One of my favorite tiny wonders of the wetlands of pine flatwoods is the sundew. The name is appropriate since the glistening orbs of sticky material at the ends of filaments certainly shine in the sun as would drops of dew. But these dew drops are agents of destruction for small insects and thus provide food for this “little shop of horrors” at a micro-scale. I am intrigued by these meat-eating plants because they represent the type case of an interesting strategy used to obtain nutrients in an environment that is notoriously deficient in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. It is common to find other examples nearby that also consume animals but by different methods- the bladderwort that snares tiny invertebrates with loops of its roots, and the butterwort that has flat sticky leaves that entrap insects.
A common exotic flower in winter time is the tassel flower. This queen butterfly is obtaining nectar from the flowers of this aster family flower, although its caterpillar is totally dependent on milkweeds for its food. This illustrates the obvious but sometimes overlooked fact that one must offer both larval and adult food to maintain the entire life cycle of a butterfly species in your yard. Although it would be preferable to offer nectar with a native plant, the tassel flower grows well in our area and blooms in winter when native flowers are more difficult to supply.
In shallow bay waters the lightning whelk is a common large mollusc, and it is easy to recognize if you know how to distinguish right from left-handed shells. Hold the pointed end of the shell with one hand with the blunt end up and the opening of the shell with the operculum/foot facing you. If the opening of the shell is on your left side it is a left-handed or sinistral shell and the lightning whelk shown here is one of the very few gastropod molluscs of this type. This time of year it is not uncommon to find the egg cases of this species which are fastened to the bottom as shown here in a shallow grass bed .
I take great pride in maintaining a healthy litter community in our yard to encourage native insects, arthropods, amphibians and reptiles. One of my favorite lizards and one which few people see or appreciate is the southeastern five-lined skink. It is well known for the bright blue tails of the young lizards which apparently advertise a considerable toxicity, and encourage predators to attack the tail which is broken off and wriggles to keep the predator involved while the lizard escapes. The head shown here illustrates the moveable eyelids and the external ears which distinguish it so clearly from snakes. Skinks are burrowers in forest litter and the eyelids are translucent so that they can see partially while the eyelids are closed. It is interesting that this native skink remains common in SW FL while all around them the predominant small semi-terrestrial and arboreal lizard is the exotic brown anole which has replaced the green Carolina anole.
At Wildflower Preserve we conducted some seine surveys recently in tidal Lemon Creek and found two interesting small predatory fish that are not often seen by the public. In a downstream area where there are more fish species, there were a number of tiny snook a few inches long that must have been only a few months old. Yet upstream in waters that are lower in oxygen there were considerable numbers of small tarpon and no snook. Tarpon are the only marine fish that can and must breathe air, allowing these early vulnerable stages to prosper in waters low in oxygen that exclude most other fish competitors and predators. Once they are much larger, tarpon leave these mangrove nursery areas and seek their fortune in coastal waters where they prey on other fish species.
The scrub jay is a relatively rare bird which is restricted to sandy, dry scrub habitat. These jays are famous because they are so specific to a single habitat type, and do not generally leave home after fledging but remain near Mom and Pop, help at the nest the next year, and hope to inherit the “family farm” someday. There are numbers of local sanctuaries for scrub jays where all of the babies are marked with leg bands to keep track of their survival. In a recent visit to Tippecanoe 2 Preserve I noticed a group of four jays which were not marked in this fashion by humans. I found it quite exciting that these jays were “natural” and not carrying “bling” attached to their legs by humans, and I wish them well in a perilous world.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA