Q: We have spotted a small alligator in the pond in our back yard. I have an eight year old and one teenage son who are very curious. We also have small pets. Who can I call to have it removed?
A: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be able to help you with removal of nuisance alligators. Alligators are generally not aggressive unless they have been hand fed by humans. Please tell your sons and neighbors not to toss food to the alligators and remind them these are wild animals and should not be treated as domesticated pets. Small alligators (3 feet and under) are usually naturally afraid of humans and will not be a threat to humans or pets. However, if the alligator is over 4 feet it would be best to contact the FFWCC at 1 866 392-4286 regarding removal the creature. Do not attempt to capture the alligator yourself as this must be done by a licensed professional trapper. Regardless of its size, if it becomes aggressive or does not retreat when a human approaches then the FFWCC should be called immediately. This is an excellent opportunity to teach your children about the importance of protecting wildlife while also respecting their natural habitats. Remind children who they should go to in case an accident occurs in the pond or who would be available to help if assistance is needed. Children should never be left alone around a body of water; however, it is prudent to be prepared for the potential mishap. Water and wildlife are always attractive to children and a few hours of instruction in advance could prevent a lifetime of heartache. Attached is the website for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regarding nuisance alligators. http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/Alligator_nuisance.htm
Q: I have heard bats can carry rabies. Why would anyone want to have a bat house near their home if this is true?
A: While it is true, bats have the capacity to carry rabies, like many other mammals, the possibility of them having rabies is small. Common carriers of rabies are raccoon, skunk, fox, opossum, otter, bobcat and panther. If you find one hurt or on the ground during the day, it is most likely sick and you should leave it alone. If you want to take it to your veterinarian, then be sure to wear heavy leather gloves to avoid a potential bite. Most bats are highly and uniquely adapted to catch night-flying insects. Nocturnal bats locate their food and navigate by uttering ultrasonic cries that return as echoes off solid objects. The large ears and oddly shaped nose and facial configurations of some bats assist in detecting these echoes. This form of navigation is termed "echolocation." This technique is also used by dolphins to detect prey and navigate in conditions of low visibility. Once bats detect prey, they use their wings, the wing membrane surrounding their tails, and their mouths to catch insects in flight or to pick them off vegetation. Although most bats are insect eaters, some bats specialize in eating other items such as fruit, nectar, and pollen, vertebrates, and even blood. All bats resident in Florida eat insects, but a few of the species that occasionally show up in south Florida feed on fruit, nectar, and pollen. Please note it is important not to pet, touch or capture wild animals without proper training and permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. We will be having a “Landscape Matters” class on bats on July 1, Wednesday of this year and we will be assembling a bat house. There is a pre-registration requirement so call our office for more information if you are interested in the class. For more complete information on bats in Florida look over the University of Florida publication: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw203
Q: When do hummingbirds come to Florida?
A: Well, the arrival of hummingbirds varies slightly from year to year, especially here in Northeast Florida. We generally say spring but those dates can range anytime in the month of March. The hummingbirds leave us in September. But here it is, early March and I saw my first hummingbird. The red flowers of the red buckeye tree are abundant in my yard and they are already providing nectar for the hummingbirds. The male hummingbirds arrive first and the females follow about a week later. Nests are often built near water with two eggs per nest. It takes about 20 days to incubate and about 4 weeks for the babies to mature and leave the nest. Baby hummingbirds are fed insects by parents but once they leave the nest they consume mostly nectar. One hummingbird may require nectar from hundreds of blossoms every day to maintain its body weight. While it is fun to put out hummingbird feeders (I have one in my yard too), we would also recommend planting flowing trees and shrubs to provide natural sources of nectar and nesting sites. Some good choices are bottlebrush, firecracker, firebush, firespike, salvia, red buckeye, etc. If you want to make your own nectar then take 1 part white, granulated, cane sugar to 4 parts water. Boil the sugar solution to help dissolve the sugar. Then allow it to cool before filling a feeder. This concentration is about the same as wildflower nectar. Using a sweeter solution, sugar substitutes or honey could be lethal to hummingbirds. It also is not necessary to add red food coloring. The birds will be attracted to the red feeders. Here in Florida, you may need to change the feeder several times a week as the temperatures increase. It is important to not allow the solution to ferment. Clean the feeders with hot water and white vinegar but do not use soap or chlorine bleach. If you have several hummingbird feeders, then it is best to keep the feeders at least 10 feet apart as these birds can be territorial.
