FWF News Articles
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Many of our Florida trees lose their leaves at different times through the year. Deciduous trees like maple, sweet gum and cypress drop their leaves in cooler weather. Others like oaks and magnolias shed leaves throughout the year. Even “evergreen” pine trees drop some of their needles seasonally. These fallen leaves are called “leaf litter” and offer plenty of benefits to the soil and native wildlife!
A small endangered mouse that makes its home among the sand dunes, the Choctawhatchee beach mouse is about five inches long from head to tail. With bulgy eyes, a hairy tail and large ears, this rodent is brown with a white belly. Sleeping during the day and feeding at night, the mouse eats seeds and insects and gives birth to several litters each year. Mother mouse raises the two to seven babies born per litter. Females are able to give birth after six weeks and this mouse lives approximately 180 days. It uses crab burrows to escape predators, such as roaming domesticated and feral cats. While its historical habitats likely encompassed a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast of the Panhandle, its range is now very limited: Grayton Beach in Santa Rosa County, Topsail Hill in Walton County and Shell Island in Bay County.
Bird bills come in many shapes and sizes and are beautifully adapted for eating, building nests, feeding young, cleaning feathers and defending themselves. Backyard feeders can provide a good viewing spot for observing birds’ features and behavior. Looking closely at birds’ bills can provide us with clues about the types of food birds eat in their natural habitat.
The atala hairstreak butterfly ranges across the Caribbean and reaches the northern extent of its range in southeast Florida. The caterpillars and adults of this species display red and/or yellow coloration, advertising their toxicity with bright colors. The larvae only eat coontie cycad plant leaves, so when coonties declined from harvesting and habitat destruction during the 19th and 20th centuries, these beautiful butterflies suffered a similar fate. In fact, the Floridian atala hairstreak subspecies was thought to be extinct for almost twenty years.
Summer is in full swing and so are the butterflies. With more time at home this spring and summer and more time to appreciate gardens, I’ve been learning more about the butterflies I see. I recognize the big ones – black swallowtails, gulf fritillaries, monarchs, zebra longwings. I learned to distinguish the giant swallowtail from the tiger swallowtail. I love to watch the small ones, but don’t know them from each other.
The Everglades dwarf siren is one of the most secretive and unknown creatures in the Florida Everglades. Found nowhere else in the world but the cypress swamps, marl prairies, and depression marshes around and south of Lake Okeechobee, this two-legged aquatic salamander moves about at night hunting for small invertebrates. Sirens are neotenic salamanders, meaning that they reach sexual maturity without ever leaving the water and losing their juvenile characteristics, such as their external gills (those bushy red structures behind the head) that are used to extract oxygen from the water.
In spring and through the fall we see butterflies on the flowers in gardens, yards and roadsides. Have you ever noticed butterflies gathering around puddles or damp soil in the garden? Butterflies get most of the energy and moisture they need from plant nectar. Male butterflies need minerals, salt and amino acids for reproduction. They can get these nutrients from moist soil, where water has evaporated leaving minerals near the surface.
Not all of our Florida natives are photogenic. The purple bankclimber, a rare freshwater mussel, is an unglamorous inhabitant of only two river systems in Florida: the Apalachicola and the Ochlockonee, both in the Panhandle. It is a “bivalve” meaning it has two hard shell coverings with a soft interior and a hinge to open and close the shells.
Longleaf pine was once the dominate tree in the Southeast. It is estimated that it occupied 90 million acres. Now due to harvesting, conversion of much of this land to other uses, and the restriction of wildfires, it only occupies 3 percent of its original range.
Land owned by St. Joe Paper Company (St. Joe Company, until 1966) was planted in slash pine.