Although you might think that southern Florida is in a state of perpetual spring-time, such is not the case. There are very distinct summer wet and winter dry seasons with associated changes in the prevailing temperatures. The onset of spring is quite noticeable due to the responses of plants and animals to the longer day lengths with changes in growth and behavior. Of course this year everyone is noticing an earlier onset of spring in many locations, and this is most obvious to me by the premature flowering of the willow trees. They have been in bloom for almost a month and it is an exciting sign of the coming wet season. However for the northward migrating warblers that are dependent on these flowers for food when they pass through later, this could be a problem.
Florida residents have planted many exotic trees and some of these are coming into bloom now. Two of my favorites are the tabebuia or pink trumpet tree, and the silk cotton tree. The flowers of the silk cotton are enormous and absolutely gush with nectar, attracting many birds. If the homeowner is willing to put up with such a “messy” tree, the rewards are considerable in terms of the spectacular blooms and the wildlife that is attracted.
The life cycle of one of our most incredible moths was revealed recently when I found a large pupa. As the photo reveals, there was a spine on the hind end and I suspected that this was a hornworm or sphinx moth. I had seen the caterpillar of one species of this unusual moth earlier feeding on the primrose willow plant that grows around the edges of ponds at Wildflower Preserve. This bush has a beautiful yellow flower that is esteemed by many insects. Although it is sometimes despised by managers since it thrives in shallow nutrient-enriched waters, I consider it a premier wildlife-friendly plant. I placed the pupa I found in a box and waited to see what would emerge. To my delight, within a few days a banded sphinx moth appeared, confirming the life cycle of this remarkable night-flying nectar feeder that hovers at flowers and feeds with a very long proboscis on nectar.
Another sign of the spring season was the appearance of blue tilapia on their spawning beds around the edges of ponds such as this one at Wildflower Preserve. Although this is an exotic from Africa which is not entirely welcome, it is an interesting species of cichlid fish which is mainly herbivorous. A primary ecological impact seems to be as a competitor with dabbling birds such as gallinules and coots which are often out-competed by this fish, except in nutrient-enriched waters.
The alligators enjoy the warm rays of spring sunshine and are out basking on the river and lake banks exposed by lower water flows. It is a peculiar circumstance that this is the time of year when the gators have the easiest time in finding food since aquatic life is concentrated in small pools by the reduced rainfall. During the summer when water levels are high, gators have to pursue their prey when the density of fish is at an annual low point.
I find that spring-time brings a strong feeling of emotional renewal stimulated by flowers, the leafing out of trees, the calling of frogs and the singing of birds that announces re-birth of ecosystems. It is a very special time and a tribute to our primal links with nature that we feel this change so strongly and celebrate it.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA