Panther Island Adventures!

Panther Island is 2,800 acres of restored wetland and upland habitats situated in the northwest corner of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's 13,000 acres. It is home to numerous plants and animals including the Florida panther and the iconic wood stork.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter vacation!

So it is that time of year! I will be back on track with the beginning of the New Year with more photos and information about my lovely Panther Island and all that it encompasses. Happy Holidays!!!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Critter of the Week: Snowy Egret

The snowy egret is a common site on Panther Island (this photo however was taken in the Everglades!). They are distinguished by their black legs and yellow slippers. This species forages in both freshwater and saltwater habitats. I have seen them fly low over water dragging their feet in the water, land, and forage after fish that followed these feet. They will also wiggle their feet around to startle prey. They eat crustaceans, insects, and fish.
Snowy egrets are monogamous during breeding season and will nest in colonies with other wading birds. The colonies form in mangrove islands and swamps in emergent vegetation over water. Nests are built out of sticks and then lined with fine twigs and rushes. Both sexes build the nest. Incubation, a responsibility of both parents, lasts from 20-24 days. The young will stay in the nest for about 30 days before heading out on their own.
The snowy egret is one of the numerous species that were almost wiped out by plume hunters at the turn of the century. Hunters killed them for their feathers for women's hats. While their numbers rebounded over the years, they are still listed in Florida as a species of special concern due to declining breeding numbers, probably due to loss of and degradation of wetlands and coastal breeding habitats.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Back in action next week!

Family in town so I will be back in action next week!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Critter of the Week: Halloween Pennant Dragonfly (Celithemis eponina)

 One of my favorite things to watch is dragonflies! The species seen here is the Halloween Pennant dragonfly. It is so named for its orange and black (or brown) wings. They tend to be locally abundant, especially in areas like lakes, ponds, and marshes that have emergent vegetation. If not fluttering around, I often see them atop tall grasses and other vegetation along the edges of the water. Like other dragonflies they forage on smaller insects like mosquitoes (YEAH!), ants, flies, etc. The females lay eggs and once these eggs hatch the larvae are known as "nymphs". And interestingly, the longest stage of the dragonfly life cycle is the nymph stage! The nymphs forage on mosquito larvae and other invertebrates.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Plant of the Week: Brazilian Pepper (Invasive Exotic! BAD!)

Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) is an extremely problematic non-native invasive shrub or tree that is invading natural areas to the point that it disrupts the native communities.  This plant is native to Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. It was introduced into the United States as an ornamental back in the 1840s. It can invade numerous habitat types including pinelands, hardwood hammocks, cypress, and even mangrove forests. It tends to form dense thickets; these thickets don't allow much light to penetrate so numerous natives can't grow or are displaced. 
This plant has been seen flowering throughout the year in Florida, but the most intense period of flowering is in the fall (between September and November). It is readily spread by wildlife that forage on its bright red berries. It is very resilient and can re-sprout readily from the trunk, making it ever harder to eradicate. A relative of poison ivy, it produces chemicals that can irritate people's skin and respiratory systems.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coming Soon! ... Habitat and Invasive Plants of the Week!

So yet again I have decided to incorporate more entities to highlight on my blog. So I am going to "mix" in some information about different habitats found on Panther Island as well as teach you about the nasty non-native invasive plants that we work to remove and control plus some of the techniques used (like "fire... fire").

Monday, November 8, 2010

Critter of the Week: Seminole bat (Lasiurus seminolus)

One of my all time favorite animals is the Seminole bat (Lasiurus seminolus) . A member of the Vespertilionidae family, these bats are solitary roosters that often use pine trees or Spanish moss for roosts. The rich mahogany color of their fur with its white tips is great camouflage, and when one hangs from a single foot in a tree they look like a dead leaf! There are also often white patches at the wrists and shoulders. These bats are found throughout Florida (except the Keys), up to North Carolina, and along the Gulf to eastern Texas.
 Seminole bats are medium-sized. They have wingspans from 11-13 inches and weigh 9-14 grams. Just for comparison, a US minted nickel weighs exactly 5 grams! These bats forage on insects such as moths, beetles, flies, and more. Females give birth to 1 to 4 young but in Florida it is typically 3 or 4 pups, born in mid-May to mid-June. These pups will take their first flights when they reach 3 to 4 weeks old.

