The Floridian peninsula serves as home to a variety of anole species, native and non-native alike. I’ve spent a good amount of time looking for and photographing these anoles in Florida. It’s been a life-long pursuit, though the photography angle didn’t really kick off until about fifteen years ago. If you want to catch a sampling of the anole biodiversity I’ve encountered in Florida, check out the Anolis tag on Floridensis (and I still have sooooo many photographs to process and publish here). Anyhow, with all the non-native “exotic” action going on, it can sometimes be easy to overlook our solitary native species, the Carolina green anole, Anolis carolinensis,
Featured here is a lovely Carolina green anole photographed in the Lower Keys. I’m always delighted to find Anolis carolinensis in south Florida, particularly in the Keys and in the Miami/Lauderdale region. With an over-abundance of non-native anoles (and other stuff) now scratching out a living in south Florida, these Carolina greens truly have to work harder for their money, so to speak. There’s more competition, more chaos, and more tension from both above and below.
Fortunately, the Carolina greens seem to be holding their own well enough in Florida, though in residential areas they seem to have moved higher into the foliage than before all the competition arrived. In the Keys, however, Carolina greens are a bit easier to find. There’s not a lot of “height” in the Keys. Everything seems to be somewhat snugged and tucked just above sea level (which sort of sucks when hurricane roll by). Further, the Carolina greens in the Keys tend to deal with less competition than their compatriots in the Miami/Lauderdale region. Though I see plenty of Brown anoles and Bark anoles in the Keys, I don’t tend to see the other non-native anole species with much frequency. The Knight anoles and Crested anoles haven’t quite colonized the entirety of the Keys just yet. (Give ’em time…)
I’m always curious to see what changes have washed over south Florida from the last time I visited. What will I find? What’s changed? In this particular case, I found a reminder of my own childhood — my beloved Carolina green anole quietly going about its day beneath the palms and in the soft, coastal breeze of the Lower Keys… an anole quietly scratching out a living as the world spins and reels with ecological change less than two hundred miles to the north.
Featured here is a fairly fantastic and fine Brown watersnake, Nerodia taxispilota, photographed during my post-thunderstorm road-cruise fiesta throughout Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, Florida. It was also the first of three such Brown watersnakes I would stumble across that evening.
Entirely non-venomous and, in my opinion, utterly adorable, the Brown watersnake is a beefy, strong, and muscular tank of a snake — at least if it survives long enough… This particular individual was still a bit on the slim-n’-trim side of life. Given time, however, and I’m sure it’ll grow up to be another Nerodia tank of the Floridian peninsula.
If you’d like to learn a wee bit more about this species, check out the Floridensis Brown Watersnake one-sheet.
Considered to be somewhat a “nuisance” species, the Green iguana is a fairly large non-native reptile now well-established throughout much of south Florida — especially along our coastlines. I see them most often in the Miami area and in the Florida Keys. At times, it can almost feel like there are more iguanas than people when I’m in the Florida Keys… Okay, not really, but you get what I mean. There’s a lot of them. They’re good runners, adept climbers, and agile swimmers. Truly, they’ve got all the tools they need to scratch out a fairly comfortable living in the Florida Keys — an area rife with non-native foliage and an over-abundance of fruit to eat.
Featured here is a youngster, a kid really, I photographed this past week in the Lower Keys. Iguanas are surprisingly energetic — and not just as kids. Even the big, heavy adults can really tear up some asphalt when they’re inclined to do so. As for this kid, it was at the tail end of ecdysis and was sporting some brilliantly fresh and clean scaling. By iguana standards, it was a fairly tolerant and cooperative little lad!
During the evening of 26 July 2018 and after a good, long day trolling throughout the Florida Keys (those posts are forthcoming), I road-cruised and patrolled a decent swath of Monroe and Miami-Dade county backroads. A fairly massive bundle of storms had moved through the area, and that meant more than a few snakes might head out onto the open backroads — as they often do, unfortunately. Sure enough, I ended up coming across and being able to photograph seven such snakes. I saw a few others, but they were well gone and disappeared before I could catch up to them; I’m not as fast as I used to be… As for this snake, it was a lovely Corn snake (also known as the Red rat snake), and it was the first snake I was able to photograph closely that evening. It was also the first of two Corn snakes I ultimately came across during this evening’s jaunt.
Comically, I actually wasn’t the first to spot this particular snake on the road. I’d pulled over to let a car and a truck pass me by. The car zipped by without hesitation, rushing its way nowhere in the shortage of time. A few moments later, the truck passed by a bit more slowly — and then kicked on its break lights and stopped in the road. Sure enough, a pair of gentlemen were going about the same business as myself — roadcruising for reptiles. They’d hopped out and snagged the Corn. I’m glad the car in front of them didn’t hit the snake. Lucky snake.
We chatted for a few moments and they left me with the Corn to snag a few shots and to release it. I suspect they were looking for slightly larger, beefier snakes… perhaps a Burmese python? Anyhow, I was glad they weren’t collectors — people who patrol the backroads to snatch snakes for breeding, collecting, or commercial purposes. They simply admired the snake for a few moments and then moved on. I snagged a few shots and then let the Corn snake go on its way — free to slither about another day.
As I would soon find out, this was also only the first of a slew of beautiful, healthy snakes I would come across along the stormy backroads of Miami-Dade county.
On 10 September 2017, Hurricane Irma crossed over the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane. The eye of the storm passed through Cudjoe Key — just east of Big Pine Key and No Name Key. Big Pine, No Name, and Cudjoe Keys collectively form my favorite little stretch of the Florida Keys. Not too overly developed with tourist traps… and just enough mangrove coastline to keep this swamp-rat more than occupied. Well, at least that’s how it used to be on the latter front.
