Alexander Springs, 25 September 2016

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Alexander Springs area in Lake countyFlorida
25 September 2016, Nikon D7100

This past weekend, I headed west to Alexander Springs in Lake county with my outdoorsman buddy, Eric. We originally went out in search of the Florida green watersnake (a species Eric has yet to encounter since moving down from Alaska), but Alexander Springs quietly lured us in. It did not, of course, disappoint:

I’ve had that GoPro camera for awhile now — but haven’t really done much with it in natural habitats. This little swim was a fun test run for the camera. I think it would’ve been smoother if I’d had a mask and fins, though. Heh. Underwater videography is sort of difficult when you don’t have fins or a mask.

I’m a bit smoother with my Nikon, I think.

The music on the video is “The Bulldog” by Brian Eno (with Moebius and Roedelius) released on the album After the Heat (1978, iTunes). Next, we’ll check out some species observed at Alexander Springs on this lovely September morning.

The Echo Moth (Seirarctia echo), 21 June 2016

Seirarctia echo, 21 June 2016

Seirarctia echo, the Echo moth (caterpillar)
Oak Village of the Trails in Ormond Beach, Volusia county, Florida
21 June 2016, Nikon D7100

Stepping away from snakes for a minute (and it probably will only be a minute in phosTracks time), let’s check out the previously mentioned Echo moth caterpillars that foiled my plan to hang on to a Red rat snake for about a week.

First, let’s get our bearings. See that caterpillar up top? That’s the larval form of the Echo moth, Seirarctia echo, which looks like this as an adult:

Seirarctia echo; Volusia county, Florida (18 July 2016).

Seirarctia echo; Volusia county, Florida (18 July 2016).

As is often the case between caterpillars and their respective moth/butterfly adult forms, that’s a significant difference in appearance, right? Anyhow, Echo moth caterpillars can be quite abundant during the summertime in Florida. They’re not overly-picky when it comes to habitat and food. You can find them on many plants ranging from Cabbage palmettos to Live oaks — not to mention a variety of ornamental gardens and managed shrubbery. Often, when you find one, you’ll find many. That was certainly the case on this day.

I found a dozen or so of these caterpillars tromping about my workplace on June 21st. Aurelia’s a big fan of caterpillars and moths/butterflies, so I decided to bring a couple of the scampers home for her to check out. I wasn’t really thinking we’d hang on to the caterpillars, but —sure enough— that’s what Aurelia immediately wanted to do. She wanted to evict our Red rat snake visitor and set the terrarium up for the caterpillars to eventually become adult moths.

And so it was.

We let the Red rat snake go in our backyard (as seen in the last post) and jacked the terrarium full of a variety of plant matter for the caterpillars to devastate. And devastate they did. These little campers can eat quite a bit… and wouldn’t you know it…? In no time, they were all wrapped up for their eventual morph into their adult forms. I’m sad to say that one of them didn’t make it, but the other one did. That felt like an accomplishment to me; I’d never done that before.

How fun it was to release an adult Echo moth into our backyard (probably for one of our anoles to eat… heh). If only I’d thought to take a picture of the release! [NOTE: The adult featured above was an entirely different individual.]

The Red Rat Snake (Pantherophis guttatus), 21 June 2016

Pantherophis guttatus, 21 June 2016

Pantherophis guttatus, the Red rat snake, Corn snake
Oak Village of the Trails, Ormond Beach, Volusia county, Florida
21 June 2016, Nikon D7100
This post was updated/rewritten on Monday 26 September due to a severe case of mis-remembering how I found this snake (I confused it in my memory with a Yellow rat snake… Ugh!

The Red rat snake, also commonly known as the Corn snake, is quite popular in the introductory reptile-pet trade. Truly, this non-venomous species, Pantherophis guttatus, often makes for an agreeable, resilient, and cooperative pet. It is also commonly found in residential and developed areas, quietly scratching out a living in the backyards of the southeastern United States. Like the Southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus), the Red rat snake benefits from human development because we unwittingly provide shelter and food for rodents. The math is simple down here: Things to Climb + Rodents = More Red Rat Snakes

I wasn’t too surprised when I stumbled across a Red Rat Snake in our Ormond Beach backyard. I decided to set it up in our temporary habitat for Aurelia to study up close. I figured we’d keep the snake for a few days, maybe even a week, and then let it go. We even have a special terrarium set up just for these kinds of short-term visitors (we don’t keep wild animals indefinitely).

