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Nature at Home: Critters in the Leaf Litter
Nature at Home: Critters in the Leaf Litter
Nature at Home: Critters in the Leaf Litter Five-lined skink by Kurt Anderson 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! Leaves on the forest floor break down, thanks to the work of invertebrates and microorganisms, and provide nutrients to the soil. The same process happens in our yards and gardens if we leave some leaf mulch or leaf litter in garden beds and around shrubs and trees. Healthy plants need healthy soil with the right nutrients, and decomposing leaves are a critical part of the process. Leaf litter also protects plant roots, regulates soil moisture and temperature, and does it as well as mulch from the garden center! Leaf litter can be very high in biodiversity. Frogs, toads, salamanders, skinks, spiders, slugs, worms and other small ...
Creature Feature: Choctawhatchee beach mouse
Creature Feature: Choctawhatchee beach mouse
Creature Feature: Choctawhatchee beach mouse 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. This little native is threatened by development, hurricanes and non-native species such as the house mouse, which originated in Central Asia and is now widespread. With so few Choctawhatchee beach mice remaining ...
Nature at Home: The Right Bill for the Right Food
Nature at Home: The Right Bill for the Right Food
Nature at Home: The Right Bill for the Right Food 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. Of course, eating at a feeder for a bird compares to stopping to grab a snack for us – usually a supplement to a healthy diet. Birds will eat what is available at feeders if they have the right bill for the seed.  The Northern Cardinal’s natural diet is a broad variety of seeds, grains, fruit and some insects. Cardinals have thick, sturdy bills ideal for cracking open seeds. They can position large seeds lengthwise in their bills then use a back and forth motion to slice through them. At feeders, they will consume sunflower seeds and shelled peanuts.  Carolina wrens have perfect pointy bills for picking insects off leaves. They eat caterpillars, beetles, spiders ...
Creature Feature: Atala hairstreak butterfly
Creature Feature: Atala hairstreak butterfly
Creature Feature: Atala hairstreak butterfly 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. In the last half-century, however, the coontie cycad has risen in popularity as a landscape ornamental and the Floridian atala population rebounded. They are now locally abundant in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. We may love colorful butterflies, but we’ll lose them unless we protect the plants they rely on for food. Thanks for caring about Florida’s wildlife! Atala hairstreak butterfly Picture by Tasman Rosenfeld, FWF Youth Conservation Director
Nature at Home: Butterfly Field Trip
Nature at Home: Butterfly Field Trip
Nature at Home: Butterfly Field Trip Giant Swallowtail by Marney Richards 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. Last week I was lucky to meet up with a friend, a butterfly expert, at Phipps Park in Tallahassee. A member of the local Hairstreak Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), my friend regularly surveys parks and natural areas counting the butterflies present and noting details of time and location. The morning was hot and humid, with the trails mostly wide open and good for social distancing, and the butterflies were flying. We saw about 20 diffeent species and I developed a couple new favorites. The Golden Banded-Skipper is a local celebrity, and many user groups with vested interests in Phipps Park have cooperated to ...
Creature Feature: Everglades dwarf siren
Creature Feature: Everglades dwarf siren
Creature Feature: Everglades dwarf siren  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. During droughts, they coat themselves in mucus and burrow into the mud or beneath decaying plant matter and wait for the next big rain.  Threats to the Everglades dwarf siren include water pollution from nearby agriculture, the drying up and fragmentation of suitable habitat by locks and canals, and habitat destruction by increased development on the edge of the Everglades. Thanks for caring about Florida’s wildlife! Everglades dwarf siren  Picture by Tasman Rosenfeld, FWF Youth Conservation Director
Nature at Home: Butterfly Puddlers
Nature at Home: Butterfly Puddlers
Nature at Home: Butterfly Puddlers Gulf Fritillary by Marney Richards 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.  Black Swallowtail Our gardens can provide the moisture and minerals butterflies need by including puddles or puddling stations. Making a puddler is an easy at-home project to make your garden more attractive and beneficial to butterflies, as well as other pollinators. You can make a puddler with a large, shallow clay or plastic saucer. Sand is a good medium to hold moisture; you can use sand to fill the saucer close to the surface. Mixing in a small handful of compost or composted manure will add more of the important nutrients. Butterflies don’t land in open water so add just enough water for ...
Creature Feature: Purple bankclimber
Creature Feature: Purple bankclimber
Creature Feature: Purple bankclimber 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. Dark colored on the outside and growing up to five inches in length, this species is white and purplish on the inside of the shell. It “filter feeds” by syphoning in food such as algae and plankton as water passes through their opened shells. Adults live on the bottom of the rivers, and they prefer a sandy or muddy bottom with a moderate current. Interestingly, bankclimbers have three teeth-like structures inside their shells. Bankclimbers and all other mollusks (e.g., clams, oysters) play an important role in aquatic ecology by their filtering activity as up to 10 gallons of water may pass through a single mollusk. To keep the purple bankclimber and similar aquatic organisms, we need clean and abundant water ...
Nature at Home: Longleaf pine
Nature at Home: Longleaf pine
Nature at Home: Longleaf pine  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.  Fortunately, the winds of economics now favor reestablishment of this great tree along with preserving the whole longleaf wire-grass ecosystem. Watch Stan Rosenthal with the Florida Wildlife Federation show you how it is done on private land. A case study with more details of this project can be found here.    
Chronology of longleaf pine restoration on a North Florida site
Chronology of longleaf pine restoration on a North Florida site
Chronology of longleaf pine restoration on a North Florida site Land owned by St. Joe Paper Company (St. Joe Company, until 1966) was planted in slash pine.   2014 Current landowner purchases 249.11- acre property located in North Florida. Approximately 150 acres of North Florida property clear-cut. Landowner purchases additional property in North Florida. 30.1 acres of this additional property receives simultaneous clearcutting, cost shares, site preparations and longleaf pine planting as described below.   2015 Landowner meets on site in North Florida with UF/Forestry Extension Agent. At this meeting, landowner and Forestry Agent discussed how best to manage property for timber and wildlife. Original sandhill plant community ground cover still in fair condition. A description of this plant and animal community is described in the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) "Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida.” This publication can be found here. Landowner very interested in preserving this ground cover. Forestry Agent writes management plan for landowner (attached).    2016 Cost shares with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) were applied for and approved.   2017 Site preparations are begun to prepare the site - 135 acres in North Florida for planting of longleaf pine tublings. April, North ...
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