One significant benefit of living in Valdosta, Georgia, for two years was being able to see (and hear) a great number of noisy Northern dusk singing cicadas (Megatibicen auletes) in my backyard each summer. This large, hefty, annual cicada species was far and away the most common in my neighborhood, and I delighted in being able to observe them throughout their life span — from their emergent teneral phase through adulthood. Each summer, we had these little behemoths doing their thing in our backyard, young and old alike.
The white “frost” you see on this individual is actually a kind of wax buildup. Once cicadas pass through their teneral phase and emerge in their winged adult form, they develop a level of pruinosity somewhat obscuring their base coloring. This frosty “dust” (so to speak) may eventually fade away as the cicada grows older — if it lives long enough. Of the annual species, the Northern dusk singing cicada can be particularly impressive in its pruinosity. This one certainly was. A true frosted flake.
While Floridensis is primarily focused on Floridian wildlife and environments, I’ve had the benefit and luxury of living and visiting some pretty spectacular regions across North America. I’ve decided to dedicate Wednesdays on Floridensis to “Elsewhere” locations across North America. Launching us off on our embedded “Elsewhere Wednesday” series is a set of photographs taken on 04 May 2010 along the edge of Resurrection Bay in southcentral Alaska.
From 2007 to 2011, I lived and worked in Anchorage, Alaska. Locals will often chuckle that if you live in Anchorage, you’re only fifteen minutes from “the real” Alaska. What they mean to say is that Alaska is, at its best, entirely wild and somewhat off the grid. This was indeed the case (though I still considered Anchorage to be a part of “real” Alaska, heh). Truly, it didn’t take long to lose cell signal as you sojourned outward from Anchorage and into the rocky climbs surrounding it.
The Kenai Peninsula lays just south of the Anchorage/Turnagain Arm region of southcentral Alaska. If you ever have the chance to visit Alaska, the Kenai is where I’d point you toward. From its lush, moss-laden (though not tropical) rain forests to its salmon engorged streams, from its towering mountains to its rocky coastlines, the Kenai is absolutely jammed to the gill with texture, grit, and beauty. The shorelines of Resurrection Bay, near the edge of the Pacific Ocean, was one such location that consistently took my breath away.
These photographs were taken along the Resurrection Bay coastline portion of the Tonsina and Lowell Point trail systems. Situated a bit south of Seward, Alaska, a tiny town nestled along the northern rim of Resurrection Bay, the trail sojourns the rocky edge of the deep, blue oceanic waters. Towering mountains hold sentry along the opposite eastern shore while innumerable gulls, puffins, and other seabirds flay about just above the deep blue waters.
Of note, the tidal range this far north is quite dramatic. Indeed, to hike this portion of the trail, you have to keep tab of when high tide will hit. Large portions of the coastline trail are only accessible during lower tidal ranges. When the tide comes in, the water will push against the rocky bluffs along the west side of the trail. That’s not something I was used to from growing up in Florida. You had to time your hikes to avoid getting cut off by the Pacific tidal surge.
Another difference: the beach itself. Rather than the white, powdery sands I grew up with, the beaches of Resurrection Bay are defined by dark rocks and dark “sand” — igneous in nature. “Ghost trees” stand unmolested along the edges of the shorelines — trees that once thrived but were choked out by encroaching salt water intrusion due to changing elevations spurred by earthquake activity. In the shallow water, you’ll also find vibrant strands and mattes of algae and aquatic vegetation. The bright, colorful reds and yellows of these alga provide a stark contrast to the iron-black tone of the “sand” itself.
It’s easy to lose your sense of space and time in an area like this. In Florida, time may feel wide at times, but in Alaska time always feels deep. Everything around you is an echo and reminder of just how deep time truly is, how fleeting and temporary our existence truly is. Resurrection Bay, like much of “real” Alaska, is truly sublime in this regard.
The American green treefrog, Hyla cinerea, is truly the Kermit of the American southeast. Fairly large (by North American Frogger standards) and quite abundant in certain areas, this is a true sweetheart of a treefrog. Unfortunately, it’s also a species that’s a bit harder to find nowadays in central Florida — likely because of the introduction of the Cuban treefrog, Osteopilus septentrionalis, an even bigger species that hunts and consumes our native treefrog species. Fortunately for me, I regularly came across American green treefrogs when I lived in south Georgia from 2011 through 2013. The impact of the Cuban treefrog had not quite reached that far north.