A few days ago, I sojourned back south to the Florida Keys for the first time since Hurricane Irma blew the region apart. The remnant scars of Hurricane Irma were staggering nearly eleven months after the storm’s initial impact. Though the region has done remarkable work in its recovery, I was struck by how devastated the mangrove forests were. Not surprised, perhaps, but viscerally shocked nonetheless. Mangroves are biologically and structurally adapted to withstand hurricanes and storm surge, but the brute force of Irma was just too much of a hit. Irma was truly a devastating force of nature.
I’d left my home in Ormond Beach around 11pm on Wednesday night and arrived at No Name Key just in time for sunrise on Thursday morning. The plan was to watch the sunrise from my favorite little nook at No Name Key and to then spend much of the day romping about the area on both land and in water. I wanted to test my iPhone X’s underwater capabilities and also do a bit of lizard surveying to see what’s where in this part of the Keys. You never know what shakes out in the long-term wake of a hurricane.
Though much of that did in fact occur (as we’ll see in subsequent posts), I must admit the morning started with a bit of a grim undertone. Again, the wreckage of the mangrove forests was truly breathtaking, sad, and somewhat miserable. The neighborhoods, shops, and utility services of humanity will all be back online well before these mangrove habitats restore themselves to what they once were. Fortunately, however, the level of damage featured below wasn’t widespread across the entirety of the Florida Keys. In fact, even in this specific area the worst of the damage seemed to be on the southern portions of the islands — the direction from which the hurricane and storm surge moved in, through, and over the islands. It was truly a humbling sight — even for a guy who’s seen his fair share of hurricane and tropical storm action. It was the mangrove version of the ghost town mythos.
Coming up, we’ll scamper about this portion of the Florida Keys a bit more — looking for both lizards in the trees and marine life in the water. Then we’ll head back north to the southern reaches of the Floridian peninsula — deep into the vast swath of awesome that is the Everglades System.
If you’d like to read more about Hurricane Irma, check out’s NOAA’s Tropical Storm Cyclone Report for Hurricane Irma (in PDF format).
NOTE: Though I didn’t photograph any, I did see an abundance of Key deer on both Big Pine and No Name Keys. They are most certainly still there and in good number — Hurricane Irma be damned. Long live the Key Deer!
This is a Mangrove salt marsh snake, Nerodia clarkii compressicauda, one of three “salt marsh” watersnake subspecies in Florida. This particular individual, photographed in the mangroves of the Florida Keys, is rather close to ecdysis, the “shedding” of its scales. This is what gives the snake’s eyes and ventral scales that bluish gloss/glow.
The Mangrove salt marsh snake is remarkably variable in coloration and patterning. Some individuals may sport a bright orange coat while other will be jet black, mottled gray, or some combination thereof. This individual is obviously of the darker persuasion. Ranging from central Florida through the Florida Keys on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the Mangrove salt marsh snake is well adapted to living life in the colorful and complex mangrove habitats of the Floridian peninsula.
The Rosy wolfsnail, Euglandina rosea, is, relatively speaking, a fast and active predatory snail. Specifically, it hunts other snails and slugs. Native to much of Central America and the American southeast, the Rosy wolfsnail can wreak havoc in other regions where it is introduced. These puppies like to eat, and they’re pretty damn good at tracking and taking down other snails and slugs. They’re been particularly problematic in Hawaii.
When I was a kid, life was actually about more than just lizards and snakes. I was also utterly enraptured by the sharks and rays that patrolled Florida’s coastlines. On the stingray front, my favorite was undoubtedly Dasyatis americana, the Southern stingray.
Reaching a wing-width of about six feet or so across (if not slightly larger), the Southern stingray is one big, serious, and awesome species of stingray. Like many of their stingray brethren, Southern stingrays are very good at sifting into and hiding within the sand. With their venomous barb located along the tail-line, the Southern stingray can aim and poke a would-be threat with that barb. Though not aggressive in the slightest, Southern stingray stinging jabs can occur if and when a person unwittingly steps on one (or tries to molest it in some other way). Thus, they are always to be treated with due respect and caution.
The “beaches” of the Florida Keys are an awesome range of habitats to observe these huge stingrays going about their lives in the plenty of time. As with many of the Caribbean isles, there aren’t many waves in the Florida Keys. More so, there’s also an abundance of clear shallows — large stretches of shallow, ultra-clear water — the kind of shallows Southern stingrays like to patrol for good eats in the sand below.
Sometimes referred to simply as the “Sand crab,” The Atlantic ghost crab, Ocypode quadrata, shouldn’t be a stranger to coastal residents scratching out a living along the western shores of the Atlantic. In my home territory of Volusia county, Florida, Ghost crabs are regularly encountered on our sandy beaches, especially at night and in the early morning hours.
Primarily nocturnal, Atlantic ghost crabs dig burrows in the soft sands of the beach to hide out during most of the day. They dig in the morning and can often be seen in the earlier hours going about their daily routine, often quickly scuttling sideways across the sand. By mid-day, they’re typically well bunkered down until the following evening. Once the sun sets and the night leans over both the land and the water, Atlantic ghost crabs come out to do all the other things crabs do: eat and reproduce.
Atlantic ghost crabs are often a very light, very bright mix of white and yellow. Some individuals, however, sport a blue-to-purple spot on their carapace. Apparently, the carapace is slightly translucent, and Ghost crabs are able to shift their coloring somewhat. When on white sand during the day, for example, they’ll appear more white — more ghostly. At night, when they’re romping about the darkened surf, the darker tones will come out.
By night and by day, the Atlantic ghost crab is undoubtedly a curious and jittery little creature. I always take delight in seeing them sideswipe across the sand or through the water.
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.