Small but distinctive, the Red-bordered emerald, Nemoria lixaria, is one of my favorite local moth species. Ranging throughout much of the eastern United States, we see this species year-round in central Florida. Because of its diminutive size, however, it’s a moth people often don’t notice. It’s only when you stop, lean in, and look closer that this moth’s brilliance manifests. This particular individual was photographed clinging to one of our home’s windows.
The Florida green watersnake, Nerodia floridana, is one of Florida’s robustly-sized non-venomous watersnakes. Though often confused as being a venomous Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon conanti), this species is entirely non-venomous. It prefers to bask upon grassy/reed-like vegetation floating atop calm bodies of freshwater (such as lakes and ponds). When startled, the Florida green watersnake is quick to slip down and disappear into the water. It is in no way aggressive, but the Florida green watersnake will vigorously fight to defend itself if grabbed by a human. From the snake’s perspective, however, it is simply trying to protect itself!
The Brown watersnake, Nerodia taxispilota, is one of Florida’s hefty (and entirely non-venomous) watersnake species. Considered to be the “most arboreal” of Florida’s watersnakes, when you hear stories about snakes dropping into canoes, odds are it was a Brown watersnakes. Though often confused with the venomous Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon conanti), the Brown watersnake is neither venomous nor aggressive. They prefer to bide their time in foliage overhanging water and, when threatened, simply drop into the water below. As adults, they range upwards to 30-55 inches and are rather robust, but, really, they are shy and reclusive snakes. This is also one of my favorite species. Brown watersnakes are ridiculously gorgeous. This one was no exception!
Native to Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas, the Greenhouse frog, Eleutherodactylus planirostris, is now well established throughout much of peninsular Florida. For a time, I’d only see them in yards and other human-centric environments, but in recent years I’ve started seeing them on various night hikes in more-remote areas. They seem to be expanding fairly well in this part of Florida. Greenhouse frogs are primarily nocturnal and seem to be most active after a nice, solid rain. This Lake county individual sported a deep, dark, rich, and lush reddish base tone.
The Harlequin flower beetle is a distinctive and rather vivid critter. In the United States, Gymnetis caseyi ranges from southern Texas eastward to the Floridian peninsula. To date, I’ve only seen one of these — in Lake county, Florida. Sporting a rather Rorschachian design, this is a tough beetle to miss, I think. I really haven’t seen any other insect quite like it!
Lizards and snakes may soak up much of my attention, but I’ve got a deeply unhealthy obsession with cicadas. Seriously, I can’t get enough of these little tanks. Featured here is a Similar dog-day cicada, Neotibicen similaris, an annual species often seen and heard in my neck of the woods (or, rather, in my neighborhood). In the top image, the three “jewels” in the middle are actually ocelli — simple eye structures that read contrast between light and dark. The two big bulbs on each side are compound eyes. Ocelli are quite recurrent in a number of organisms and in a number of forms. In some branches of Insecta, they are dorsal ocelli (like what you see here, often in sets of three). Sea stars, on the other hand, have pigment spot ocelli (more on that later). I adore photographing the dorsal ocelli of cicadas whenever I get the chance. They’ve got mugs like no other.
Here’s a few shots of Heart Island Conservation Area earlier this morning. It was a fabulously foggy morning. A bit cool, as well — at least until the sun finally broke through. Not much on the wildlife front, to be honest, but no worries… A few hours in this kind of ambience is reward enough.
Florida has one native species of anole: The Carolina green anole, Anolis carolinensis. All of our other anole species are non-native and (relatively speaking) recently introduced. Most of the introduced, non-native anoles now in Florida are limited to the southern end of the peninsula — the big exception being Anolis sagrei, the Cuban brown anole — a species which has made its way across and up the entire peninsula and beyond. When I was a kid in the late 70s and early 1980s, our native Carolina greens were seemingly everywhere — on the fences, the walls, the screens… Pretty much everywhere. Brown anoles were mostly limited to shopping and garden centers back then. Today, it’s a different story. Cuban browns dominate the lower foliage and grounds of central Florida. The Green anoles are still here and doing just fine, I believe, but they’ve moved higher into the upper foliage and trees — which is where they’re best adapted to live anyhow. Folks like me often lust after the non-native anoles of south Florida, but I’m always happy to take a moment or two to appreciate our native Carolina green anoles.
My first Ribbon snake, Thamnophis sauritus sackenii, of 2018 was found in the interior pinelands of Volusia county on 04 February 2018. The young snake was basking in the middle of a dirt road on a not-totally-freezing early afternoon. It was a pretty rough and tumble winter for the reptiles and amphibians of central Florida (and for myself). I think we’re all pretty happy its warming up now. As for Ribbon snakes, this is a fairly benign, non-venomous species rather common throughout the peninsula. For those trying to differentiate ribbons from garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis), look for the well-defined vertical white line in front of the eye. Ribbon snakes typically have a more-pronounced white line. With garters, if present at all, that line is usually pretty faded out and undefined.
The Cuban brown anole, Anolis sagrei, is a non-native species very well established throughout the entirety of peninsular Florida (and increasingly-so further to the north and west). Adapted to scratching a living fairly low to the ground, Brown anoles are fast and acutely alert lizards. They’re also primarily diurnal, which made this individual a treat to work with. By this time (8:30 pm or so in late November), Brown anoles are typically bunkered down for the night. I found this one hanging out near a small human structure, calmly coping with the relative cool of south Florida’s version of late-November.
The Scarlet-bodied wasp moth, Cosmosoma myrodora, is a distinctive and vivid species ranging throughout the coastal regions of the American southeast and the entirety of the Floridian peninsula. Though it has the word “wasp” in its common name, this is a moth through and through. With a life cycle limited to 50-60 days, this species certainly knows how to rock coloration in its final, adult form; its red base with blue accenting is particularly striking. Though not necessarily “common” where I live, I do see these moths clamoring around our home from time to time in the evening hours. The Scarlet-bodied wasp moth is hard to miss — even though they are rather tiny.
Is there anything quite as cute as a super-young and tiny Loggerhead musk turtle? Seriously, look at this kid. Loggerhead musk turtles remain fairly small as adults with carapace length reaching upwards to five inches or so. As for this lad, it was spotted swimming in the crystalline, clear spring-fed waters of Levy county, Florida. Loggerhead musk turtles prefer clean, clear freshwater environments. This tiny tank was certainly happy to retreat back into its aquatic universe after I snapped a few quickfire shots.