I continue to be amazed by the beauty and biodiversity of creatures that I find at the recovering golf course that is called Wildflower Preserve in Englewood, FL. Only six years past a landscape that was predominantly mowed fairways with lakes dredged from former wetlands, nature has begun to return with surprising vigor. Indeed it gives me hope for the future of the biosphere. I am going to focus on some small creatures that might escape your notice if you quickly hiked through the preserve. If you walked with me you would probably become impatient with our progress since I find quiet contemplation of the surroundings will often reveal unsuspected wonders.
The cowpeas are starting to bloom and their small yellow blossoms are quite attractive to butterflies. This one has attracted a grass skipper, a tiny butterfly relative. Nearby a mangrove buckeye has spread its wings on a cool morning to warm up. It resembles the much more widespread common buckeye except for subtle differences in sizes of the eye spots and the tan coloring on the forewing. It is restricted to mangrove coasts since the caterpillars feed only on black mangrove.
Although you might think about walking sticks as being thin, the two-striped walkingstick is rather plump and has an attitude out of proportion to its size. It moves relatively rapidly and can squirt a toxic liquid into the eyes of attackers. It is sometimes seen in pairs with the smaller male on the back of the female, hence the common name of “devil rider.”
The six beautiful freshwater ponds and tidal creeks attract a number of dragonflies, some of which are spectacular beauties, although it is the male of these two species that attracts the most attention. The native roseate skimmer is a remarkable pinkish color whereas the introduced scarlet skimmer from Asia is brilliant red. Such bright colors and the aggressive behavior shown by male dragonflies illustrates a breeding system in which males fight for territories, the females make choices of their mates, and the males guard them while they lay eggs in the water.
In the non-breeding season frogs are not very obvious unless you carefully look in crevices of palm leaves and grasses. In this way I found both the exotic Cuban treefrog with its characteristic warty skin, and the native squirrel treefrog. Once the rains start in late spring the volume of their calls will surprise you, as will the numbers of individuals present.
The process of yard work carried out by park volunteers often reveals interesting critters and this seldom-seen ringneck snake was found under some grass debris that was raked up. They are an iridescent blackish color (due to the fine structure of the skin that is characteristic of burrowing snakes) with a yellow ring aorund the neck, and bright red under the tail. When the snake is disturbed it hides its head under its coils and raises the coiled tail showing the red underside. This behavior seems clearly designed to distract a predator with color vision (likely birds) from attacking the vulnerable head.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA