Given my adoration for dinosaurs, I really should be more of a bird fan than I usually am on a day to day basis. Birds are cool, of course, and they can certainly be quite beautiful, but I have a habit of overlooking or walking right by them when I’m outdoors. Of course, sometimes such passive disinterest is simply not possible. That was certainly the case with this Double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus, photographed in Everglades National Park on 21 March 2015. Perched on the rail of a popular boardwalk trail, the cormorant seemed to be all about being seen — and photographed by the shuffling hominids with magic camera boxes. Of course, I had to fall in line myself, so to speak, to get my photographs of what is probably The Most Photographed Bird of the Everglades. Heh. What a fantastic poser.
Eastern garter snakes, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, may be common, everyday snakes, but my gosh… they are just lovely where I live. This species and their close allies are remarkably adaptable across much of the United States. Garters also vary a bit in coloring and pattern across their range. Where I live, in Volusia county, Garters tend to sport an awesome blue-green base tone and color. I’ve also seen really blue-ish individuals in Flagler county a bit to the north. Down south a county, the Brevard population seems to be a bit less-blue. I consider myself very lucky to have these blue-green garters slinking about my backyard, neighborhood, town, and county. An added bonus: When one shows up in the backyard, as this one did, my daughter gets to check them up close, too. They may be common, but Garters are most certainly uncommonly beautiful!
Here it is — for your random viewing pleasure:
The Green iguana, cleverly named Iguana iguana, is a non-native species now quite abundant throughout much of the southern Florida peninsula. Growing upwards to four to five feet in length as adults, iguanas are surprisingly fast, strong, and agile. As for the individual featured here, this is a youngster found basking in Miami-Dade county. It was particularly vibrant. Those greens and blues tend to fade out and/or darken a bit as they grow older. Native to the northern portion of South America and much of Central America, Green iguanas are adept climbers, swimmers, and runners. Seriously, they can pretty much take off over or through any kind of habitat. Occasionally, in the winter you might hear reports of “raining iguanas” in the Miami area. That’s actually something that happens from time to time. When south Florida suffers an extreme wave of cold, Green iguanas have a habit of locking up and falling from their perches in the trees above. They’ll fall down to the ground, seemingly dead, only to “reanimate” when the temperatures rise back up. I’ve never witnessed this in person, but I hope to some day. Of all the strange things I’ve encountered in my life, I’ve never seen it “rain iguanas”…
The Jamaican giant anole, Anolis garmani, is (yet another) non-native anole lizard now scratching out a living in pockets of southern Florida. They certainly aren’t widespread throughout south Florida, however. Unlike the non-native Cuban knight anoles (Anolis equestris) in the area, I’ve only found the Jamaican giants in a relatively small(ish) area. Though I’ve managed to get my hands on and photograph a few smaller A. garmani, I haven’t yet had a chance to get my hands on a larger adult — like the one featured here. It was a close catch, but alas… this Jamaican giant managed to escape the close proximity of my 60mm macro lens. Maybe one day… In the meantime, I can ogle these images of a Jamaican giant biding itself in the plenty of time amidst the tropical of Miami-Dade county.
Florida certainly has no shortage of non-native species. Pick a corner of the world, and there’s a decent chance we’ve got some wild critter or plant from that region trying to scratch out a living in peninsular Florida. In South Florida, it’s a veritable free-for-all when it comes to lizards. Some non-native lizards in south Florida are now seemingly ubiquitous (such as the Cuban brown anole, Anolis sagrei) while others, such as the Hispaniolan green anole (Anolis chlorocyanus), are mostly limited to relatively small, isolated population sites. Native to Hispaniola (of course), Anolis chlorocyanus is not widespread in South Florida by any means. In fact, to day I’ve only seen them in one specific location in Broward county (a bit north of Miami). Though superficially quite similar to our native Carolina green anoles (Anolis carolinensis), Hispaniolan green anoles are distinct when it comes to their dewlap — that colorful fold of skin and scales under the head. Whereas our native Carolina green anoles have watermelon-red (if not pinkish) dewlaps, the Hispaniolan green anole’s dewlap is much, much darker (as seen below). I was rather beside myself to photograph a number of the A. chlorocyanus in Broward county back in January of 2017. This is the first of several individuals I’ll share on Floridensis. (In good time)
Florida certainly has no shortage of reptilian biodiversity, and our reptiles come in all sizes and colors. When people think of snakes, they tend to imagine big, impressive rattlesnakes and perhaps even large rat snakes. Not all snakes carry such a robust stature, however. Consider this species, the Pine woods snake, Rhadinaea flavilata. This species only averages upwards to around 12 inches or so; they’re usually a bit smaller than even that. Further, this is one of our more-reclusive, somewhat-subterranean species. Pine woods snakes spend much of their time hidden beneath surface debris such as fallen bark, logs, and rocks. As surprising as it may seem, this species is also rear fanged, but they don’t really pose any risk to people whatsoever. The fangs are used to subdue its natural prey (small lizards, frogs, and even insects), and they don’t really even try to bite people when handled. The Pine woods snake is also considered to be somewhat uncommon; however, when you do find one, odds are significant there are plenty more nearby. In my experience, they’re an all-or-nothing species. You can go quite a distance and not find any, and then, BAM! They’re everywhere. I’m fortunate to have a decent population in my neighborhood. I’m always pleased to find one slinking around the underbrush in my backyard.