For more information visit these websites:
Florida Bat Conservancy
Bat Conservation International 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Critter of the Week: Red-shouldered Hawk

One of my favorite birds is also one of Panther Island's most common, the red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus). These vocal raptors feed primarily on small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds, often going after the more sluggish and therefore more easily captured prey. While they prefer hunting from They prefer woodland habitats near water. They typically nest in large mature trees that have good canopy cover. Nests themselves are large bowls made of sticks, bark, dried leaves, Spanish moss, and lichens and also line their nests with Spanish moss, lichen, and fine bark. Clutch sizes range from 2-5 eggs, and the eggs hatch after approximately 33 days. An interesting tidbit is that by 5 days old, the young birds are able to shoot their feces over the edge of the nest! So if there is a nest around, look for bird guano on the ground to see if it is active.
There are actually 5 subspecies of red-shouldered hawk. The four eastern forms have ranges that abutt, but the western form is separated by 1000 miles from the "easterns". Two of the 4 subspecies breed in Florida. From the panhandle to Lake Okeechobee is Buteo lineatus alleni. In southern Florida and the Keys, Buteo lineatus extimus ( which is smaller and paler) breeds. When identifying these birds in flight, look for distinctive pal translucent crescents across the outer primaries.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Plant of the Week: Goldenrod (Solidago fistulosa)

 During the fall, lots of beautiful yellow flowers are in bloom, one of them is goldenrod. There are numerous species of goldenrod. The one here is pinebarren goldenrod (Solidago fistulosa). A perennial herb, they can grow to 2 meters tall. This member of the Aster family has a flowering "head" that is actually composed of numerous tiny disc and ray flowers arranged in spikes on slender upper branches. This is an excellent butterfly attractor, and bees love it too (if you like bees that is!).

Monday, October 18, 2010

No critter/plant! Just pretty pics!

I am having trouble typing after my first full day of exotics work back at work after six weeks of minimal activity due to a broken wrist. So here are some cool pics of Panther Island!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Plant of the week: Ladies'- tresses species

 Ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes) are orchids found in the family Orchidaceae. The pictures here I took in a pine flatwoods and there were probably 30 of them! I am not 100% if they are southern ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes torta) or lacelip ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes laciniata). To me, they are similar in appearance. The southern species is listed as endangered at the state level while the lacelip species is listed as threatened.

Sorry I haven't posted more information! 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Critter of the week Oct. 4: Lubber grasshopper

 The Eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera) is a native grasshopper that can be found in the southeastern United States. It is the only lubber found in the east. The adults (pictured above) are easily distinguished from other grasshoppers by their vivid yellow/red/black coloration. The nymph aka juvenile (pictured below) is also very distinct with its black body and red or yellow stripes. Their coloration is a warning to predators (aposematic) that they don't taste good!
This grasshopper is flightless. Adult males are smaller than the females. In the summer, females will lay 1 to 3 separate egg masses (each mass with about 50 eggs) in soil excavations measuring 5 cm deep. The eggs hatch then in the following spring. These little guys will go throught 5 instars of about 20 days each before reaching sexual maturity. Instars are basically the developmental stages between each molt.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Critter of the week Sept. 27: Green Treefrog

 The green treefrog (Hyla cinerea)  is basically a constant companion of mine in the field. I end up seeing them in the wetlands, and I often have them hitchhike on my person or vehicles.  They live in almost any habitat that is wet such as swamps, sloughs, They are easily confused with another native species, the Squirrel treefrog (Hyla squirella). Gree treefrogs have a light  lateral stripe with distinct borders. If this line is lacking (which does occur) then look for small yellow spots on their back to distinguish them from their cousins. Treefrogs have toes that end with adhesive discs. Additionally their long limbs and fingers aid in their ability to cling to surfaces like twigs and leaves. Its range extends throughout the southeastern United States.  For more information click here!

