Some Natural Beauties of Winter in a SW Florida Yard

February 21, 2017

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson

We are fortunate in having a lot on Lemon Bay which is both picturesque and attractive to wildlife. However a major aspect of the yard that brings in wildlife is the vegetation. We have about 160 species of plants divided almost equally between natives and exotics. However I have to fight against an “addiction” to beautiful flowers such as the Asiatic hibiscus that provide no benefits to insects since they lack nectar.

One exotic flower that is beneficial to local insects is the burgundy passionflower, which attracts insects such as this carpenter bee. The leaves are eaten by passion vine specialists such as caterpillars of zebra and gulf fritillary butterflies. A mangrove skipper whose caterpillar might have fed on nearby red mangroves is attracted by the nectar in flowers of this exotic penta. Our monarch butterflies (which require milkweeds for food at the caterpillar stage of their life cycle) benefit from the presence of exotic milkweeds (both giant and tropical) as native milkweeds do not thrive in our area. The photo shows a female monarch that has just emerged from her chrysalis. We raised her from an egg laid on one of our giant milkweed plants.

When birds come to our water drips we get an up close and personal look at them which can be very interesting. For example this common “trash bird” the mourning dove or “modo” has a beautiful face pattern. Another visitor to the drip is a male pine warbler which has a subdued beauty. We have a pair of cardinals in our yard which nest here and we especially enjoy the spectacular song of the male this time of year. His color is also spectacular but those of us who have grown up with cardinals have become too familiar with them to fully appreciate their beauty. When our relatives from Utah visit, they cannot believe how astounding the male looks. Apparently the female cardinal is also smitten by lots of red since she is likely the evolutionary agent that has selected to mate with males with the brightest red color.

When you think about enjoying wild animals, do not fail to look right in your backyard. If you select yard plants that have specific qualities that attract animals, you will be richly rewarded.

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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