Q: What was the name of the invasive sparrow that came from Europe?
A: The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is also called the English sparrow. This bird is possibly, the most widely distributed wild bird in the world. Its native range is Europe and much of Asia, but it has been introduced, both accidently and on purpose, into North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and numerous, scattered islands. It thrives almost anywhere close to human populations. There are a few places where it cannot be found such as tropical regions, deep forests and extensive deserts. The house sparrow is a small bird – only about 6 1/2 inches long with a stocky body and a shorter tail and thicker bill than most native, North American sparrows. Males are very distinctively marked with a gray head and body, white cheeks, and a prominent, black bib on their throats and chests. It has been known to attack and kill bluebird hatchlings in the nest to steal the nesting site. Introduction of this species into North America during the middle to late 1800’s occurred at multiple locations over a 25 or 30 year time period. The reason it was transported here varies but most people believe it was to control insect pests on shade trees or perhaps nostalgia for a familiar bird they grew up with in Europe. The house sparrow’s ability to nest in cavities and protected spaces in most human habitations has contributed to its extensive ability to multiply. House sparrows eat a wide variety of stored seeds and grains; they easily distribute themselves rapidly through new environments and produce huge numbers of offspring in a single mating season which have also added to its ability to spread far and wide. Be careful to not confuse the invasive species with the song sparrow, chipping sparrow or field sparrow which are all very similar.
Q: I have noticed a little hairy butterfly which is blue and green flitting around my wildflower patch. It seems to have a long tail compared to its wings. What can you tell me about it?
A: I believe you have spotted a longtailed skipper, which is commonly found throughout Florida. The caterpillar form is not our best friend as it is often the one we see hidden in a bean leaf rolled around its body. Other plants from the bean family can be eaten by this caterpillar too – such as American wisteria and the native hairy indigo. Skipper caterpillars are easy to spot as their heads are brown and quite large compared to the rest of its body. The body of the caterpillar is light green with yellow, parallel stripes down its back. This butterfly, which is about 1-1/2 inches wide, is equally distinctive because of the long, narrow tails which extend beyond its hindwings. The upper portion of the skipper’s hindwings has a metallic, blue-green color, which catches the light as the butterfly flits from flower to flower. Skippers, like other butterflies, are pollinators so they can and so serve a useful purpose and the adult causes no damage to our gardens.
Q: My neighbor and I would like to plant some shrubs, trees and perennials to attract birds and butterflies. What advice do you have for us?
A: Well, first I want to congratulate you both on your cooperative efforts to share the land with our winged friends. I suspect once neighbors see your successes, you may have other confederates joining in on your enterprise. There are a few important steps in attracting wildlife. The first step is to reduce the amount of lawn grass in your yard. Although grass is important, it is a monoculture and is seldom attractive to wildlife. The second step is to have a constant, clean water source such as a bird bath or fountain. Next, consider layering your plants so you have some ground cover, then perennials followed by shrubs and finishing with trees. Birds and butterflies need places to hide from predators and often seek shelter under leaves and tree limbs. Think about providing plants with leaves for the caterpillars to eat to each such as milkweed, parsley, dill and/or citrus. Have plenty of flowers for nectar and pollen. Maybe you both could grow your own sunflowers along a fence line to provide food for seed eaters. Wildflowers, such as thistle, might also be incorporated which attract finches and other small birds. Avoid or limit the use of pesticides in the landscape. If possible, allow dead trees to remain on the property as they can provide homes for many animals. Build or purchase bird houses available for nesting birds such as screech owls or bluebirds. Attached is more information from which will help you: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW175
Q: I saw a butterfly similar to a monarch, but I know it wasn’t one. The colors were the same but it had a black line on its back wings. Do you have any idea what it was?