To see a male green treefrog calling, click here!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Plant of the week Sept. 20: Pine lily

The pine lily aka Catesby's lily (Lilium catesbaei) is a beautiful flower that brings a pop of color to Panther Island's mesic and hydric pine flatwoods as well as wet prairies and savannas. This perennial monocot is found in the southeastern United States where it blooms in fall and early winter. In Florida, it is listed as threatened. To date, I have seen at least 15 in bloom in different areas of Panther Island.  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Plant of the week Sept 13: American White Waterlily

The American white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) is native to Florida and can be found throughout the United States and into Canada. This dicot is a perennial, and I love seeing it blooming in areas where invasive grasses such as torpedo grass ( Panicum repens) have been successfully eradicated. I often see small frogs and insects in the flowers petals or sometimes on the pads themselves.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Critter of the week Sept. 6: Florida Black Bear

This week's critter is the threatened Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus), a subspecies of the more common black bear (Ursus americanus). Black bears belong to the family Ursidae which consists of nine species, three of which can be found in the United States (polar bear and grizzly bear are the other two but we don't get them here!).

Our black bear typically weighs from 250-450 pounds for males and 150-250 for females. these critters get that big as omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter; the majority of their diet is vegetation though such as acorns, nuts, berries, other vegetation such as alligator flag and even insects. The meat they eat is most often scavenged.

Florida black bears are faced with the serious problem of habitat fragmentation. They are forced to travel farther to find new food, denning sites, and mates. As a result of human encroachment in the form of roads, approximately 85% of bear deaths each year are attributed to road kills.Many of these deaths could be avoided by slowing down! Thanks to Linda Berthelsen for the photo above!

Click for more information

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Critter delayed!

So I managed to break my wrist, making typing a tad hard this week. Will get back on schedule next week!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Critter of the Week Aug 23: Giant Swallowtail

The Giant Swallowtail butterfly is one of my favorites! These beautiful and large butterflies lay their eggs on trees and shrubs in the Rutaceae family (this includes cultivated citrus!). Their caterpillars called "orange dogs" resemble bird poop (talk abotu awesome camo!).
With a wingspan of 4-6 inches, the adults flit around in search of nectar plants like swamp milkweed, lantana, goldenrod, honeysuckle and more. They prefer habitats like rocky and sandy hillsides along waterways (streams, etc) up in the northern portion of its range. In the south, they prefer pine flatwoods, citrus groves, and even towns (with lots of lovely gardens!).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

NEW! Plant of the Week Aug. 16: Sunflower

Understanding the plants that are native and nonnative is important for managing the land for wildlife. So I will be doing plants on occasion now!
And the first plant is the Southeastern Sunflower (Helianthus agrestis). This is an annual that is pollinated by insects such as butterflies and bees. I love watching the smaller birds forage in these flowers during the fall.
There are approximately 21 species of sunflower in Florida belonging to the family Asteraceae. It is the only species of sunflower to grow to such heights and in such large patches in this region of Florida.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Critter of the Week Aug. 9: Common Buckeye

The common buckeye is a migratory species of butterfly. We see them in the fall and winter months because they can't survive freezing temperatures. In the spring though they migrate north. They are in the brush-footed family (Nymphalidea). These butterflies prefer sunny areas that are open with low vegetation and some bare ground. They use a wide variety of nectar sources. For more information...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Critter of the Week Aug 2: Brazilian free-tailed bat

I LOVE BATS! Have I told you guys... I ADORE BATS!
Now people fear these little flying mammals because of so much misinformation "flying" around. But if this world had no bats, there would be far fewer species of plants and WAY more insects chomping on us at night! This picture was taken by my good friend Jennifer Beltran at emergence time of Bracken Cave. Bracken Cave is located in Texas and is the largest concentration of mammals on earth. Seen here is a Brazilian free-tailed bat which is a common resident of Florida. This species has a scent gland. The gland, located at throat base, secretes a strong musky odor. The odor reminds me of Fritos chips actually! You can smell a colony of these bats! They are commonly found roosting in manmade structures such as bridges, stadiums, attics, barrel tile roofs, etc. They are likely candidates for bat houses as well. The Florida population roosting behavior varies from populations in the central and southwestern United States.
These high fast flyers forage on insects such as moths, flies, and beetles and are known to be great controllers of agriculural pests in certain areas of the country.
For more information...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Critter of the Week July 19: Bald Eagle

Sorry not to do my own write-up but I am not feeling well this evening. For more information about Florida's bald eagles...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Critter of the Week July 12: Northern River Otter

