Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
I saw this squirrel climbing around the trunk of a tree in the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve while I was on the boardwalk. It was scrapping off the bark in some places. I assume it was looking for insects to eat. The Grey Squirrel is a mammal but is also a rodent. I learned that there are about 4,000 different kinds of mammals worldwide and of that number 38% of them or about 1,500 are classified as rodents. The diet of Grey Squirrels consists of insects, nuts, acorns, fruits and eggs. They make their nest in the cavities of trees and in nests they construct in the upper branches of trees. Squirrels can become infected by a parasite called the bot fly which grows under the skin of the squirrel. Do not feed squirrels or try to touch them.
A very good source of information about the natural resources and outdoor science is the Univ. of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences which is a federal, state and county partnership dedicated to developing knowledge in agriculture, human and natural resources and the life sciences. It offers classes in a variety of subjects in many counties in Florida and I have taken one in “Wetlands” which focuses on the land in Florida which is composed of swamps, marshes and estuaries. I learned about the topographical features of wetlands, how they contribute to the natural systems of Florida and the wildlife that is dependent upon them. Other classes offered by the Florida Master Naturalist program focuses on coastlines and uplands.
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Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
The Burrowing owl is a small owl that is often seen in dry open areas such as rangeland, vacant home lots and deserts. Although it is not a wetland species I have decided to include it on this website because they are so common and live near wetland areas. Burrowing owls true to their name dig their nests in the ground and can be seen standing near their nests when you travel by their habitats. They sometimes use the holes dug into the ground by tortoises, prairie dogs, skunks and armadillos. The Burrowing owl is diurnal and hunts during the day and night for it’s food. This owl as you can see from the picture which I took at a nature fair is mostly brown with white spots. It has sharp claws for feet which is one method to grab it’s prey. They feed upon a variety of things including insects, other birds, reptiles, scorpions, and mammals. The Burrowing owl is a protected and endangered species in some states. I have seen yellow ribbons stretched across wooden stakes in the ground to alert people that protected birds are living in that area and not to disturb their nests. You can learn more about conservation efforts of this owl at the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network. You can hear the chirping sounds made by the Burrowing Owl at AllAboutBirds .Click on the audio link when you scroll down a little and see typical voice.
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Ft. Myers Beach
Pier at Ft Myers Beach
Ft. Myers Beach
Ft. Myers Beach is located on Estero Island on the Gulf of Mexico in SW Florida. It is just south of Sanibel Island and just north of Bonita Springs and Estero. This picture shows part of the beach near Lynn Hall Memorial Park and pier on the north end of the Island. You reach this part of Ft. Myers Beach when you drive across the bridge that connects the beach with the mainland. The pier extends out into the Gulf for over 500 feet and is used for sightseeing and fishing. You can see fishing boats, the casino boat, and other types of water craft from this vantage point. My favorite parts of the Island are on the north and south ends of the Island. Bowditch Point lies on the north end of the Island and has public parking, bathroom facilities, quiet beaches and a point where you can walk around and see both the Gulf facing Sanibel Island and Matanzas Pass facing Estero bay. The south end of the Island near the Holiday Inn motel has some of the cleanest and nicest beach water on the Island. The difference in the water quality is probably due more to its distance from the strong currents that churn up the water near the north end. There is a great sand sculpture contest that happens here once a year that is really worth seeing. The busy part of the Island is located just when you land on the Island after crossing the bridge and is where most of the restaurants and bars are located. It can get very busy during the high season when most of the tourists arrive and traffic can be very heavy. The Lee Tran bus service can take you to the Island from the Summerlin Square and San Carlos Blvd parking lot and drop you off and pick you up at several locations on the Island if you don’t want to fight the traffic. Carry what you need. Some websites to learn more about the Island are Ft. Myers Beach town’s official website. and Lee county’s website that has lots of info about Sanibel and Ft. Myers Beach. Another good website is of Lovers Key State Park and beach located just a short drive south of Ft. Myers Beach. Lovers Key State Park and Beach has been rated one of the best beaches in the U.S.
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Eastern Lubber Grasshopper
Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)
This is the adult Eastern Lubber Grasshopper which is found all throughout Florida. I took this picture in the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers. They can be found in pine-woods, weedy areas, roadsides and in wetlands which have both wet and dry surfaces. The adult Lubber is known for its bright yellow body and black spots while the baby Lubber is mostly black and has a few yellow stripes. You can see the younger version of the Lubber in one of my previous posts. I was impressed by its sturdy appearance and its outer covering which looks like a body of armor. The name lubber comes from the English word “lobre” which means lazy or clumsy and is also related to the word landlubber. The Eastern Lubber grasshopper sheds its outer skin or covering called “molting” several times during its lifetime before it reaches the adult stage. This grasshopper can be damaging to crops and gardens if they gather in large enough populations by eating the leaves of plants. There numbers are often limited by a parasitic fly whose eggs are ingested by the grasshopper and are toxic to the grasshopper. For more information about the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper you can visit the Univ. of Florida’s Featured Creatures website.
