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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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Hiatus!

Sorry guys but I am taking a holiday hiatus to work on my thesis and enjoy time with family! Here are some pics to enjoy while I am gone.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Critter of the Week Nov. 28: Pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

An amazingly cute resident bird seen around Panther Island is the pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps). My supervisor calls them "submariners" b/c they like to evade their predators by sinking underwater or diving. Many people think they are a duck b/c their swimming is similar to that of ducks. However, they don't have webbed feet! Instead, each of their toes has these nifty lobes that extend out to increase surface area for paddling. This also happens to be the case for American coots! The pads are pretty stiff but do fold back as the foot is brought forward in the water. They will then flare outward as the foot is brought backward...herein is your increase in surface area! Pretty nifty adaptation if you ask me.

Pied-billed grebes forage on fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. And they do breed on Panther Island. I have seen the young out and about with the parents. They like to breed in areas that have dense stands of emergent vegetation and use all types of wetlands in the winter. I also think they have pretty cool nests. They build the nests by making an open bowl in a floating platform of vegetation. Clutch sizes are 3-10, and the eggs are bluish-white in coloration. The young are capable of leaving the nest within 1 day but usually stay on the platform b/c they don't swim well yet. They will actually sleep on a parent's back where the parent holds them close beneath the wing! By around 4 weeks old they are on the water day and night, but the first ten days they do this their response to danger is to climb onto a parent's back. But they eventually stop doing that and begin to dive to avoid danger. Pretty awesome parenting skills there though!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Critter of the Week: Coyote (Canis latrans)

Photo taken in Yellowstone National Park a few years ago.

Coyotes have an interesting history. Once a species found only in the western portion of the United States, it can now be found throughout the eastern United States, including Florida, reaching the northwestern region of the state in the 1970s. While this range expansion is a natural phenomenon, it was also aided by human trafficking. People would capture the animals in the western US and ship them to be released in Florida. Their scientific name, Canis latrans, actually means "barking dog" while the common name is derived from coyotl which is the name used by Mexico's Nahuatl Indians.

Photo above was taken at Babcock-Webb WMA, Florida

A member of the dog family, coyotes range from 20 and 30 pounds, and are considered the best runners of the canids, cruising along at a clip of 25-30 mph and can get up to speeds of 40 mph for short sprints. They can also make leaps of 14 ft.! One way to distinguish them from other canids is the way they hold their tail when running. Domestic dogs hold their tails up and wolves hold theirs straight.

Mating occurs in late winter when the females are in heat, and this is the only time in the year they will breed b/c the males sperm is only active this time of year (unlike domestic dogs whose is active year-round). Gestation lasts for 63 days and then an average of 6 pups per litter is born. Both parents and sometimes offspring from the previous year will rear the young. Dens, often in brush piles, hollow logs and burrows, are used until pups are about 8-10 weeks old. Pups will start exploring the world outside the den when about 3 weeks old. Around 9 months old the parental care ends and the pups begin to disperse to set up their own territories; however some pups will stay within the parents territory and assist with the next years litter. Pairing between parents may last for several years or even a lifetime. It may seem coyotes are extremely social like wolves, but in reality the basic social structure consist of just the breeding pair and their offspring with the strongest bonding occurring during breeding. Coyotes do have territories and their are resident (having established territories shared by family) and transient animals (typically younger animals living on the fringe of resident territories). The home ranges vary greatly in size (1,500 to 12,000 acres) depending on the population size and resources available (water, food, den sites, etc).

Photo above taken in Yellowstone National Park

Coyotes are highly adaptable and will forage on numerous different critters (an opportunist). They eat rabbits, mice, rats, fruits, birds, snakes, insects, and carrion. They usually hunt alone but will work together sometimes. I have seen them on Panther Island before, but the frequency of sitings is few and far, far between.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Critter of the Week: Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

As the weather starts to turn cooler, I start to see fewer and fewer butterflies. The one seen here is a black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) which is easily confused with a spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus)...and I hope I got this right after staring at numerous photos of both species and mine! Their vibrant colors can be seen as they flit across marshes, open areas, fields, meadows and gardens. This species exhibits sexual dimorphism (males and females vary in appearance). Adults feed on nectar of numerous plants including (but not limited to) thistles, milkweed, and red clover. Males will actually mix perching and patrolling for receptive females.