Aurelia was pretty ecstatic when she first saw the snake. This was one seriously beautiful and bright Red rat snake. Many individuals dull as they age. This one hadn’t hit The Dulling yet. It had probably recently shed, too. The colors were ridiculously bright on this Red rat snake. I still believe central Florida’s wild Red rat snakes are better than anything the breeders can come up with

These photographs were actually taken the following day — after the snake had a night to chill out:

Interestingly, as jazzed as Aurelia was to get to study this Red rat snake up close and personally, she wanted to let it go the following day. I’d also snagged some Echo moth caterpillars, and Aurelia wanted to use the terrarium for the little moths-to-be (more on that in our next post).

We decided to let the Red rat snake go in our backyard. Residential life is a decent gamble for this kind of snake. There are, after all, plenty of mice and rats in this area (and we could stand to have a bit more rodent control). In true form, the Red rat snake took to climbing out back wall, seeking out the higher ground. It eventually disappeared into the small overhang nook where the roof and the back wall meet. Incidentally, that’s also where I’ve seen a decent number of rodents pass by over the last few years. Heh. God speed, Red rat, and may you find plenty to eat up there!

The Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri), 04 September 2016

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Sistrurus miliarius barbouri, the Dusky pigmy rattlesnake
Near the Blackwater Creek area in Lake county, Florida
04 September 2016, Nikon D7100

I managed to duck out today (Sunday 04 September 2016) for a romp around Lake and Volusia counties. The original plan was to take two friends, Eric and Danielle, to Lake county and track down the serpentine mobile-fortress known as the Florida green watersnake, Nerodia floridana. As luck would have it, however, Eric took a palm jab to the foot and found himself incapacitated. Yeah, you’ve got to watch out for palms in Florida; they can totally wreck you. Eric’s pedal-injury pretty much scrapped the original plan, but I ended up heading west anyhow to have lunch with my mother and root around a bit here and there. It had been too long since I stomped through some of the thickery of Lake county. I have a favorite little spot near Blackwater Creek and the Seminole State Forest in Lake county. It’s served me well in the past, and it certainly did so again today. Featured here is perhaps the most brilliantly colored Dusky pigmy rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius barbouri, I’ve ever seen.

Now, for the most part the base colors are consistent with what you usually see on Duskies in this part of Florida. The big wow factor for me, however, is the iridescence. See those blues and purples above (and a bit below)? Those aren’t really true colors in the scaling. Those colors are caused by the iridescence from the scales interacting with the daylight. I’ve seen plenty of Duskies in my day, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one cast such iridescence. It caught me totally by surprise. I vignetted these photos quite a bit around the edges to really draw out the fabulous light play on this rattlesnake’s scales.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that Dusky pigmy rattlesnakes are venomous and should be treated with due caution.  Small or large, they always deserve respect. This individual was actually one of the larger Duskies I’ve yet to come across. It was about two feet in length or so, give or take a few inches (I’m terrible at judging length). It was also a good sport about being “negotiated” for these photographs. Heh. I don’t typically handle venomous snakes (not worth the risk, says the guy who often types for hours), but I did move this one around a bit with some gear in order to angle some sunlight for the facial profile shots. I just had to get those fabulous blues and purples!

Soon enough, however, it was time to let the wee tiny rattler go on about its day. Duskies can be prone to overheating, and I wanted this one to get back into a shaded retreat before I wore its ass flat out. The pigmy rattler was happy to comply. It quietly and efficiently slid beneath the shaded, dark leaf litter of the Florida undergrowth, leaving that blue iridescence behind.

The Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes), 23 April 2016

Papilio palamedes, 23 April 2016

Papilio palamedes, the Palamedes swallowtail (larval caterpillar form)
Egan’s Creek Greenway; Nassau county, Florida
23 April 2016, Nikon D7100

Here’s something you don’t necessarily see every day. This is a Palamedes swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) caterpillar. In its larval form, this caterpillar assumes a strangely serpentine appearance — complete with fake eyes and even fake eyelids. For reference, here’s what an adult Palamedes swallowtail looks like:

Papilio palamedes (Volusia county, Florida; 15 March 2015)

Papilio palamedes (Volusia county, Florida; 15 March 2015)

What a sight, right? Check out the detail of  mimicry in these shots. The actual head of the caterpillar is the little yellow bulb you see at the bottom of the last image. The large “head” you see with those gloriously glistening black eyes is nothing but mimicry. A fantastic fake-out.

The Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus), 22 July 2016

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Coluber constrictor priapus, the Southern black racer
Oak Village of the Trails in Ormond Beach; Volusia county, Florida
22 July 2016, Nikon D7100

Alas, summer is starting to wrap up, and fall quickly approaches! Of course, I’m speaking more from the academic-year perspective than the actual seasonal one. We still have plenty of hot, sunny days ahead in 2016, but you get my drift. The relative ease of summer is about to give way to the rambunctiousness of the 2016-2017 academic school year. I can’t wait. I’m not sure if this summer will go down as one of my most productive summers on the wildlife front, but there were certainly highlights and spectacles here and there. It’s time to get to them as we gear up for fall!

Featured here is a non-venomous Southern black racer, Coluber constrictor priapus, a fast, agile, and common subspecies ranging throughout much of the American southeast. This decently-sized racer was found yard-cruising around our home. Heh. Racers have adapted quite well to suburbia and human development. This is not a species to entirely shy away from human habitations.

As we’ve noted before on phosTracks, racers have wickedly sharp visual acuity; they often see you well before you see them. They’re also extraordinarily agile and fast. I like to pride myself in being pretty good at catching (up to) Racers, but it’s not quite as easy as it used to be. I’ve missed a few more in recent years than I care to admit… Fortunately, this wasn’t one of the racers who eluded me. I (barely) caught up to the snake as it bolted toward our neighbor’s yard.

This individual is quite representative of the typical Southern black racer. Deep, dark, and glossy black scales accented with the light l9wer-jaw, the brown nose, the golden eyes, and the blue-gray ventral scales. When you get closer to the beach, you may start to find lighter, grayer individuals (especially in Brevard county), but this one is Grade-A, classic Southern black racer. It even sported the matching temperament: feisty.

Racers may be common as hell in central Florida, but I never grow tired of them. I find them to be fantastically capable and clever snakes. Beautiful, too. Incredibly beautiful. Just look that face!

(Another) Jamaican Giant Anole (Anolis garmani), 11 June 2016

Anolis garmani [A], 11 June 2016

Anolis garmani, the Jamaican giant anole
South Miami in Miami-Dade countyFlorida
11 June 2016, Nikon D7100

A few weeks back, we posted a series of photos featuring an absolutely gorgeous Jamaican giant anole, Anolis garmani. As noted before, this was one of my holy grail species — a species I had yet to find in south Florida until this particular day. Fortunately, as luck would have it, we actually managed to find and catch two of them! This post features images of the other not-so-giant Jamaican giant anole from South Miami, Florida, on 11 June 2016.

A male photographed later on the same day by James Stroud.

A male photographed later on the same day by James Stroud.

This particular individual was actually the first one we found and caught on June 11th. I can’t quite describe the elation I felt at the time. I am, of course, more than a little infatuated with anoles, and this is a difficult species to find in south Florida. Their populations aren’t as ubiquitous and widespread as other non-native species in the region, and what populations have been found have a tendency to disappear for a time — likely because of collectors raiding known spots. This is one reason I won’t be more specific about this location. “South Miami” is as specific as I want to be. Heh.

In the images below, you can see a variety of angles of this particular female Jamaican giant anole. You may notice the ready-to-shed facial scales disappear in later photographs. This is because James, our guide so to speak, carefully finished the job for the lizard as we worked with it. Heh.

Eric and I never got our hands on a confirmed male Jamaican giant anole during our excursion, but James sent us a pic of a male he found in the same area later that day. Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic. I mean, damn! Anolis garmani is one damn-fine looking species!

Writing this post nearly a month and a half later, I find myself craving another trip to South Florida. This particular trip was more bountiful than most, but every trip I’ve made down south has been exceptional in its own right. Still, for as many anoles as I have managed to study and photograph in South Florida, it’s never quite enough. To pull a quote out of context from U2 and/or the Bellamy Brothers, “Too much is not enough” when it comes to anoles!

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