A: I happen to be in the UF/IFAS Nassau County demo garden recently and I had the best time pulling weeds and taking photos. I spied the same butterfly drinking nectar from our butterfly bush. The butterfly was a viceroy. It has the same coloring as a monarch but it is slightly smaller in size. I took about a dozen photos only to have about 3 turn out but it was worth it. Adult viceroys prefer wet habitat along ponds, swamps, and rivers, where their host plants frequently line the banks – we have 3 healthy retention ponds near our garden. Males actively perch in the late morning and early afternoon, looking out for females and defending their territory. For more information on this butterfly check out the publication from the University of Florida’s Featured Creatures: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/viceroy.htm
Q: My daughter, who is in the third grade, wants to
grow a butterfly garden. I want to encourage her but I don’t
know what to plant. Can you help?
A: Butterfly gardening is not only easy, it is immediately satisfying because the butterflies will come and visit for nectar but don’t forget to have a source for the caterpillar to eat too. Most adult butterflies found in Florida feed on flower nectar. Butterflies generally are attracted to brightly colored simple flowers that are not too deep and that are wide enough for good perching platforms. Universal nectar favorites include: phlox, zinnias, asters, marigolds, daisies, coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, milkweeds, thistles, and butterflybush.Larval (caterpillar) food plants must be tailored to specific butterflies. Some plants are hosts to several different butterflies (e.g., passion vine), but often each species requires its own plant. Examples of good sources for caterpillars are ash trees, citrus, oaks, marigolds, vines, and herbs. Visit your local nursery or garden center and start with a small patch in the yard she can tend. This is something the whole family can enjoy. I believe it will be the beginning of a life-long love of gardening and the outdoors. Good luck and send me a picture of your daughter and some of the interesting visitors to her garden. We all would enjoy seeing her progress.
Q: What can you tell me about the new disease to monarch butterflies?
A: Actually, the disease is not really new, but the information is being shared now with more and more homeowners as we have discovered intensification on its spread across the nation. In fact, the disease, called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or OE, was discovered in Florida in 1966. The causal agent is a protozoan which will cause several problems for the butterfly while it is in the pupa stage. This protozoan has a very complex life cycle and it must be eaten by the larvae in order to become a problem for monarchs. The butterfly, during its pupa stage, may become very deformed or weak. It is possible for the butterfly to be so damaged by the parasite that the butterfly eventually dies. There has been some evidence the parasites are commonly found on milkweed (monarch’s favorite food) other than native milkweed. That does not mean we should rip up all our hybrid milkweeds this year as the monarchs will need some food source this fall. However, it might be a good idea to start replacing the milkweed we currently have in our gardens with the pale pink, native varieties. I have already contacted one of our local nurseries about ordering the native variety so we can have it for the Nassau County Demonstration Garden. Be sure to ask your local garden centers if they will stock the native varieties too. Some of the best information on this butterfly pest comes from the University of Georgia. The publication is attached: http://www.uga.edu/monarchparasites/whatisOE/index.html
Q: What is the caterpillar eating the leaves on my cassia?
A: The orange and yellow sulfur butterflies love Cassia species such as Butterfly Bush or Christmas Senna, Cassia bicapsularis. Cassia plants are generally grown in south and central Florida only although they are planted here because of their beautiful, yellow flowers which show up during October and November. Cassia will freeze back here but should return unless we have a severe winter. Butterflies such as the Cloudless sulfur use it as a food source prior to pupation. They will probably not kill the tree or shrub although it will look unsightly. This is one of those instances when it might be best to take a “grin and bear it” attitude since the caterpillar will result in a beautiful butterfly. Aside from their beauty, butterflies are important to us because they are pollinators. Check out the University of Florida publication on butterfly gardening in Florida : http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW057
Q:Most of the butterflies have gone but I still see one that is rust colored.What is it?
