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).
The Ailanthus webworm moth is fairly easy to walk by at night, but if you do manage to spot it, and if you do choose to lean in and peer closer, you’ll be treated by a fantastically patterned little moth. Ranging throughout much of the American southeast, the wingspan of the Ailanthus webworm moth measures up to a whopping two to three centimeters — a little over an inch across on the bigger end of the wingspan. They appear much smaller, however, when they’re folded up and chilling out on a glass window at night (as this one was).
The Striped crayfish snake, Liodytes alleni (previously and alternatively classified as Regina alleni), is a slick and reclusive little serpent. Averaging around a foot and a half in length as adults, this species spends the vast majority of its time in water, lurking among the tangled tapestries of aquatic vegetation where it hunts for its preferred prey, the crayfish (hence the clever common name).
Though quite water-bound, Striped crayfish snakes can and often do hit open land after heavy rains. Like many other mostly-aquatic snake species in Florida, a good, heavy thunderstorm seems to lure them out onto open ground and, unfortunately, upon open roads. I found this Striped crayfish snake lurking near a canal shoreline and vast wet prairie in Brevard county — not too far from Kennedy Space Center.
Ranging across North America from the Atlantic west to the Pacific, Thamnophis sirtalis is one durable and adaptable species. In Florida, our recognized subspecies is Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, the Eastern garter snake (makes sense, right?). In fact, the “Eastern” subspecies ranges throughout much of the eastern portion of the United States. Whether you’re in Florida or New York, Minnesota or Louisiana, or anywhere in-between, there’s a decent chance you’ll come across an Eastern garter snake at some point. In my stretch of eastern-central Florida, our garters tend to sport a rather lovely blue-green color schema. Though common, our Eastern garter snakes are uncommonly gorgeous — and always a delight to photograph. I could get lost in those colors and textures.
The African redhead agama (Agama picticauda, arguably) is, as its common name might suggest, a non-native lizard species now scratching out a living along the Atlantic coast of southern Florida. The furthest north I’ve personally observed them is in the Stuart area (Martin county), though I’ve heard reports of agama showing up here and there as far north of Brevard county. It’s a species I wouldn’t be surprised to find in Volusia county in the next decade or two.
In my experiences, agamas are very fast, agile, large, and durable lizards. Catching them isn’t easy — whether your intention is to kill them or photograph them. Of course, I lean towards the latter: catch, photograph, and release.
Some folks will argue that non-native species must be dispatched upon sight, but when it comes to our lizards, it seems we’ve already missed the window of that making much of any difference. Simply put, our successful non-native lizards are successful for a reason. They’re quick, wary, and tend to reproduce faster than people can kill them. At this point, it’s up to native wildlife to compete and adapt against the ecological pressure exerted by our non-native lizards. Short of some disease or climatological disaster, it’s unlikely the agamas are going to go away.
NOTE: There’s a bit of continued debate about exactly which species of agamas have been introduced into Florida. On top of that, there’s also persistent debate by some regarding the general taxonomy of agamas across the world. In other words, though I’m calling these Agama picticauda, others may disagree. I’ll leave that actual debate to those more in the know when it comes to genetics and cladistics.