So once mating has occurred, females will lay eggs singly on host plants which are then consumed by the larvae. What plants are caterpillar hosts you ask? Well members of the parsley family (Apiaceae) which includes: dill, celery, carrots, and Queen Anne's lace. In some regions plants from the citrus famila (Rutaceae) are used...which is quite likely down here.

This is a relatively common butterfly and thus far there are no conservation concerns associated with them. However, things can change so lets keep protecting a wide variety of habitat!

Please click the link above for more information about the black swallowtail life cycle!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Plant of the Week: Saltmwarsh Mallow (Kosteltzkya pentacarpos)

The saltmarsh mallow (Kosteltzkya pentacarpos) is actually a member of the hibiscus (Malvaceae) family . Commonly found in Florida in saltmarshes and freshwater wetlands, it often goes unnoticed. And then one day the beautiful flowers draw your eye. This perennial plant is hermaphroditic (having both male and female reproductive organs). It can bloom anytime from the spring into the fall. It grows to 4-6 ft. tall and only lives about 5 years. This native plant is available commercially, and it would be a great addition to any hummingbird or butterfly gardens since it does attract these lovely critters (as a nectar source).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Critter of the Week Oct. 10: Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis )

During the summer months, I must admit I sometimes get down and out while working because of the heat and bugs. But the wildlife keeps me smiling...especially our year-round resident black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis). These medium-sized ducks have long necks and long, pink legs, and imagine this...a black belly. I readily identify them in my area from their red bills. In flight, one can see a large white patch their wings. Their call is a wheezy and musical whistling, quite distinctive!
These ducks nest in tree cavities or boxes near water. Often one sees them in large flocks. I typically see them along the edge of the flow-way in flocks ranging from 2-10. The largest flock I have counted on Panther Island is 32! They are, in fact, breeding on Panther Island as I have seen ducklings on occasion.
Black-bellied whistling ducks forage on grass, grain, insects, mollusks, and aquatic plants. Behaviorally, they actually resemble swans and geese in that they lack sexual dimorphism (visual difference between males and females of the same species), form pretty long pair-bonds, and have relatively simple pair-forming behavior.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Plant of the Week: Sugarcane Plume Grass (Saccharum giganteum)

Field of sugarcane plume down at Corkscrew

Fall has to be one of my favorite times of year out on Panther Island. People talk about the brilliant colors of the trees up north, but we have our own special colors down here! And one plant that always impresses me with its coloring is sugarcane plume grass (Saccharum giganteum). This lovely plant is commonly found growing in a variety of habitats including: marshes, wetter pine flatwoods, lakes shores, and more. I typically have this growing in wet prairies at Panther Island.

This native was once a dominant grassland plant throughout the southeastern United States; however as has happened in numerous places it has been extirpated in lots of areas since humans arrived here. There are approximately ten species of plume grasses in the United States. I am also happy to say that this plant is increasing and spreading on Panther Island as we manage to knock back invasives even farther on the restored land.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Plant of the Week: Bottlebrush Threeawn (Aristida Spiciformis)

Now I know this probably sounds dorky, but I absolutely have favorite grasses! And bottlebrush threeawn (Aristida spiciformis) has to be in my top five. This native species started popping up in a pine flatwoods area after we burned it, and every fall it comes back in greater numbers (so I must be doing something right as a land manager!).

