Signs of Spring Abound in SW Florida

The calendar tells us that official spring is here and we can see that ourselves by our observations of nature. One of my favorite harbingers of spring is the glorious flowering of the pink trumpet tree, Tabebuia, at the end of Panama St, near the Palm Island ferry dock. It is an extraordinary sight of this exotic and unusually large Caribbean tree in full bloom with pink blossoms showering down. Some of our native flowers are also showy if at a much smaller scale. This yellow milkwort at Myakka State Forest is a pretty sight in damp pine flatwoods. The tiny glades lobelias are now blooming in masses in damp areas along ditches or even in lawns.

One of the startling sights in shallow bay waters of Lemon Bay is the mass breeding of the hermaphroditic ragged sea hares. They gather in groups or even in lines to alternately exchange sperm or eggs with their partners. If you gently squeeze them you get a surprise when they eject a dark purple ink; this reveals their molluscan relationship with the Murex snails which produced the royal purple dye beloved of ancient royalty.

Butterflies are still in somewhat short supply but we have had some monarchs finding nectar on a variety of flowers such as this jatropha.

At the beach the birds are assuming their breeding colors and behavior. A royal tern had its characteristic black cap and was strutting as if to impress a mate. A nearby herring gull will not be nesting until it migrates to Canada, but it was in breeding plumage.

Our screech owls are nesting in a box and the female was seen peeking out at the world. The reddish male roosts nearby in a thicket and calls to his mate at night.

Reptiles are showing more activity. I have seen many black racers and noticed this exotic iguana in Rotonda basking on a pole.

So enjoy the onset of spring and all the wonders that it brings. If you are soon heading north for the summer, you will be in essence time traveling back to an earlier and cooler season and this provides many opportunities for enjoying a more prolonged spring than we get in Florida.

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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