Life Thrives at Wildflower Preserve




Although Wildflower Preserve in Englewood, FL, has in the past been one of my favorite areas for nature study, it has been in an extended hiatus for visitors during ecological restoration, and is only now in the final stages of wetland creation/restoration. Yet life there continues to astonish the senses at every turn. Here is a sampling of what you might see during a visit- although every visit is different and unexpected creatures are observed.

Flowers and their pollinators are a major source of wonder both in the butterfly garden and elsewhere in the preserve. Some pink Salvia in the garden have here attracted a large black native carpenter bee- but notice what it is doing. It has grasped the flower stalk and is biting at the base- this is a “back-door” means of extracting nectar when it cannot access the nutritious fluid via the “front door,” down the narrow corolla tube. This “stealing” of nectar does not benefit the flower but it illustrates that bees are no dummies!

Another carpenter bee is seen in the flower of a wetland primrose willow or seed box, which has an open configuration which allows easy access to the center of the flower. The different strategies needed to extract food from different types of flowers illustrates the dynamic interaction between flowers and the rewards offered to potential pollinators. It also illustrates that this exotic plant provides considerable benefits to native pollinators, despite being invasive in nutrient enriched waters. It also serves as a larval food source for banded sphinx moths.

The native prickly pear cactus has a gorgeous yellow flower that attracts many insects to nectar and pollen rewards. Here a marvelous green sweat bee is rolling in masses of pollen. This is one of numerous native bees (unlike the exotic honeybee from Europe and Africa) which can be very effective in pollinating plants.

There are many dragonflies around the wetlands and the male scarlet skimmer is one of the most spectacular. This is an exotic species only recently arrived in S Florida, but it seems to thrive in disturbed habitats and have minimal adverse impacts on native odonates.

One of the most unusual crabs to be rarely seen in tidal areas of Lemon Creek is the mangrove root crab, Goniopsis, a Caribbean resident that occasionally finds it way to our area. It feeds on mangrove leaves and I have seen it only in two locations locally at Wildflower and in lower areas of Oyster Creek. Perhaps it is starting to get a foothold in our area due to gradual climate warming, or to some other changes in habitat characteristics. But this illustrates how species can gradually expand their ranges.

Even during the restoration process Wildflower Preserve has continued to be a very interesting place to observe nature. Within the near future, when the restoration process has been finished, we may expect an improvement in habitat quality and in biodiversity. It will become a mecca for those interested in observing all aspects of plant and animal life.

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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