The Burmese Python in South Florida, 03 August 2017

Python bivittatus, the Burmese python;
Miami-Dade county, Florida (03 August 2017).

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.

Maria Bamford!

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, 12 April 2014

Hyla chrysoscelis, the Cope’s gray treefrong;
Gilchrist county, Florida (12 April 2014).

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.

Hyla chrysoscelis, 12 April 2014

The Imperial Moth, 14 October 2017

Eacles imperialis, the Imperial moth;
Volusia county, Florida (14 October 2017).

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.

The Pearly Wood Nymph, 30 April 2014

Eudryas unio, the Pearly wood nymph;
Flagler county, Florida (30 April 2014).

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?

 

The Sargassum Nudibranch, 20 May 2014

Scyllaea pelagica, the Sargassum nudibranch;
Volusia county, Florida (20 May 2014)

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.

The Shark Eye Sea Snail, 23 May 2014

Neverita duplicata, the Shark eye sea snail;
Volusia county, Florida (23 May 2014).

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.

The Portuguese Man O’ War, 19 May 2014

Physalia physalis, the Portuguese man o’ war;
Volusia county, Florida (19 May 2014)

In our last post, we checked out a diminutive and tiny Blue button, a fascinating species of Class Hydrozoa. Now, let’s check out the significantly larger Portuguese man o’ war, Physalia physalis, also a member of Class Hydrozoa. Similar to the Blue button, the Portuguese man o’ war is also a colonial organisms — meaning it is an organism actually comprised of multiple types of organisms living together and functioning as a single biological system. The man o’ war’s polyp matrix (the organisms that make up the whole) is significantly more complex than the Blue button’s, however. The Man o’ war ain’t playin’ around.

A significant difference between the Blue button and the Man o’ war: Size. Wheres the Blue button is only a few inches across including its tentacles, the man o’ war’s tentacles can actually reach lengths upwards to 33 feet or so. In some cases, the tentacles can be much, much longer. Coastally, they tend to contract or break off. I haven’t seen a thirty-foot tentacle span on a man o’ war on our beaches! As for the blue-purple “float” this species is so known for, that can average a foot or so in length.

Another difference: This is one of the marine organisms you don’t want to be stung by. Unlike the Blue button’s mild-irritant of a “sting,” the Portuguese man o’ war can pack one hell of a punch. The venomous sting (delivered via nematocysts along its tentacles) is designed to immobilize its prey (namely fish), but it can also cause some pretty severe pain and damage on unlucky human recipients. I was taught at a very, very early age to watch out for that floating blue/purple balloon… and have yet to have been stung. Hopefully my luck will continue.

The Blue Button, 18 May 2014

Porpita porpita, the Blue button;
Volusia county, Florida (18 May 2014)

Welcome to the wonderful world of Cnidaria! More specifically, this is the Blue button, Porpita porpita, a Hydrozoa species that is actually comprised of a colony of hydroids living and operating together as a single biological system. See those “tentacles” branching out from the round disc? Each of those strands is actually a single hydroid, all of them attached to the central disc and functioning as a single organism. The Blue button passively floats on the water and collects food along the way. Each hydroid “tentacle” consists of stinging nematocysts, but the sting isn’t really much of an issue to people — thankfully. The “mouth” unit, if you will, is centrally located beneath the disc itself. The mouth also acts as the anus, which is gross and makes me want to make a political joke about Trump. But I won’t because I don’t need to; you’re already thinking it.

Anyhow, blue buttons can be remarkably common along Volusia county beaches at times, but they often remain largely unnoticed. Unlike some of their larger brethren (such as the Portuguese man o’ war, featured in our next post), Blue buttons are fairly tiny. The disc only averages around an inch across, give or take.

Though you may think the Blue button is a kind of jellyfish, it actually isn’t. Class Hydrozoa, which contains the Blue button, is quite distinct from Class Scyphozoa, also known as the True Jellyfish. Both Hydrozoa and Scyphozoa, however, are members of Phylum Cnidaria — so you’re not tooooo far off base.

