It may be common to think that interesting natural sights are only to be found over the next hill or in some exotic place. But more often than not if you are alert to nature’s sights and sounds, you may discover something of great interest right in your backyard. We have some advantage in that our yard on Manasota Key has been cultivated for 24 years as a natural habitat, but even in degraded areas some remarkable creatures are seen.
This is the brief season for flowering of one of the most remarkable of our exotic plants, the starburst (Clerodendrum quadriloculare) which has extraordinarily long flowers. It originated in New Guinea and the Philippines and is invasive in the Pacific Islands but has not yet caused problems here. But if you enjoy growing it be sure and pull up all of the suckers which the plant sends out. It does not appear to set seed since only an unusual pollinator (perhaps a night flying sphinx moth) would have the extraordinarily long tongue capable of reaching the bottom of the corolla tube.
A common sight in our yard is the black racer which moves very rapidly, primarily on the ground, searching for its usual prey of lizards. It is distinctly different from the rat snakes (corn and yellow) which climb trees very efficiently. It is of course harmless but when it occasionally slides right through an open door it may cause some consternation among those who are ophidiophobic.
We have for many years enjoyed hosting a family of screech owls which nest in a box placed on a palm tree. We hear them calling at night and enjoy seeing the female at the opening of the nest box this time of year.
A common sight on lawns are the flocks of white ibis. How often do we stop to think how remarkable it is that these ibis have accepted human-dominated environments as their own. They have transitioned from a primarily wetland species to feeding also on lawns. Their very long curved beaks are an efficient means of picking up small prey of all kinds that are caught by touch.
A predator that occurs in our house is not so warmly welcomed by humans. This is the wall or huntsman spider introduced from Asia, which runs fleetly along the walls and hides in very thin cracks. Although they can be intimidating, they are harmless and are indeed quite a boon in eating roaches. I prefer them to using toxic pesticides but regret that they may eat some of my prized geckos.
An occasional visitor which gets trapped on our front porch is this large twilight darner dragonfly. It is beautiful in a subdued fashion and it is a rare treat to hold this remarkable flying and insect-eating machine in your hand.
We encourage butterflies such as this zebra by planting passionvines for the caterpillars and firebush for the adults. Toxins from the passionvines are retained in the adults and they advertise this by their bright colors. They fly rather slowly and seem aware of their protected status.
So before you rush off to the nature preserve for a hike, pause for a few moments and look around your yard. You may be surprised how many interesting critters occur there.