Spring Break 2018: A Beefy Florida Green Watersnake

 Nerodia floridana, the Florida green watersnake;
Collier county, Florida (15 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

Following the slim, little Florida green watersnake from our previous post, here’s a significantly larger and beefier Nerodia floridana. Comparing the two sets of photographs, you can get a sense of how watersnakes tend to beef up as they age. While youngsters appear somewhat trim and slim, the adults can get proportionally more robust and downright beefy. This certainly applies to Brown watersnakes (Nerodia taxispilota) as well (if not more so).

The “catching” of this watersnake is worth sharing, I think. We found this hefty ribbon of beef basking along the edge of a canal line immediately adjacent to two other watersnakes (the previously-posted “slim” Green watersnake and a yet-to-be-posted rough-and-tumbled Brown watersnake). We weren’t sure which one to catch, so we decided to go for all three at the same time. Heh. Fortunately, it worked out to plan. With four hands between the two of us, we were able to snag all three snakes at the same time. I don’t keep such records, but if I did keep such records I think this was the first time I participated in a successful catch of three snakes representing two species caught with four hands at the same time… Maybe?

As always, it’s worth nothing that this species is (along with all of Florida’s Nerodia watersnakes) entirely non-venomous. Cottonmouths are an entirely different game.

 

Spring Break 2018: A Slim Florida Green Watersnake

Nerodia floridana, the Florida green watersnake;
Collier county, Florida (15 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

Though Brown watersnakes (Nerodia taxispilota) ran supreme during our Spring Break 2018 sojourn to south Florida, we were also glad to find a few Florida green watersnakes, Nerodia floridana, in Collier county. A fairly large and robust non-venomous species of watersnake, the Florida green watersnake is also arguably the most difficult of our Nerodia watersnakes to get a hold of; they prefer to bask atop reed-like grasses floating above or rising from open freshwater just a bit off the shoreline. Fortunately for us, we were able to find a few canal-line individuals right at the shoreline.

This particular individual is not a juvenile, but it’s still fairly young, trim, and slim by Florida green watersnake standards. Our next post will present a significantly larger and more “beefy” Florida green.

Regardless of mass and volume, so to speak, the Florida green watersnake is non-venomous and is not something to be afraid of. They’re quick to flee into the water when threatened and pose no significant threat to humans. They will, of course, sometimes defend themselves vigorously when grabbed (as they should), but Florida green watersnakes would much rather disappear into the water and evade human interaction.

Spring Break 2018: The Black-crowned Night Heron

Nycticorax nycticorax, the Black-crowned night heron;
Monroe county, Florida (16 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

Ranging throughout much of North and Central America, the Black-crowned night heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, is a relatively small heron species. Though quite common, they’re not as easily or often seen compared to other heron species. They spend much of the day hidden somewhat beneath foliage near or above water. Though typically more active in the evening hours, during our trip south we saw tons of Black-crowned night herons out and about during the day — especially during the morning hours. Perhaps this is more typical of the early spring in South Florida? I’m not sure, but I do know I’ve never seen so many Black-crowned night herons active and obviously visible during the daylight hours. It was really something.

Spring Break 2018: In Search of Gray-Dewlap Green Anoles (Part III)

Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole;
Collier county, Florida (15 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

This is our third of five (or so) variant Carolina green anoles, Anolis carolinensis, photographed in Collier county during Spring Break 2018. Unlike most Carolina green anoles, many of the individuals in parts of Collier county seem to sport darker dewlaps than is typical elsewhere. This specific anole’s dewlap wasn’t toooo dark, but it certainly wasn’t the typical light pink we usually see up north in Volusia county.

Of note, you can also get a sense of how dramatically the Carolina green anole can change its dorsal colors. When we first caught this anole, it was emerald green — but quickly turned dark brown. This is likely why some people refer to Carolina green anoles as little “chameleons.” In fact, anoles aren’t closely related to chameleons at all… and a decent number of lizards have the ability to shift coloration or pattern boldness in response to environmental stimuli or other such cues. Color change, however, does not really apply to the anole’s dewlap — the little fold of skin under the anole’s neck.

If you stumbled on this post midstream in the series, background to the gray-dewlap variants of Carolina green anoles was covered in back in Part I. If you’d like to learn much, much more about anoles, I always recommend folks to head over to Anole Annals, a community blog devoted to All Things Anolis.

 

 

Spring Break 2018: White Ibises Biding the Plenty of Time

Eudocimus albus, the American white ibis;
Monroe county, Florida (14 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

The American white ibis, Eudocimus albus, is a fairly abundant and comically awesome species ranging throughout much of the coastal American southeast. Throughout the Florida peninsula, they’re pretty much everywhere — especially near or at freshwater. In the Big Cypress region of south Florida, it’s hard to not see a plethora of White ibis loitering about; in the shallows, in the trees, in the skies above, the ibis are pretty much everywhere. This is fine by me; this is one bird species I actually, truly, and mercilessly adore beyond all rhyme and reason.

