I attended a recent field trip led by expert naturalist Jean Evoy to the Babcock Webb Wildlife Management Area ( https://myfwc.com/recreation/lead/babcockwebb/ ). It was organized by the Peace River Butterfly Society (President Steve Scott, firstname.lastname@example.org ). This enormous (65,770 acres) preserve in southern Charlotte County is an astonishing place. While likely designed for consumptive users (hunting, fishing, ORV and camping) it is revered by nature lovers of all kinds (including birders, insect and plant lovers). Why is it so much better preserved than many if not most protected natural areas? Well it is huge, distant from large population centers, and has retained a more normal groundwater hydrology than most parks. This means that prescribed burns do not destroy so many trees and there is a natural proportion of wetlands to uplands. The photo by Steve Scott of part of the group looking at insects shows how slash pines and palmettos are intermixed with wetlands and most of the pines are alive despite regular burns.
Four of the interesting butterflies that were seen are shown. The mallow scrub hairstreak is tiny but very beautiful up close and has a strange color pattern. The eye spots and “tails” on the rear of the hindwings seem to be a type of “head mimicry” which would mislead predators such as jumping spiders and birds to strike at a less vulnerable area. The Georgia satyr similarly has striking patterns on the outer hindwing that probably divert the strike of predators away from the head and body. The white peacock butterfly has a series of dark spots resembling eyes on the outer surfaces of the periphery of the hind- and forewings, In contrast the black swallowtail foraging for nectar on the blue flowers of the pickerelweed has an entirely different pattern- it is black with yellow stripes and spots with blue and orange patches along the rear of the hindwing. This striking coloration is thought to be warning mimicry based on resemblance to the poisonous pipevine and polydamas swallowtails, which feed on toxic pipevines as caterpillars and retain the toxins as adults.
An interesting insect we found was the lubber grasshopper. It is a large and clumsy non-flying grasshopper which is protected by toxins and despised by farmers and gardeners when it feeds on their plants. The young grasshoppers are very brightly colored in black and red/yellow to advertise their toxicity, and associate with their siblings in feeding groups. This provides some protection to their shared genotypes since a predator may kill one individual but then learn not to attack the others.
One of the most unusual spiders we found was a female green lynx spider protecting her brood in a web in the flower top of a large weed. Parental behavior is remarkable in such a “primitive” form of life and illustrates how many of what we consider advanced qualities have their origins very early in time.
We encountered a tiny amphibian, the oak toad, which was less than 1/2 inch long. It lives most of its life on land but travels to wetlands to breed and lay its eggs. It has a piercing chick-like call when breeding and is only found in places where there is a healthy mix of temporary wetlands lacking fish predation on its tadpoles and suitable uplands where the adults live.
So do not be misled by the roar of ORV’s and the sound of gunfire from the rifle range as you enter Babcock Webb along Tuckers Grade from exit 158 of I-75. It is a true wildlife paradise to be enjoyed by all, although it is much quieter during the week than the weekends.