Wildflower Ramble 03.06.11 – It is Spring for Sure!


On a balmy early spring day, I walked with a group of friends around Wildflower Preserve in Charlotte County, FL, and enjoyed the many sights and sounds of the season . Dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies are again flying in considerable numbers and new flowers are opening almost every day. Reptiles are moving around to breed or find new habitat and it is just a good time to be out observing the wonders of nature.

Although this is generally a time when female turtles are on land looking for nest sites, we observed a male Florida softshell on land for no obvious reason. From the photo I took of his head you can observe the unusually long nostrils and flattened body which allow softshells to be a very rapid swimmer and to bury in soft bottoms to escape from predation, while extending their neck to the surface in shallow water to get air.

A beautiful terrestrial reptile we encountered was a yellow rat snake on the prowl. While these snakes are well adapted for climbing trees they do spend some time on the ground also searching for prey. But they and the related corn snake mostly cover the higher habitats while the common black racer, which we also saw, is more of a ground and shrub forager. It is very interesting that the common rat snake on our VA farm is a black rat snake, rather than these related bright yellow or reddish species.

One of the numerous new flowers now blooming was the evening primrose, which I find very beautiful. The four large yellow pedals are characteristic as is the crossed structure of the pistil.

One of my favorite butterflies was out in numbers, the otherwise rare mangrove buckeye, which is found only along the sub-tropical coasts where black mangrove is common. It is a classic example of local speciation from a much more widespread species (common buckeye) based on adaptation to a very specialized and harsh habitat (coastal mangroves).

Finally on my way to Wildflower I turned over a rock in my yard and found this whip scorpion or vinegaroon. It is a scary looking dude but basically harmless. It puts up a fierce display and sprays a mist of vinegar/acetic acid. I really enjoy having them in my yard leaf litter community to keep the roaches under control. It is one of the characteristic southwestern desert animals that migrated eastwards to Florida, such as the racerunner lizard and rattlesnakes.

The pace of a ctivity of animals and plants continues to increase with the seasons. Go out and enjoy!

Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA

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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