Spring Break 2018: One Big Brown Watersnake

Nerodia taxispilota, the Brown watersnake;
Monroe county, Florida (14 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

Heaven knows I can’t get enough of Nerodia watersnakes, and Spring Break 2018 certainly provided a plethora of these misunderstood and non-venomous snakes. Of all the Nerodia watersnakes we found in our south Florida romp, the Brown watersnake, Nerodia taxispilota, was clearly the most abundant.

In 48 hours, we observed 53 total snakes in south Florida. Of those, 22 of them were positively identified as Brown watersnakes. In contrast, 13 were Banded watersnakes, 5 were Florida green watersnakes, 3 were Cottonmouths, and 10 were unidentified snakes, likely watersnakes, that slipped into the water before we could identify them. I’d be willing to bet that most of the “unidentified” snakes were also Brown watersnakes because of their habitat and positioning; Brown watersnakes prefer to bask in foliage hanging over the water. Their primary mode of defense is to simply drop into the water — and that’s precisely what happened with most of our “unidentified” encounters. Plop.

As for the Brown watersnakes we came across, we found them at various stages of life. Some were rather young and trim while others were chunky beefcakes with some mileage on them. This individual was, like myself, somewhat middle-aged. It had some mass to it, but still showed strong patterning on its dorsal (some browns, but not all, lose a bit of the contrast in their dorsal patterning when and if they get old).

Brown watersnakes are entirely non-venomous. They will, however, sometimes (but not always) bite in self-defense if grabbed or accosted by hand or foot. They’re certainly not a species to fear, though the same could and probably should be said (again and again) of all native snake species in Florida. Learn what they are and respect their space, and there won’t be any problems!

 

Spring Break 2018: Call it the Anhinga or, if you’re feeling technical, Anhinga anhinga

Anhinga anhinga, the Anhinga;
Collier county, Florida (15 March 2018).
Spring Break 2018.

Common names, such as Dusky pigmy rattlesnake,” can be fairly easy to learn and pronounce. No problem there, right? Dusky-pigmy-rattlesnake. Easy. On the other hand, however, Latin names, the technical/scientific names for organisms, can be pretty tough learn and to pronounce. The Dusky pigmy rattlesnake, for example, is Sistrurus miliarius barbouri. Yikes. That’s a stiff drink of a Latin name. Try pronouncing that three times while spinning in a circle. Not. Easy.

Fortunately, however, we make it easy on ourselves from time to time. Featured here is the Anhinga, a lovely bird sometimes also commonly referred to as a “snake bird” because it can dive under water and slink its head above the surface in a somewhat-snake-like fashion. “Anhinga” is a pretty easy name to remember. It’s also really easy to pronounce. It gets better. If you want to be all technical and stuff, its Latin name is also easy to remember and pronounce: Anhinga anhinga. That’s right, this bird belongs to Genus Anhinga and species Anhinga within genus Anhinga. Thus, the scientific designation for the Anhinga is Anhinga anhinga. How’s that for easy cheesy?

So, if you want to be all technical and stuff and really impress your friends, next time you see an Anhinga, be sure to tell them its scientific name is Anhinga anhinga. It’s a hell of a lot easier to pull off than pronouncing the Roseate spoonbill’s name, Platalea ajaja.

Anhinga anhinga, 15 March 2018

Spring Break 2018: In Search of Gray-Dewlap Green Anoles (Part II)

Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole;
Collier county, Florida (15 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

During this little Spring Break 2018 micro-series, I’ll continue spanning out a number of  “gray dewlap” Green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) photographed in Collier county, Florida. You can read the background to the whole “gray dewlap” issue (species, subspecies, and all that jazzhere.

We found this particular individual basking in a mixed green phase. Carolina green anoles can shift their dorsal colors from a light, emerald green to a milky, mocha or even nearly-black shade of brown. The colors will shift a bit in response to environmental and psychological factors. When basking comfortably, they tend to be green… and when they’re suddenly caught, for example, they tend to turn dark brown fairly quickly. You can see this in the images below (green while basking, brown in hand).

Of note here, anoles don’t change the colors of their dewlap like they do their ventral scales. Dewlap coloration is quite specific to each species, and though there may be variations across populations of a single species (such as the “gray” variant featured here — a muddle dark dewlap rather than a light pink one), anole dewlap coloration is far more fixed and static than their dorsal patterns. That being said, the colors can appear a bit differently due to ambient light and light positioning. For example, an extended Carolina green anole dewlap with the sun behind it may seem more radiant and bright due to the light shining through it.

Of course, this is something I wish I’d thought of when we photographed these darker dewlaps in Collier county. Pretty much all of our dewlap reference shots were taken from above, looking down, with the anole in our hands. I should’ve taken some shots with the anole held up with direct sunlight behind it to see how differently the colors may have looked in that type of lighting situation. Oh well… Guess I’ll need to head back down to Collier county sooner than later… Mercy!

If you’d like to learn more about anoles, be sure to visit AnoleAnnals.org!

Spring Break 2018: A Little Crested Anole in Miami-Dade

Anolis cristatellus, the Puerto Rican crested anole;
Miami-Dade county, Florida (16 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

Whereas the first act of our little Spring Break 2018 romp about south Florida focused largely on Nerodia watersnakes, Act II most certainly focused on Anolis lizards. I gotta say, in my world there’s nothing quite like surrounding yourself with the rich and chaotic biodiversity of these lizards, native and non-native alike, in south Florida.

