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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.
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.
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.
A threatened species, the Gulf sturgeon is an ancient fish that grows up to eight feet long and weighs up to 300 pounds!
Water is an essential part of healthy wildlife habitats, including our gardens, yards and neighborhoods. When creating a backyard habitat it’s important to provide water along with food and cover. Many of us, while at home, have spent more time watching birds, planting native plants for food, maybe putting up bird feeders to provide an extra snack. Providing a birdbath brings even more birdwatching opportunities.
River otters seem to embody playfulness as they roll and chase and even wrestle each other in their aquatic habitats. Weighing between 11 and 30 pounds, otters have been in North America for almost two million years per fossil records.
One of our most beautiful amphibians, marbled salamanders live in North Florida and only grow to about four inches as adults. Their preferred habitats include damp woods and areas with soft, wet soil.
Florida Gulf Coast University's (FGCU) Wings of Hope Panther Posse program invites you and your whole family to participate in an online scavenger hunt!