The Awesome Nature of Florida in Summer

The very aspects of the Florida climate that motivate humans to migrate north in summer (high temperature and humidity plus often daily rainfall) make this an ideal situation for plant and animal growth. In addition the storm clouds can generate spectacular sunrises and sunsets as my photo of Lemon Bay at dawn shows. The huge green leaves of a Traveler’s palm in our yard illustrate the phenomenal growth of plants during summer and the intricate geometric patterns that are present. Some plants flower during summer as illustrated by the spectacular May pop passionvine, which is prolific in Maura Qualls’ garden at Wildflower Preserve. The flowers are very large for a native species and the strange structures of red flowering species were interpreted by early Spanish explorers to resemble aspects of the Christian crucifixion. This group of poisonous vines is a required food plant for butterflies such as the Gulf fritillary and the zebra and is important in protecting them from predators. The peculiar leaf-footed bug was also found on a toxic may pop in my yard and I have also noticed them on a highly poisonous nightshade (Jimsonweed) elsewhere.

Recently there was a migratory movement of large numbers of a dragonfly along the SW Florida coast, the wandering glider or globe skimmer, which I am holding in this photo in my yard. This species has been found crossing vast stretches of open ocean in the Pacific and sometimes tries to lay its eggs on shiny car hoods which resemble puddles of water. It is now believed to be the champion of insect migration, flying more than 4400 miles ( ) !

Butterflies we have had in our yard recently include monarchs, Gulf fritillaries, zebras, cloudless sulphurs and giant swallowtails. This photo shows a male monarch who probably considers our yard his personal territory, drinking nectar from a jatropha flower. This toxic exotic shrub has clusters of red flowers that are very attractive to butterflies.

Our most exciting bird sighting of recent weeks has been a pair of gray kingbirds that have a nest down at the public beach and are seen in our yard occasionally and down in the mangroves. This primarily Caribbean species has a predilection for hanging around developed areas and is thus an urban bird. It has a very large beak for killing small prey and is very territorial and chases other birds away from its territory.

So for those of you who brave the Florida climate in summertime I salute you and advise you to enjoy the many natural wonders of this steamy time of year.

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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