One of my favorite animals to watch at Panther Island is the northern river otter. This species is a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) which also includes minks, ferrets, martens, skunks, weasels, badgers, and wolverines. There are 16 species of Mustelids in North America (north of Mexico). All Mustelids have a pair of scent glands near their tail. Northern river otters use them to mark territory. But in skunks these are highly developed! These semi-aquatic mammals have long streamlined bodies supported on land by short legs ending in completely webbed feet with claws and thick tapered tails. They can close their nostrils underwater, and another adaptation is thick dense fur for insulation in the water where they can actually hold their breath for up to 4 minutes and reach speeds of 6 mph! Their whiskers are super sensitive so they can sense prey even in murky waters. They are found in canals, marshes, swamps, rivers, streams, lakes, and estuaries where they forage on a variety of aquatic critters like frogs, fish, turtles, crabs, crayfish, and more.

To learn more about northern river otters click here!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Update from Corkscrew!

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to the endangered Ghost Orchid. And once again it is in full bloom! Come visit us!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Critter of the Week for July 5: Banded Sphinx Moth

The caterpillars for the banded sphinx moth are large and beautiful! Primrose-willow and other plants in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae) are the host plants for the caterpillars of this species. The caterpillars are also extremely variable (both photos above are banded sphinx moth caterpillars). Note the similar black dots and white banding. Their range extends from northern Argentina northward to the southern United States. Once the caterpillars have matured, they descend from the host plant and can into shallow subterranean burrows where they pupate. In butterfly and moth terminology, a "flight" is a generation of adults. The Florida population has several flights in a year. Adults forage on the nectar of a variety of flowers under cover of night. Sphinx moths are often referred to a hawk moths. This is due to their strong flying and hovering abilities. These moths can almost get speeds up to 25 mph!  For photos of the adult moth go to...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Critter of the week June 21: Pig Frog

Another favorite of mine is the pig frog. This native is sometimes confused with the bullfrog but can be differentiated by its pointed snout; its fourth toe also goes just beyond the webbing whereas in a bullfrog there is a noticeable extension beyond the webbing. In males, the eardrum (aka tympanum) is larger than the eye but is smaller or equal to the eye in the female. Their call is like the grunt of a pig.... hence its common name! They are found at the edges of lakes, marshes, rivers, swamps, etc. This species will eat a variety of items such as insects, small crustaceans, small reptiles, small amphibians, and even worms! For more information...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Critter of the Week June 14: Southern Leopard Frog

The Southern Leopard frog is one of my favorite frogs (although really I like all the native frogs!). These guys are found throughout the southeastern US, and their range overlaps with the Northern Leopard frog. They are distinguished from the Northern by 1) a distinct light spot in the middle of the typanum (yes, google that word!), 2) longer, more pointed head, and 3) just a few dark spots on the side of the body. They can be found in all types of shallow freshwater habitats, and interestingly, they even venture into brackish coastal marshes. Recently some herpetologists have started to distinguish a separate species as the Florida Leopard frog, but it depends on who you talk to! They forage on insects, small fish, and small crustaceans. When threatened they will emit one short high-pitched squeak. I felt so blessed to get the shots seen here. There were literally 100s of these guys in shallow puddles foraging on tiny fish on Panther Island. I must admit to laying in the mud to get most of these shots.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Critter of the Week for May 31: Green Anole

The Green Anole can be found all over the southeastern US. It is Florida's only native anole species though. These guys can change color some and can often be seen as a light brown. There are a variety of factors that influence coloring including temperature, background (camouflage), and emotion. In southwestern Florida, the green anoles cream-colored dewlaps, and yes both males and females have dewlaps. the males is slightly larger though. Green anoles have been studied extensively for their behaviors, adn much can be found about their breeding and territorial displays. They forage on insects, spiders and other small arthropods.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Critter of the Week for May 17: White Peacock

Panther Island is home to a variety of butterflies including the white peacock. This species is a member of the brush-footed butterfly family. Water hyssop is the favored larval food. They prefer moist and open habitats. These guys typically fly with shallow wingbeats close to the ground. The adults typically feed on verbenas species. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Critter of the Week May 10: Florida box turtle

t.The Florida Box turtle is one of six subspecies of box turtle. This subspecies can be found in woodlands, marshes, wetlands, and swamp edges. They are omnivorous in the wild.