A visit to a Remnant of Old Florida

August 21, 2018

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson




One of the little known secrets of southern Sarasota County, FL, is the presence of a large piece of Old Florida within the Myakka State Forest ( https://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Our-Forests/State-Forests/Myakka-State-Forest ). This massive 8593 acre tract along the tidal Myakka RIver is managed for multiple natural outdoor uses and offers visitors a rare chance to see what the original flatwoods may have looked like. I recommend hiking several miles around the Gordon Smith Trail loop before striking out into the wild back country.
Flowers can be spectacular depending on the burn schedules and rainfall. For example thousands of these drumheads bloom along the trail after a fire, with rare butterworts, lobelias, various asters, and many other species.

Flowers attract insects such as this tiny but beautiful palmetto skipper butterfly on a thistle flower.

The hydric flatwoods are quite wet during the summer and ponds of near pristine water chemistry form and extend out into the woodlands. This is an amphibian wonderland with chorus frogs, cricket frogs, pig frogs, leopard frogs, green, squirrel and pinewoods tree frogs, narrow mouthed frog, and southern and oak toads. The tiny oak toad sounds like a very loud peeping chick when breeding but is quite well camouflaged at other times. Indeed the blotched coloration matches the background very well and the mid-dorsal light stripe breaks the outline of the body into two, further decreasing the chance that a predator will notice the toad.

Predators such as this black racer are commonly seen and this snake had just eaten a brown anole when photographed. These racers are very quick and guided by excellent vision especially keyed in to movement of prey. Note the huge eyes and alert expression- if a snake can have an expression! The extended tongue brings scent particles into an organ in the roof of the mouth that serves to detect smells and tastes.

A small but important mammalian predator is the exotic nine banded armadillo introduced from the SW US. It forages almost entirely by scent but is a very efficient predator on small ground dwelling animals and eggs which are dug up in shallow areas by the claws on the front feet. Armadillos are famous for being one of the only carriers of leprosy other than humans and they can transmit the disease, so do not touch.

A visit to Myakka State Forest will take you back in time by showing you what the original pine flatwoods in this area probably looked like. Enjoy the experience and praise the vision of the managers who saved this area from development.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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