epiphyte 

 Some intruding Red Mangrove, Buttonwood and a lonely Little Blue Heron....the only creature we saw on our hike.

 As the trail wandered a bit off the creek, a stand of Slash Pine.

 Hiking with a camera seems to put nature in well composed frames...the eye can see the whole scene and yet isolate beautiful features.

Take a trip to Oscar's a local gem!