Ranging along the coasts of both the Gulf of Mexico and the western reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, the Speckled swimming crab (Arenaeus cribrarius) is a fairly nifty and surprisingly durable crab. In Volusia county, Speckled swimming crabs can be quite abundant at night as they troll about the surf hunting for prey or working hard at making baby crabs. They’re efficient at digging into the sand to hide and also quite good at delivering a nifty startle when they’re stepped upon by a hapless human treading through the shallow waves.
The Dolichos armyworm moth is a Noctuidae moth ranging from the southeastern United States south through Mexico and ultimately to Argentina in South America; that is to say, it’s an impressive and hardy little moth. Where I live in Volusia county, it’s also quite common — though often remains unnoticed due to its size and brown coloring. The Dolichos armyworm moth is a prime example of a seemingly-understated organism that really stands out when you stop, lean in, and take a closer look. I find this to be an extraordinarily beautiful little moth.
I feel like I might be blowing an opportunity by posting this today because I really should post it in October, right? For Halloween? People just love spiders on Halloween. Featured here are a number of Southern house spiders, Kukulcania hibernalis, photographed around an outdoor pavilion in Marion county, Florida. There were dozens upon dozens of these house spiders all over the rafters and support beams of the pavilion. It was one hell of a sight and a probably a bad place to be if you’re any other kind of arthropod.
Southern house spiders are remarkably widespread, ranging throughout much of North America and down to South America. They are also found on a number of the Caribbean isles. Fortunately, this species doesn’t really pose any kind of biological threat to people. With thanks to their creepy webbing, however, I can’t say the same about the potential of a “psychological” threat…. I love and adore spiders, but I must admit the sheer abundance of that webbing creeped me out just a wee bit. Not enough to drive me away, of course… I had a ball photographing these little beasties. I was also happy when I walked away untouched by web or by spider.
When people go the the beach, they tend to be somewhat blinded by the density of biodiversity surrounding them. Sure, we’ll take note of the big jellies when they wash up on the beach, and they’ll probably see the gulls and pelicans drifting overhead, but we often tend to not notice the little things. The Sargassum swimming crab, Portunas sayi, is certainly one of those little things.
The Sargassum swimming crab is aptly named. It scratches out a living by drifting along with floating mattes of sargassum, that “seaweed” stuff you often find washed up on the beach. Sargassum isn’t really a weed at all; it’s not a plant. Instead, sargassum is a heterokont lifeform, more specifically a brown macroalgae. Floating about in the ocean, vast tracts of sargassum actually provide an entirely unique type of habitat for other organisms. Nudibranchs, shrimps, crabs… There are an array of species that are specifically adapted to living among the sargassum tangles. This crab, the Sargassum swimming crab, is one of them.
Of course, sargassum also has a habit of washing ashore when storms pass or when currents work against their favor. Along with the sargassum itself, so too do other organisms wash up on the shore. Though many of these organisms will “jump ship,” so to speak, and try to find another free-floating matte of sargassum, sometimes you can find these hitchhikers right there on the beach — beneath your feet.
As you can tell in these photos, the Sargassum swimming crab is fairly small (though this is a juvenile). They are also beautifully adapted for camouflage in the sargassum tangles. The coloring is spot-on, if you will. I find this species to be a perfect example of the phrase “hiding in plain sight.” That is indeed what this species does. It hides in plain sight, right beneath your feet, as you scamper into the surf zone for a day of swimming and sun burning.
When it comes to snakes, it’s not all about the BIG ones. The little ones can be pretty cool, too. The little ones, the slim ones, the trim ones… even the ribbon ones. Yes, this is a young Peninsula ribbon snake, Thamnophis sauritus sackenii, photographed in Lake county during January of 2017.
Similar to the Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), the Peninsula ribbon snake is a slick, slim, and stealthy little cruiser. Though you can find them pretty much anywhere, I usually find Peninsula ribbons near bodies of fresh, calm water. Peninsula ribbons like to climb about in the foliage and bask up off the ground — sometimes directly over water. That was certainly the case with this one. I spotted it wrapped around a palmetto leaning over a fairly large lake. Indeed, I had to do a bit of wading in the water to get these shots. Always worth it.
Native to southeastern Asia, the Burmese, python, Python bivittatus, has certainly earned quite the reputation in south Florida. Though this species was recorded in Everglades National Park as far back in the 1980s, their real growth and expansion followed Hurricane Andrew in 1992. By the year 2000, they were classified as established and reproducing. Today, the Burmese python serves as a significant ecological burden and risk to native wildlife — including native reptiles and mammals.
