There are many, many reasons to love going to the beach where I live. The sun, the surf, and that fantastically thick and salty seabreeze… The sights, the sounds, the textures, and occasionally, when the wave hits you just right, the tastes… Seashells and sargassum, dunes and sea oats. Truly, you never really know what’s going to wash up or swim by when you’re hanging out at the thin line where the land meets the sea, where North America forfeits dominion to the Atlantic. One thing you can count on, however, are birds. Lots of birds. Featured here is one of our most common: the uncommonly elegant and beautiful Snowy egret, Egretta thula. Though certainly not limited to the beach (they’re damn near everywhere!), there’s nothing quite like watching a Snowy egret grace its way down the coastline in search of good-eats.
Ranging throughout much of the southern United States (especially in the southeast), the Broad-tipped conehead katydid, Neoconocephalus triops, is a decent-sized ‘hopper. Depending on a combination of sex and season, this species can variably be either bright green or dull brown. In our neighborhood, this is one of the more common species of katydids we encounter. Fortunately, it is not considered to be a nuisance to any local or regional crops. In short, it’s simply a kick ass katydid species that shows up from time time — with all its conehead glory.
If you’re in peninsular Florida and you see a toad hopping about a yard, odds are it’s a Southern toad, Anaxyrus terrestris. Of course, if the toad is ridiculously huge, it might be a non-native toad… and if the toad is absurdly small, it might be an oak toad… but the domain of StandardToadSize™ (2-4 inches in length or so) belongs to the Southern toad. Notable on this species are the paratoid glands situated on the head (the big bumps a bit behind each eye) and a set of crest-like ridges. Despite popular folklore, Southern toads aren’t toxic to humans. Though they can secrete a mild irritant from their paratoid glands as a defensive measure, this secretion is not really toxic to humans. As for dogs, the non-native Cane toads pose more of a danger than our native Southern toads — but Cane toads are still somewhat limited in their range across the peninsula.
The Florida cottonmouth, Agkistrodon conanti, is perhaps the most misunderstood and misrepresented snake in North America. I’ve heard story after story how cottonmouths chase people down and the like. In reality, however, this is a fairly conservative species. Venomous? Oh, yes. Aggressive? Not in the slightest. They will, however, stand their ground and put up quite a defensive show (as this one did). In fact, the name “cottonmouth” is derived from the defensive display you see in some of these photographs. Other times, Cottonmouths will simply head straight to the water to escape potential danger. This might be where some of the confusion arises, actually… If you happen to be between the snake and the water, the Florida cottonmouth may head straight in your direction (sometimes). This is not aggression, however… The snake is simply trying to flee land and seek safety in the water. For all the Cottonmouths I’ve photographed and worked with over the years, I’ve come across some stubborn ones to be sure, but I’ve never encountered an “aggressive” one. Their reputation far exceeds their actuality! Of note, this species is also classified with a subspecies designation by many: Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti. I’m not smart enough to make much of an argument one way or the other, so I’ll leave that debate to those better in-the-know.
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!