Grasses are often overlooked by people. Often one looks out and sees just one type of grass like St. Augustine or bermuda (a non-native used in sports fields that readily escapes cultivation and displaces natives). However, there are a wealth of grasses out there; it is often hard to tell two species apart and sometimes can only be done using a loop (magnifying glass) and looking at seeds! Native grasses are important for our wildlife though, and there are many beautiful grasses that can be used in landscaping (such as muhly {Muhlenbergia capillaris} and Fakahatchee {Tripsacum dactyloides}).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Critter of the Week: Black Racer Snake (Coluber constrictor)

 One of the most common snakes I see on Panther Island is the black racer (Coluber constrictor). There are numerous subspecies of this snake throughout the eastern United States. These guys can get pretty long (up to 60 in). They typically have some white under the chin and will be smooth scaled and have large eyes. There is quite a bit of variation within the species though, and they can be mistaken for other species of larger snakes in the area. Behavior is a great way to identify this snake. Most snakes will freeze, but these guys will often "race" away when they feel threatened; but don't be fooled, when cornered they will stand their ground and attempt to strike. Young racers do not look like adults; instead they are often tan or greyish with a series of brown or reddish blotches that run down the middle of their backs. And their eyes are typically larger and bodies more slender than most young snakes. Once about 12 inches they will lose their juvenile coloring.

 Black racers can be found in a variety of habitats.They are opportunistic predators; in Florida, they feed on frogs, lizards, and other snakes (along with rodents, birds, eggs, etc). I found the snake in the photo to the left by following the sound of it rapidly moving its tail in the leaf litter! I thought I was on the trail of a rattlesnake when I saw this racer consuming another snake. They are not constrictors; instead they bite their prey and hold them down against the ground until it stops moving, and then prey is consumed while alive. While primarily terrestrial, as seen in the top photo, they are quite adept at climbing vegetation. Breeding occurs from March through June. Females will lay 6-20 eggs during the summer (May through August), and the newborns are a mere 6-9 inches long.

The photo above was taken on the fringe of a cypress forest (using a telephoto lens). This black racer is getting ready to shed (a process known as ecdysis)! Note its opaque eye...sign of shedding. This milky coloring is actually the result of the eye cap (a specially adapted scale that covers the eye) being loosened up in order to be shed along with the rest of the skin.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Critter of the Week: Northern Rough-winged swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

 One of my favorite things to watch is birds coming in to take a drink. Today was a rare treat as I was able to watch some northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)! Named for the rough edges of their outermost wing feathers, these guys are summer residents of the northern United States and Canada and migrate south for the winter to Central America.
The habitat of these aerial acrobatics includes lakes, rivers, ponds, etc. They forage almost exclusively on aerial insects...usually capturing its prey close to the ground or water's surface.This species is more solitary than other swallows and doesn't nest in large colonies like those of the bank swallow. They do nest in burrows or cavities, often times made by other critters (but they can dig their own)...or in one case inside a Civil War cannon! They nest in late May and June, and their clutches are typically 4-8 eggs. Interestingly, Steglidopteryx means "scraper wing" in Greek while serripennis means "saw feather" in Latin.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hello all! You can't tell but this Big Brown bat is actually saying "Thanks for coming to Corkscrew International Bat Night presentation!"

Stay tuned for more critter, plant, etc. of the week posts starting up next week! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another bat species: Mexican long-tongued bat (Choeronycteris mexicana)

Yet another bat species found in the United States is the Mexican long-tongued bat (Choeronycteris mexicana). A member of the Phyllostomidae family (leaf-nosed bats), this species is found throughout Mexico and into El Salvador and Honduras. They can be found in the far southern reaches of California, Arizona, and New Mexico where they are very rare. Apparently only females migrate to this region

I had the great joy of handling some of these gals while in Arizona, and I love their faces! Their long snouts and tongues are perfect for acquiring their food...nectar! Mexican long-tongued bats forage on nectar and pollen from plants such as agave (yeah...we need them for tequila!). They will also go to and forage from hummingbird feeders. But this supplement doesn't necessarily pack the wollop that their natural food sources do, and there is ongoing research to look at the impacts of hummingbird feeders on behavior of the bats.

See bats foraging on plants!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

International Bat Night... August 27th! Preregister for a program at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary!

The United Nations Environmental Programme has declared 2011-2012 the "Year of the Bat" and we at Corkscrew want to celebrate these fascinating and often persecuted and misunderstood creatures. I will be giving a presentation in the classroom at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary on Bats of the World from 6:45 until 7:45. Then we are going to go out to one of the bat houses and watch them emerge!