In their native range, Burmese pythons average around twelve feet in length. In Florida, however, adults only average between six and nine feet in length, or so. The record in Florida is 17 feet. Impressive. Though they are non-venomous, the size and strength of the Burmese python, along with their adaptability and hardiness, poses a unique and significant ecological challenge to Florida’s native eco-matrix. Attempts to eradicate the species from south Florida have thus far been somewhat fruitless. Though countless individuals have been collected and “expired” (if you will), the sheer vastness and difficulty of the Everglades ecosystems certainly provide the Burmese pythons with innumerable advantages. I’m afraid the burden will be on native organisms to adapt to their new competitor. I’m not sure there’s anything people can do to eradicate the species at this point.
Burmese pythons can be considered semi-aquatic. They are often found near bodies of water (which the Everglades has plenty of) and prey on mammals and large reptiles (which the Everglades used to have more of). They are also exceedingly excellent at hiding in otherwise plain sight. You could easily walk right past a seven foot python adjacent to US 41 without ever realizing it’s hiding a few short feet away. Most individuals that have been collected or photographed were somewhat close to roads and pathways. If you look at a map of the Everglades system, you’ll realize roads are rare and sparse in that region… I can’t even imagine how many Burms live out a full life without ever making contact with a person.
The individual featured on this post is a youngster found crossing a road. Even as juveniles, Burmese pythons are impressive and quite able to compete with Florida’s native wildlife.
If you’d like to learn more about Burmese pythons in Florida (and what to do if you encounter one), check out the FWC’s Burmese Python page.
This isn’t really “wildlife” related, but it’s more than worth sharing and noting (and shouting):
If you don’t know Maria Bamford, you really aren’t doing this life thing correctly. Click that link and head over!
Cope’s gray treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis, is one of Florida’s numerous Hyla treefrog species. It is not, however, one of the species we typically have in my home county of Volusia. We’re not too far out of range, and anything’s possible, but this is not a species I’ve encountered in Volusia county just yet… All the more reason to head west and a bit north up the peninsula, right?
I was fortunate to find and photograph an array of Cope’s gray treefrogs in Gilchrist county back in April of 2014. The species is quite diverse in its visual patterning, and I managed to photograph a wide range of patterns. This individual, the first of these Gilchrist county Cope’s gray treefrog to be posted on Floridensis in due time, was quite distinctive and bold in its patterning. Check out the contrasts on that pattern. Awesome.
We’ll see plenty more of these frogs on Floridensis in due time.
With a wingspan ranging between three and seven inches across, it’s hard to miss an adult Imperial moth, Eacles imperialis, bunkered down on the back of your house. It’s a pretty hefty and colorful moth by North American standards. Fortunately for me, it’s also a species that tends to show up at our home quite a bit. I never get tired of seeing this massive moth resting on our house.
Ranging throughout much of the eastern portion of the United States, the Pearly wood nymph, Eudryas unio, is a member of Family Noctuidae (the Owlets and Miller Moths). I photographed this individual bunkered down for the day in Flagler county. It’s certainly a simple and elegantly folded moth. Check out the scalloped trim on the edges of those wings. Remarkable, right?
Not all marine gastropod mollusks live in shells, and this is certainly the case with the Sargassum nudibranch, Scyllaea pelagica. A member of Order Nudibranch, generally referred to as “sea slugs,” this species hitchhikes along with floating and buoyant Sargassum weed (a heterokont, not a plant). Sometimes it will linger about with weeds rooted down below, but it’s most frequently floating about the currents along with Sargassum — with which it is beautifully camouflaged. Sometimes, that Sargassum will wash ashore, carrying with it the nudibranch. Reaching lengths upwards to four inches or so, it’s easy to miss spotting this species tucked in the Sargassum. The camouflage truly is quite impressive.
People love to collect shells at the beach. As a kid growing up in Ormond Beach, Florida, I was no different. With time, however, I became more interested in the things that build and live within those shells… I became quite interested in our coastal, marine mollusks — the bivalves and the gastropods. I soon realized, however, that the variety of marine mollusks in our area is intimidating and enthralling. With that in mind, let’s just focus on one individual of one species.
Featured here is a Shark eye sea snail, Neverita duplicata, a small gastropod mollusk reaching up to about 3-3.5 inches in shell length. This species of sea snail is predatory; it actively hunts for bivalve mollusks near the low tide line. If you want to find living sea snails on the beach, check the sand in the shallow surf the hour wrapping around the low tide mark. They can sometimes be quite abundant along the shorelines of Volusia county, Florida. Though their shape may not be particularly enthralling, I do find the subtle color plays of both the shell and the snail itself to be absolutely gorgeous.