To the uninitiated, summer in Florida might be perceived as just a hot sweaty dash from one air conditioned space to another. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the ability of the human body to adapt to the summer climate as those of us who grew up in the south prior to the advent of air conditioning know quite well. Indeed to nature lovers the summer is a feast for the senses since so many interesting natural events happen then.
If you take an early morning walk you will be able to observe and appreciate some of the numerous signs of summer nature that are all around us. For example I noticed a strange red ball growing in the landscape mulch next to a sidewalk that is an unusual lattice variant of the famous stinkhorn fungus. This peculiar fungus attracts flies with the smell of rotting meat and thereby achieves dispersal of its spores.
There are many other signs of plant reproduction around us in summer. The sea grape fruits are near ripening on the female plants. This interesting small tree is a member of the buckwheat family, most members of which are small weeds. It has one of the most beautiful leaves in nature which are peculiarly large for a FL tree.
A common summer flower in wet meadows is the meadow beauty or Rhexia. The method of pollination is peculiar since bees must vibrate their bodies to release the pollen. This method of “buzz pollination” is also present in some blue berries.
A sure sign of summer is luxuriant flowering of the spectacular firebush. Planting one is a sure way to attract butterflies (zebras, gulf fritillaries, mangrove skippers) and hummingbirds with tongues long enough to reach the nectar.
Another sign of summer is the appearance of tropical upside down jellyfish Cassiopea. They lie in shallow water on their backs to gather the suns rays for the symbiotic algae in their tissues. They flourish in summer and diminish in winter when the bay waters are cooler.
One of my favorite butterflies is the black and white zebra, one of the passion vine specialists. The caterpillars feed only on toxic passion vines, either the native corky stemmed or one of the exotics, and thereby become poisonous themselves. They fly very slowly as if to dare the birds to attack them. This butterfly is unusual in that the adults live longer than most due to a diet of pollen.
Dragonflies are abundant in summer and this Carolina saddlebags (note dark wing bases) is one of the more common and easily identified. Dragonflies are ancient and quite fascinating due to their complex reproductive and migratory habits.
I have found that snakes are actually quite difficult to locate which is probably a good thing! But if you cruise the roads at night with a light in summer you have a good chance of finding one. This scarlet snake was an unusual find by my daughter-in-law on Palm Island. This is one of the two (along with the scarlet king snake) mimics of the rarely seen venomous coral snake (red touch yellow kill a fellow, red touch black friend of Jack). The purpose of this mimicry is obviously directed towards native predators with color vision and thus likely birds rather than mammals.
So enjoy the wild profusion of nature during summer. It is quite a show that can distract you from the heat or at least make the sweat worth it!