A:The butterfly you have been seeing is probably the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae.The upper side of the wings is bright orange with black markings.The forewings have 3 black-encircled white dots along the leading edge.The underside is brown with silvery, white spots.The larvae or caterpillars feed on varieties ofpassion-vine including maypops (Passiflora incarnata) and running pop (P. foetida). Hundreds of larvae have totally consumed the passion vines in the Nassau County Extension demonstration garden, which was one of the reasons we planted it.We need not worry about all the leaves of the passion vine being eaten or the plant being destroyed, it will reappear next spring.The larvae are red with black spines, which makes them appear menacing but they do not sting.Adult gulf fritillaries feed on nectar from such plants as lantana, shepherd's needle, cordias, and composite flowers. Gulf Fritillary habitat is generally pastures, open fields, the edge of forests and, of course, city gardens
Q: I have caterpillars on my canna lilies. I don't want to kill any future butterflies, so how do I know if these are butterflies or moths? They are rolling themselves up into the leaves.
A: Sometimes it is tough to know the difference between moth and butterfly larvae but in general butterfly caterpillars do not roll leaves around themselves. Feel free to kill these caterpillar pests as they will become moths. The caterpillar on your plant is probably the Lesser Canna leafroller, Geshna cannalis (Quaintance), which can be a serious pest of ornamental canna. It could be another leafroller which is much larger called the Larger Canna Leafroller, Callpodes ethlius (Stoll). Cannas may be infested with both species at the same time. Adult G cannalis moths are small, light brown and may be found resting in the shade of a canna plant during the day. Females lay eggs in groups of six to 15 on the upper surface of a canna leaf. Eggs are flat, clear whitish yellow in color. When larvae are approximately one week old, they begin leaf rolling behavior. Five or six larvae may be found within a leaf roll, but usually only one or two coexist. Cutting dead canna plants to the ground in the late winter and removing debris is a good way to reduce populations. Product that contain Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are least toxic to beneficial organisms but beware as this product will also kill butterfly carterpillars. Follow the directions of the label - "The label is the law."
Q Can you tell me about this butterfly?
A: Since we were both standing outside and looking at the butterfly visiting the blackberry flowers at the Yulee Fruit Demonstration garden, it was easy to identify. The butterfly is called an American Painted Lady or American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis. The American lady occurs from southern Canada throughout the U.S. and southward to northern South America and is seen occasionally in Europe, Hawaii, and the larger Caribbean islands. The wing spread of adults is 1.75 to 2.40 inches (Daniels 2003). The upper surface of the wings is orange-brown with black margins. The front wings have white spots on the outer third. The lower side of the front wings has a bright pink area. Part of the forewing margin is concave — one of the characteristics that distinguishes it from the similar and closely related painted lady, Vanessa cardui (Linnaeus). The lower side of the hind wing has a characteristic "cob-web" pattern and two large eye spots near the margin. By contrast, the painted lady has a row of four smaller eye spots. Preferred plant hosts for larvae are "everlasting" or "cudweed" herbs and their close relatives in the aster family. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN82300.pdf
Q: Yesterday evening at approximately 6:00 we glanced out into our back yard and saw an animal that we are pretty certain was a grey wolf. Both my husband and I saw it and agree that it definitely wasn't a grey fox. It was much larger. Do we have grey wolves in this part of the country?
A: The gray wolf has been able to adapt to most any habitat except the rain forest and true desert conditions. Although it is possible it was a wolf, I am more inclined to believe it was a coyote. Coyotes are in the dog family therefore they would possess similar characteristics. With removal of habitats for home and commercial development the wolf, bear and coyote have been losing their homes which means they must move to other potential sites for food and shelter. This means more of us are seeing these creatures. Coyotes usually eat rodents, snakes or insects and they have been known to eat carrion (dead animals). However there is always the potential for harming young livestock which can create problems for local farmers. Attached is the UF/IFAS publication on coyotes: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW127
Q: I found this creature walking in my yard right after Tropical Storm Debby. At first, I thought it was a scorpion, but upon closer examination, it did not have a stinger. It looks like a small lobster, but I live in Hilliard, far from the ocean. What can you tell me about it?