Featured here is an interesting and unique Puerto Rican crested anole, Anolis cristatellus. Non-native to Florida (as its common name somewhat suggests), the Puerto Rican crested anole is quite common in parts of south Florida. I’ve photographed legions of these tiny little tanks, and I can’t help but smile when I think about how mythic and magical they seemed when I was a kid growing up in central Florida, a kid dreaming about the postmodern ecology of south Florida — a postmodern ecology I’ve now been fortunate enough to experience and observe many, many times.

As for this smallish individual, I was rather struck by its pattern; it was really beautiful in an understated fashion. Somewhat placid, the little anole was also somewhat giving in its defensive maneuvers. It wasn’t quick to flee very far, so I was able to get a few pictures in different perches and different positions. Eventually, however, the Puerto Rican crested anole decided to duck for deeper cover by disappearing into a thick of Florida foliage. Fortunately, there were a few hundred more in the immediate to then focus on. heh. There is no shortage of Anolis cristatellus in the Coral Gables area…

To learn more about anoles, you should definitely check out anoleannals.org, the single greatest anole resources and community on the web. Alternatively, you can also filter and check out all anole photographs posted thus far on floridensis.com to get a sense of their biodiversity in south Florida!

Spring Break 2018: No Privacy for the Softshell

Apalone ferox, the Florida softshell turtle;
Miami-Dade county, Florida (18 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

The latter portion of our Spring Break 2018 romp was spent in the Coral Gables / South Miami area for the this year’s Anolis Symposium — held at the most magnificent and beautiful Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables. Though Fairchild’s flora may be the main draw for most folks, Fairchild is also quite remarkable in light of its fauna — native and non-native alike. We’ll check out a decent sampling of lizards from the 2018 Anolis Symposium at Fairchild in future posts, but right now let’s briefly consider a different kind of reptile — the Florida softshell turtle, Apalone ferox.

Rather than tromping around in a hardened mobile-home dome of a carapace, softshell turtles have softer, fleshier carapaces. Extremely aquatic, they don’t come out on land too often. When they do, it’s usually to bask, to mate, or to nest. The latter was the case for the Florida softshell featured on  this post. She was trying to find a place to nest and lay eggs in the fresh mulch on Fairchild grounds — a pleasant delight for the visitors (myself included), but probably less than delightful from her perspective. As the crowd of onlookers grew (how could it not?), she seemed a bit anxious to get on with her business. I actually left this area after snapping a few quick shots, hoping others might do the same on her behalf. I’m not sure if she ultimately nested in the mulch or moved on to find a better, more secretive location.

Whereas male Florida softshells only reach an average “shell” length of a foot or so, female Florida softshells are typically much larger; they can range upwards to two feet in length. That’s a pretty decent chunk of turtle, right? What’s more, softshells can actually move very fast on dry land. It can be surprising, actually, when they bolt across the land to retreat to the water. Imagine a two-foot softshell turtle burning tread, so to speak, to the waterline. Finally, in the top image, you can see the reach of the Florida softshell’s neck. When they want to peek up and out, they can really peek up and out. This is, as you might imagine, quite advantageous for the turtle when its in the water. They’re pretty good at hiding in plain sight — just under the water’s surface. Unfortunately, however, on land they sort of stick out. This nesting female certainly did.

I hope she eventually found her nesting spot!

 

Spring Break 2018: The Wood Stork

Mycteria americana, the Wood stork;
Monroe county, Florida (14 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

The Wood stork, Mycteria americana, is a fascinating and unconventionally beautiful bird. This isn’t a bright and colorful bird. It’s not particularly sleek or elegant. In fact, its plumage is usually a bit frazzled, and its head it covered in rough skin — not feathers. Like me, this species is bald. Also like me, the Wood stork is large, a bit awkward, and doesn’t really have a beautiful singing voice. It does, however, make strange hissing sounds from time to time. Yeah, this isn’t your typical bird, and that may precisely be why I love Wood storks so much.

In Florida, the Wood stork is listed as threatened. You’d never know that where I live, however. I routinely come across Wood storks when I’m off stomping about for watersnakes. This makes a lot of sense when you realize that Wood storks eat fish, amphibians, and even reptiles — especially those in the water. They tend to prefer dark bodies of water such as cypress swamps and mangroves. Funny enough, the same applies to me. I share a lot in common with the Wood stork, it seems.

Spring Break 2018: The Green Iguana

Iguana iguana, the Green iguana;
Miami-Dade county, Florida (18 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

How about a little appreciation of the greenish glory of a wild and young Green iguana hanging out in your hands…? Yeah, Green iguanas (young and old alike) are not easy to catch by hand, but my heavens… they sure are worth the effort. I get lost in those greens… And this one had some excellent brown markings. A non-native species, the Green iguana now ranges throughout much of south Florida. Adult males can reach lengths of up to five feet or so. This little camper wasn’t quite that big… yet.