In late August in Florida, humans begin to wilt under the prolonged heat, humidity and rainfall and start thinking about the upcoming Fall season. But this is a time of intense animal and plant activity and is a prime time to enjoy nature. Here is just a small sample from my yard on Manasota Key and the nearby beach of this remarkable natural frenzy.
Among the 160 species of plants in our yard I planted a native sub-tropical Jamaican caper which earlier was covered with beautiful blooms with long white stamens, which are most likely pollinated by night-flying sphinx moths. The fruit is a strange brown pod which splits open to reveal a reddish interior with embedded dark seeds. These are eaten by birds attracted by the red color, but there would seem to be minimal reward to the birds for dispersing the seeds.
I also planted some maypops which are a native passion vine with spectacular blue flowers. They are rather invasive and have spread widely. The leaves are the food for zebra and Gulf fritillary butterflies. These white and black caterpillars are the zebra larvae which derive not only food but a toxin that protects them and the adult from bird predation, The adults fly slowly as if aware of their poisonous status and roost openly at night; this individual has a slit in the wing probably due to a bird bite.
The mangrove skipper feeds on red mangrove leaves as a caterpillar and is thereby mainly seen near the coast. I have never seen the caterpillar, but the beautiful adults with iridescent blue markings were remarkably common in our yard in August, nectaring on flowers of snowberry, fiddlewood and Jamaican porterweed.
August is the time to see sea turtle hatchlings on the beach if you are lucky. This loggerhead baby was released by volunteers of the Coastal Wildlife Club as they counted and categorized the status of egg shells in a nest that had just hatched. Sea turtles have nested in record numbers along Manasota Key, most likely due to decades of protection of the adults from drowning in trawling nets. This is an inspiring story of how a prolonged conservation effort requiring turtle exclusion devices on nets has yielded positive results.
Another striking beach observation was a strange shorebird with an all black breast and belly. This is a black-bellied plover which however has a light belly all during the winter and spring. So this bird was in reproductive plumage and had just arrived from breeding in the far northern Arctic. The black feathers will soon be lost.
I was happy to see that there were many fish in shallow waters of Lemon Bay behind our house despite the long periods of red tide in the Gulf and blue green bacteria and green slime in Lemon Bay. This small barracuda was lurking in the shallows no doubt looking for a snack of a mosquito fish.