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Boardwalk at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
The sun is shining through the canopy of trees and tall plants and is illuminating the boardwalk which winds its way through this nature park at Six Mile Cypress Preserve in Ft. Myers. Six Mile Slough Preserve is about 11 miles long and only ½ mile wide. It was established by a group of students, concerned citizens and government officials in the 1970’s as Ft. Myers was growing and the number of open spaces, wetlands and natural preserves was diminishing in this area. Eventually the park was re-established with the help of many organizations and today is one of the popular visitor spots where people can enjoy the outdoors and view Florida’s natural wildlife and wetlands. The preserve consists of 3-4 miles of boardwalk where you can view several different landscapes including Pine Flatwoods, Ponds, Hammocks and the Slough. It’s a great place to take pictures and catch glimpses of a variety of birds, reptiles and other wetland wildlife. The slough also serves as a migratory refuge for birds who are making their way in different directions when the climate changes. Visit the official website for the preserve which is managed within the Lee County Parks & Recreation Dept or go to the Friends of the Slough where you can learn more about the ongoing preservation efforts or get involved in meetings and volunteering. I found a good collection of pictures on a Trip Advisor website which shows a lot of the wildlife within the preserve.
Alligator Flag Plants
Fire Flag or Alligator Flag (Thalia ganiculata)
The Fire Flag or Alligator Flag plant are common sights in wetlands and swamps in Florida where they are a native species. Their roots or rhizomes are submersed in water and their stalks rise up and produce broad leaves which can be 2-3 feet long and several inches wide. Sometimes the Alligator Flag plant marks an area where an alligator makes it home. The alligator may use its large tail to dig a burrow in the swamp bottom which it uses as a resting place. This burrow or hole in the muddy bottom then creates a unique ecosystem that allows other plants, animals, fish and reptiles to share the depression or hole in the bottom of the swamp during dry season when the water levels drop. Visit the National Park Service website to see an illustration of this phenomenon. I photographed this plant along with many others at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers. There is a great boardwalk there which extends for miles which allows you to see the plants, birds and animals of a swamp and wetland.
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Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)
The Brown Anole is an invasive species, native to Cuba and they are killing off the Green Anoles because they are more aggressive. Brown Anoles are more common to see around the yard and crawling on buildings. They will feed on just about anything including insects, mealworms, Green Anoles and small fish when they are near water. They have the same sticky pads for feet which allow them to walk or climb on any surface. Many of the invasive species that have taken over our ecosystems and habitats were brought in by pet owners from other countries which is illegal. When they get too big they are released into the wild and sometimes overwhelm the native population of related animals. Keep them out of your garage, lanai or house for the same reasons I mentioned before. They can leave foul smelling droppings which are unpleasant to clean up.
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Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)
The Green Anole or that familiar lizard that we see running around our yards and on our houses are often referred to as the American Chameleon. They can change color to disguise themselves. They are native to Florida unlike the Brown Anole which is from Cuba. Their natural habitats are in warm and moist environments. They can attach themselves and run across just about anything because of the adhesive pads on their feet or (lamellae). The male can be distinguished from the female by the pinkish/reddish fan like flap of skin that is displayed below it’s neck. This display of it’s patch of skin is used to court females and to warn other males to stay away from it’s territory. Green Anoles eat insects and bugs. Their predators include birds, cats, snakes and people. It is not wise to keep them as pets. I like seeing them in the wild but not in my house or lanai because they leave their foul smelling droppings all over the place and you eventually see them shriveled up dead and have to remove and clean your rugs and floors.
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Epiphytes are sometimes called air plants. Epiphytes are plants that grow on the trunks and structures of trees in swamps, and forests all over the world. They absorb water by collecting rainwater in the cavities in the bases of their leaves. Florida has the greatest number and variety of air plants because of our tropical climate. There are over 75 varieties of epiphytes in this state including orchids and bromeliads which are famous for their beauty and rarity. I wasn’t sure what species this epiphyte was and did not list any scientific genus or species name. They are very common though in swamps, sloughs and wetlands in Florida. I found it interesting to learn that these plants without any permanent root structure comprise 10% of all plants in world. All you need is water, sunlight and some nutrients. I photographed this air plant in the Six Mile Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers where they are a common sight. There is some good information about Epiphyte Plants at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens website. If you are ever in Sarasota, Florida, it’s worth a trip to go see the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
to see a larger picture of the air plant click on it and wait for it to adjust to your screen.
Alligator at Bird Rookery Swamp
American Alligator – (Alligator mississippiensis)
I saw this alligator while I was taking a tour of the Bird Rookery Swamp in Naples. It was resting on the trail as our group walked by and the tour guide stood between us and the alligator with his big walking stick. The tour guide explained to us that this alligator who he knew by name was about 30 years old. He is opening his mouth to release air in his body before he makes his entry into the water. . The American Alligator is Florida’s state reptile and inhabits fresh, brackish and saltwater environments. It can be seen in Florida’s sub-tropical wetlands, swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes and rivers . The Alligator can grow in size from 6 ft to 19 ft. Alligators feed on fish, mammals, birds, turtles, snakes and frogs. Alligators were over hunted in the 1800′s and 1990′s for their skins and soon became an endangered species. It is against the law to feed them. Alligators can also be dangerous to humans and should not be approached.