The Redbelly Watersnake, 05 July 2018

Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster, the Redbelly watersnake;
Lowndes county, Georgia (05 July 2018).

This past Thursday, I headed up to Lowndes county, Georgia, with my friend, Eric, to find one specific species: The Redbelly watersnake, Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster.

Eric’s originally from the Pacific Northwest and has only been in Florida for a few short years. He’s deeply in love with our snake biodiversity and counts the Nerodia watersnakes to be among his favorites. Of all our Nerodia watersnake species, however, he still hadn’t seen a Redbelly. The species ranges throughout parts of North Florida and into Georgia (and beyond), but we don’t really have them in our home territory of Volusia county, Florida. Thus, the mission was born: Drive up to the border and find a Redbelly!

After a bit of looking with no success, we eventually found a fantastically huge female Redbelly. She was gravid and about to burst with babies (a bit early, I think). On top of that, she was also close to ecdysis — the molting of its scales (thus the blue eye effect). We estimate her overall length to be near four feet — which is fairly impressive for a Redbelly. She was certainly the largest I’ve ever come across. If we had to estimate SVL, we’d say about 40 inches — not record breaking by the books, but impressive nonetheless. I simply haven’t come across a Redbelly so beefy. She was impressive.

So, at long last, Eric’s now been able to play with a Nerodia erythrogaster. She wasn’t the most brilliantly colored Redbelly I’ve come across, but she was perky and packed with attitude and personality. She was also wearing quite a bit of wear and tear — signs of the passage of time. Life ain’t easy for a watersnake, and when you find a big adult like this, you can’t help but to respect that they’ve worked very, very hard to get to this moment.

The Blotched Watersnake in Oklahoma, 10 June 2004

Nerodia erythrogaster transversa, the Blotched watersnake;
Cleveland county, Oklahoma (10 June 2004).

Though Floridensis is mostly focused on Floridian wildlife and habitats, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and live in various regions of North America — from the tangles of Florida all the way up to the mountainous cacophonies of Alaska. From time to time, I like to throw in a non-Florida post to spice things up. More than anything, however, I think focus and understanding of Florida is enhanced through various contrasts with other aspects of North America. In this case, our focal contrast here deals with the non-venomous watersnake species, Nerodia erythrogaster.

In the American southeast, the dominant subspecies of Nerodia erythrogaster is N. e. erythrogaster, the Redbelly watersnake. Out west, in the American midwest, the dominant subspecies is N. e. transversa, the Blotched watersnake — the snake featured here.

I lived in Norman, Oklahoma, for a few years as a kid and eventually returned to the region to attend the University of Oklahoma. Though I didn’t really connect much with Oklahoma culture, I sure did adore its biodiversity. I still do. I’m itching to return to snag more time with Okie wildlife. As for this species, the Blotched watersnake remains one of my favorites in Oklahoma — along with Nerodia rhombifer, the Diamondback watersnake (another species we do not have in Florida). The Blotched watersnake is a cute, relatively mild-mannered species.

In our next post, we’ll swing back east –to southern Georgia– and check out the Redbelly subspecies closer to home.

The Ever-So-Little Brown Skink, 05 July 2018

Scincella lateralis, the Little brown skink;
Alachua county, Florida (05 July 2018).

Following the every-so-tiny Brahminy blind snake from our last post, let’s check out another tiny, diminutive reptilian species in Florida: the native Little brown skink, Scincella lateralis. Also sometimes referred to as the “Ground skink,” this species ranges throughout much of the southeastern United States. As adults, the Little brown skink averages upwards to about five inches in length (tail included). Though it often hides beneath surface-level debris such as leaves or fallen bark, you can still find this tiny skink slinking its way around atop the ground, especially in the shade and during the daylight hours, actively hunting and consuming tiny arthropods.