I photographed this little daysleeper passing the day on a small branch overhanging the Grand Bay wetlands just northeast of Valdosta, Georgia. Not a care in the world. Nice.
The Eastern glass lizard, Ophisaurus ventralis, is one of several “legless” lizards ranging throughout much of the American southeast. Often confused as being snakes due to their body shape and leglessness, “glass” lizards are so named due to their ability of shattering off their tails as a defensive measure.
In texture and density, the Eastern glass lizard is less agile and loose (as in “bendable”) than their serpentine cousins. They also sport external ear openings and flexible eyelids — two biological features not shared by snakes. I tend to find Eastern glass lizards out and about early in the morning, just as the day begins. By midday, they’re usually fairly well hidden, buried a bit beneath top-surface and debris.
As you might suspect, Eastern glass lizards are entirely non-venomous and pose no threat to people — though these reptiles may startle the occasional child who hazards to pick one up only to find a writhing, bleeding tail in his or her hands. Heh. In my experience, glass lizards aren’t too quick to shatter off their tales, however — if you don’t grab or hold them by their tales.
We’ve seen a few Florida banded watersnakes (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) on Floridensis thus far, but the individual featured here remains one of my favorites.
As noted before on this blog, the Florida banded watersnake is extremely variable in coloring and patterning. In Collier county, the dominant pattern/design tends to be what you see here: very, very dark. Though entirely non-venomous and not a threat to humans (or cats or dogs or ferrets or whatever large pet you may have), this dark pattern can easily lead to confusion to those who assume these dark snakes must be venomous Florida cottonmouths. For many people, Large-Dark-Snake-Near-Water = Venomous Cottonmouth. Unfortunately, that math doesn’t really add up. It doesn’t really equate to reality, and many harmless Florida banded watersnakes are subsequently killed by terrified and misinformed people.
Also note the “arrow”-shaped head in the second image below. Non-venomous watersnakes (and many other non-venomous snake species) can and often do flex their jaws as a defensive display. This behavior can exacerbate the confusion because many people have been erroneously taught that a diamond- and/or arrow-shaped snake head signifies that a snake is venomous. This is simply not true in the real world. It’s only true in the fantastical world of simple diagnostic mythologies passed down from generation to generation. As is often the case, the realities of the natural world around us are far more complicated and beautiful than the simple rhymes and binaries we were taught as children.
With an adult wingspan ranging between two and three-and-a-half inches (or so), the Io moth, Automeris io, is an extremely recognizable and distinctive species throughout much of the eastern United States. It’s also a sexually dimorphic species. Whereas females (such as this one) are somewhat brownish, males will sport more of a light-yellow basal tone on the wings. Both males and females, however, are adorned by brilliantly contrasted “eye” spots on their rear wings.
Interestingly, if and when you see an adult Io moth, recognize that you are witnessing the end of the creature’s life. Once Io moths emerge from their cocoons, the sole name of the game is reproduction. They don’t even eat anything as adults. They simply flutter about, look for a mate, make babies, lay eggs, and then hang out until they die, often perching near patios or yard shrubbery in my neck of the woods. I suspect this big female had already laid her eggs; she was particularly lethargic and “cooperative” for these photographs. Heh.
God speed, lady. You did alright.
Despite its less-than-comforting common name, the Rabid wolf spider isn’t really a threat to people. Sure, they can bite in self-defense, and that bite may hurt a bit if it occurs, but it’s not going to kill you, and it’s not going to turn you into a rabid, drooling dog. Indeed, this species is far more likely to flee into the bushes long before such a bite can occur.
In reality, Rabid wolf spiders are simply busy, reclusive little spiders that trek about at night in search of a good snack. They don’t even use webs to ensnare prey. Instead, they actively scamper about and look for stuff to eat. When they do find something yummy, they’ll tackle, bite, and spin the prey in its webbing. More often than not, however, the Rabid wolf spider is doing all its business under cover and somewhat off the human grid. I don’t tend to see them scampering about in open, well-lit areas and instead only find them in darker, more private areas of residentialia.
Given that Halloween is fast approaching, now seems an apt time to introduce the Black witch moth (Ascalapha odorata) to the wiggly world of Floridensis. Averaging around four to five inches in wingspan, this a moth species you’re unlikely to overlook. In fact, female wingspans can climb upwards to just shy of seven inches. The Black witch moth is, to put it bluntly, friggin’ massive — at least by North American moth standards.