Florida is, of course, a veritable free-for-all of postmodern ecology. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find non-native organisms coming and going, mixing it up and duking it out with another and with our native populations. When it comes to lizards, this is especially true in South Florida. Pictured here are a number of African redhead agamas from Miami-Dade county. The big one with the orange-ish head is an adult male. The others are either females or juvenile males. All of these lizards were photographed in vicinity to one another, scampering about tiles and limestone walls. For the most part, agamas prefer rocky-textured grounds, but in recent years I’ve also been finding them in trees (in parts of Miami-Dade county). They haven’t yet reached my home territory of Volusia county, but there are records of agamas in Brevard — one county to my south. For now, at least, I have to settle with road trips south to get my lens on these awesome lizards.
Now, when it comes to classifying Florida’s non-native agamas, things get a bit fuzzy. For awhile they were generally considered to be Agama agama africana. Then, that subspecies designation was pushed up to the species-level. Thus, they became Agama africana. Now, however, there’s evidence to support that may are actually Agama picticauda, a revived taxonomical designation. Much of the confusion is due to shifting taxonomical changes as a result of source population studies in Africa coupled with closer study of Florida’s non-native population clusters. On top of that, there are numerous, distinct populations of agama throughout the southern portion of the Floridian peninsula, and they weren’t necessarily all introduced from the same geographical source. In other words, we may have more than one species of agama in Florida (depending on how the taxonomy settles). I doubt the shifting sands of Florida’s non-native agamas will settle any time soon, so I’m going with Agama picticauda on this website. For now, at least. You can expect many agama posts in the future. Along with our remarkable anole populations, agamas are among my favorites. Learn more about Florida’s agamas and their respective classification (pdf).
Bulow Creek State Park
Volusia county, Florida (24 February 2018).
Video recorded with iPhoneX and edited with iMovie.
Averaging less than a foot in length as adults, the Florida brown snake, Storeria victa, is a common (yet uncommonly seen) species. This non-venomous snake spends much of its time hidden under surface debris such as logs, leaf litter, and rocks. It preys mostly on earthworms, snails, and slugs. In Lake county, I often find Florida brown snakes in my mother’s backyard, as I did this one. Despite her rambunctious dogs, the Florida browns continues to scratch out a decent living on her property — probably because they’re so good at hiding just beneath plain sight.
Ranging sporadically throughout the southeastern reaches of North America, the Rusty bird grasshopper, Schistocera rubiginosa, is a modest, small ‘hopper. This is, so far as I know, the only individual of this species I’ve photographed and identified (with help from the folks over at bugguide.net). This species apparently prefers open, prairie-like grass fields and sandy dune habitats along and near the coastline. I found this one bunkered down near a sandy access road adjacent to coastal dunes (which seems to fit the bill). A very lovely grasshopper. I’d love to find more of these!
The Prothonotary warbler, Protonotaria citrea, is a small species that spends much of its time rooting about the ground and fallen foliage near calm bodies of water (such as swamps, lakes, and the like). They’re apparently rather fond of areas with dead trees —fallen or still standing— and utilize old woodpecker holes and such for nesting. As for this individual, it was chomping down on a tiny spider when I found it. The bird did its thing for a few minutes, hopping back and forth, and then went on about its day. I admit I’m not a mega-fan of the Passeriformes, but this was one seriously awesome bird. Bright, colorful, active, and apparently a lover of the water’s edge — much like myself.