by janson jones
Some moths are a bit more distinct than others. Featured here is a Black-dotted spragueia moth, Spragueia onagrus, a little moth many people might not actually think of as actually being a moth — and yet, a moth it is. A member of Family Noctuidae, the Owlet moths, the Black-dotted spraguia is a distinct species ranging throughout parts of the coastal American southeast. I can’t say that they’re overly common where I live, but this is a species I see every now and then during the summer months in Volusia county, Florida.
Also known as the False Medidor, the Soybean looper moth (Chrysodeixis includens) is an abundant species found throughout much of Eastern North America, especially in the American southeast. In their larval form, Soybean loopers aren’t overly picky in terms of diet. They amass and consume a variety of crop species. Because of this, they can at times be rather destructive to agricultural ends. Lettuce, soybeans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, peas, and broccoli are just a few of the plant-types this moth goes for.
In their adult form, as seen here, the Soybean looper moth is one of those species you might casually walk by at night and not even notice. Small and brownish, they sometimes quietly bide their time near patio lights at night. Once again, as we’ve seen before, if you stop and look more closely, you’ll see a moth with a remarkably ornate and complex design and patterning. Little tufts, curls, and coats of mothen-fur make the Soybean looper moth one of our least-expected species in terms of beauty.
Crystal blue water at a constant year-round temperature of 72 degrees isn’t the only thing you’ll find at Alexander Springs in Lake county, Florida. If you sojourn along the Timucuan Trail wrapping around the thick-canopied forest adjacent to the spring and its respective run, you’ll likely find a decent number of critters hidden among the foliage, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled and look closely.
After swimming a bit and snagging the video featured in our previous post, Eric and I spotted this pair of Southern two-striped walking sticks (Anisomorpha buprestoides) resting motionless on a palm strand. We’ve seen this species and this behavior before on phosTracks. In fact, I’ve seen quite a number of these large walking sticks in the past few years — often in my own backyard. Still, I’m always to come across them.
In the image above, the large “devil rider” (as they’re sometimes called) on the bottom is the female. The smaller one riding on the female’s back is the male. This is common behavior for male and female Southern two-stripes. The tiny dudes are always cribbing rides from the much larger, much stronger females.
Also of note, this species can shoot a toxic spray about a foot through the air. I’ve been told that this can result in more than a little discomfort. Fortunately, I have not yet been on the losing the end of that defensive spray. Maybe some day, but not this one… Heh.
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.
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:
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.]
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!
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.
phosTracks is an independent photography blog focused primarily on Floridian wildlife and ecology. All text and images on this blog were composed and are owned by Janson Jones (contact). You can filter posts by organism type or by location using the banner menu. All featured species are listed below. Finally, you can learn about the author and this blog at the About page. Thanks for dropping by!
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