For more information, prices, etc. please contact Karin Becker via phone 239-348-9151 ext. 108 or email

Photo by Jennifer Beltran

Critter of the Week Aug. 15: Seminole Bat (Lasiurus seminolus)

So I must admit that I have great love for this particular species of bat because it is the first species I ever removed from a mist net on my own. Plus they are just beautiful!

Seminole bats (Lasiurus seminolus) are members of the Vespertilionidae family. They are found in the southeastern United States but seem to be closely tied to the distribution of Spanish moss (one of its preferred roosting sites). They also use pine trees. Seminole bats (like other Lasiurines) are solitary roosters and commonly are referred to as "tree" bats b/c of their roosting preferences.  They look very similar to other tree bats but their fur is typically a deep rich mahogany color and often the very tips of the fur have white "frosting" (as seen in the top photo). These insectivores feed primarily on moths, beetles, true bugs,  and flies (to name a few).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Critter of the Week Aug. 8: Pallid bat (Antrozus pallidus)

One of my all-time favorite bats is the pallid bat (Antrozus pallidus). I had the great joy of handling some of these guys when at a bat conservation and management workshop in Arizona. A member of the Vespertilionidae family, these insectivores are unique, even in the bat world. Their over-sized ears (even by bat standards!) allow them to detect insects by their footsteps! Their hearing is so amazing that they can respond with uncanny precision to split-second sounds from up to 16 ft away. After capturing its prey, it will carry its meal to a perch for consumption. They tend to like thicker, harder-bodied insects like beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers. Another cool pallid bat fact: they eat scorpions and are immune to scorpion stings!! Pallid bats are found in the western United States. These solitary bats typically roost in rock crevices, buildings and bridges in arid and semi-arid regions. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bats in the Belfry!

In honor of the UNEP declaration of the year 2011-2012 as the Year of the Bat, the next few blogs will revolve around bats of the United States and other nations. And a special note, August 27th is International Bat Night! So look around in your community to see about any special programs.

Evening Bat captured in Southern Florida

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Back! Plant of the week July 25: Swamp lily

The swamp lily aka string lily (Crinum americanum) is a native tropical perennial found throughout Florida and much of the southeastern United States.  It is an obligate wetland species. This means under natural conditions you will almost always see them growing in wetlands. This includes: wet prairies, depression marshes, ditches, hydric hammocks, floodplains, riverine marshes, and wet pastures (to name a few). The lily is a bulb, and it is extremely difficult to extract these guys from the ground. The large flowers are very fragrant and showy. And its fruiting body is a large capsule that is 4-6 cm wide and can have 1 to many large fleshy seeds inside.

People sometimes confuse these flowers with members of the spiderlily (Hymenocallis) genus. However, the swamp lily has a very distinctive feature to look for: bright red, purple, or pink stamen filaments (which you can see in the photos).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Temporary Hiatus!

Hey all! I am taking a two week hiatus during my final push to complete thesis data collection. Look for continuing posts in early July!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Critter of the Week June 6: Nothern Bobwhite Quail

The Northern bobwhite is considered a game species, and at one time they were found throughout the state in appropriate habitat. However, with the human population expanding, their habitat has dwindled or become degraded. Now more abundant numbers as only found in areas where the land is heavily managed to mimic what once was. Panther Island is home to 2-3 small coveys of this species, and we are working to improve the habitat in the hopes that we can someday support more.
For more here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Critter of the Week May 30: Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata guttata) aka Red Rat Snake

This beautiful snake is a relatively common snake; however their wild numbers are possibly being negatively impacted by illegal collection for the pet trade (BOO! on this illegal activity!). If you are looking to buy a snake as a pet and choose this species, please ask the pet store or distributor you purchase the snake from where the animal came from!

Corn snakes can be found throughout Florida and range to the Mississippi River and then nrothward to southern New Jersey. They can be found in a variety of habitats including pinelands, swamps, agricultural areas, residential areas, and hardwood hammocks. Frogs, rodents, lizards, and birds and bird eggs are their primary prey. From April to June, they breed and females will 3-40 eggs during the summer months. From July to September these eggs hatch and the young cornsnakes try to repeat the cycle of life.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I am having trouble getting the pictures up! Sorry...hopefully this gets corrected soon.