Primarily a tropical species associated with the Caribbean and Mexico, the Black witch moth does migrate across much of the continental United States each year; however, in south Florida they are an annually-present species. Interestingly, various folklores throughout Mexico and the Caribbean also associate the Black witch moth with death.
In these photographs, you can see this female Black witch moth’s considerable proboscis, the needle-like appending essentially used for feeding. Also of note, female Black witch moths have the light striping across each wing. Males, which also tend to be smaller, lack this light stripe.
To date, I’ve never seen a Black witch moth in central Florida. This individual was photographed along the edge of Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida.
The Indo-Pacific gecko (Hemidactylus garnotii), also commonly referred to as Garnot’s house gecko, is a towering can of kick-ass awesomeness. It’s a species I regularly use as an example when I’m discussing the dangers of oppositional binaries (which are often bullshit) with my students.
Most people think of vertebrates as being male or female — and that reproduction is obtained through sexual activity between males and females (the male fertilizes the female via the ovum, and so on). Hell, I remember being taught that when I was a kid… The problem is, that’s not always the case. There are plenty of natural exceptions. Life is far more complicated than simplistic, easy-to-remember oppositional binaries and categories like “male” and “female.”
As it turns out, the Indo-Pacific gecko is a parthenogenic species. All Indo-Pacific geckos are actually female. There simply aren’t any male Indo-Pacific geckos anywhere in the world; they’re all female, and the species is evolved to create and birth viable offspring without any engagement from other gecko individuals (male or female). This is what parthenogenesis means — reproduction via the ovum without the need for fertilization (via sexual activity or some other means).
Parthenogenesis isn’t actually all that rare in the animal kingdom, and it certainly isn’t limited to non-vertebrates like insects and crustaceans. In fact, a number of shark, amphibian, reptile, and bird species have been confirmed to feature parthenogenic capabilities in the wild.
Non-native to Florida, Indo-Pacific geckos can be quite common in certain stretches of the Floridian peninsula (and elsewhere). I have a healthy population of them living on my back patio and windows in Ormond Beach, Florida — all females, every one of them. Each time I spot them, I’m subtly reminded of the bullshittery of simplistic thinking. It’s a good lesson to remember — that life is far more complicated than simple binaries and ancient assumptions. As a species playing around with self-governance, humans might do well to remember this because far too many of us are quick to dehumanize and delegitimize the integrity of others who biologically transcend the simplicity of “male” versus “female” gender or sex/biological classifications. Reality, which includes the human condition, is far more complicated (and beautiful) than simple oppositional binaries taught by archaic texts written in a time when people thought the world was a frisbee.
Life is far more complicated than any oppositional binary.
Of note: The last picture of this series (the side view, below) is of an Indo-Pacific gecko photographed on 11 August 2013 — for reference. The other pictures were of an individual photographed two days later. Also note that I’ve enhanced the color saturation on the ventral images to highlight the yellow and blue patterns of the Indo-Pacific gecko. In natural color, these hues are more subdued and subtle.
A few shots of a Scarlet-bodied wasp moth taken a few years back on my back patio. Though confused as (or at least suspected of) being some kind of devious wasp out to punish All Things Human, Cosmosoma myrodora is indeed simply a gorgeous, harmless, and radiant species of moth. I’m always happy to find one loitering about near my patio windows.
Despite it’s common name, the Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum) is a particularly pretty and adorable turtle species. With a carapace length averaging between three to five inches or so, this is a fairly small and reclusive species. I don’t see them trekking about on open, dry land very often. That being said, every now and then I do come across them open ground — perhaps looking for a nesting spot or a more lucrative spot of water to hunt within. You can find Eastern mud turtles in a variety of freshwater habitats, though they do seem to prefer fairly calm bodies of water with an abundance of aquatic vegetation. This little one was photographed in Lowndes county, Georgia, a dozen miles or so north of the Florida/Georgia border.
It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a wild Rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus). In fact, this individual was the last one — and that was back in May of 2013. Though I haven’t seen any since 2013, I’m sure more than a few have seen me… Rough green snakes are pretty damn good at hiding right in front of you, wrapping and slinking through tangles of bright, green foliage. It’s a bit of a miracle I saw this one; I just happened to spot a slice of the snake’s mid-body through a thicket of greenery.
A non-venomous species, the Rough green snake is an excellent climber and swimmer. Active mostly during the day, they hunt for arthropods, namely insects, to snack upon. They don’t pose any danger to people whatsoever. Rough greens most certainly are not, as some people like to say on social media, “danger noodles” (unless your a meaty arthropod, that is).