A: Thank you so much for sending in a photo, it is always so much easier to identify when we have some point of reference. It is not unusual to find crayfish in most any amount of fresh water; they do not live in ocean salt water unlike their distant relatives – lobsters. Crayfish can even survive in fresh water ditches as long as they are not too polluted. Crayfish are crustaceans, similar to shrimp, lobster and crab. They have ten legs, eyes on stalks and a hard exoskeleton on the outside of their body. The front two are large pinching claws called Chellae. These claws are use to capture their prey and to defend themselves – try to keep your fingers out of reach!! Crayfish eat plants and small animals such as insects, worms, frog and toads. They are an important part of the food chain as they are eaten by raccoons, opossums, and snakes. They can be eaten by humans (just add some Cajun seasoning) and are often used as fish bait.
Q: How do I go about planting grass for deer plots?
A: This is not my field of expertise but the University of Florida has plenty of information to get you started. Check out the following publications: “Wildlife Forages for North Florida - Part I: Cool Season Food Plots” -http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AG140 or “Establishing and Maintaining Wildlife Food Sources” -http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FR062
Q: I found a very interesting frog sitting on the branch of my dogwood tree. It is quite large (about 2 ½ inches long), mostly white with a slight green tinge on the tip of the mouth, legs and rump. It also has black spots. After looking on the internet, it looked similar to a barking frog. What do you think?
A: I believe you are correct – good detective work! The photo of your frog is so attractive but I wanted to share the following website with any of the nature lovers out there as this site has an attachment with the sound of the “bark” from this fascinating creature. There is apparently much variation in the coloration of the frog, which explains why you saw some shades of different colors on it. Barking frogs are often found in swamps and low lying pine areas. What a special treat to have the barking tree frog visit your property. Female lays a clutch of up to about 2000 eggs after heavy rains in spring or summer. Multiple clutches have been documented in Georgia (Perrill and Daniel 1983). Eggs hatch in several days. Aquatic larvae metamorphose into terrestrial form in about 1-2 months. They spend most of their lives in trees but when temperatures dip they burrow under tree roots and moist leaf debris to protect them from the drying, cold weather. Insects and small invertebrates are the bulk of their diet. http://www.wec.ufl.edu/extension/wildlife_info/frogstoads/hyla_gratiosa.php
Q: We would like to control the Canadian geese at our subdivision. Any ideas on how we might go about doing it?
A: The Canada goose has in some instances become an annoyance mostly because of the large amounts of fecal matter they produce which can pollute water sources. No one is eager to have that sort of mess around their golf courses, ball parks or landscape retention ponds. They have become trouble for some motorists as the geese often cross busy streets at any time of the day, including rush-hour. Unfortunately for Canada geese, they thrive in areas frequently used for human recreational activities. Canada geese can also be a safety concern at airports as they can cause airplane accidents if sucked into the engines. If Canada geese start to become a nuisance, people must think and plan very carefully before starting any control measures. All Canada geese, including the permanent resident geese, are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This makes any direct control, such as killing, touching, or disturbing live geese, nests, or eggs by a person or his/her property (including pets), of problem geese difficult. Any direct control measures must be done with the permission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
People can take some indirect measures with proven success in some areas:
• Stop feeding geese
• Fence areas to exclude geese
• Grid ponds with wire so geese will not land
• Allow grass to grow tall, especially along lakeshores and riverbanks because geese prefer short grass to eat, easy sighting of predators, and quick and easy access to escape cover on the open water
For more information, check out the publication from the University of Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW24500.pdf
Q: What do gopher turtles eat?
A: Gopher Tortoise Gopherus polyphemus is found from South Carolina throughout most of Florida. They prefer an open area to dig their burrow which is why we see so many of their burrows along the coastline sand dunes here in Nassau County. Their burrow has a “D” shape opening matching the shape of the tortoise’s shell. They grow slowly, sometimes taking up to ten years or more to reach a mature age for mating but they can live up to fifty years. Males are usually smaller than the females. These animals are called “keystone” animals, which means their presence indicate a healthy, balanced environment. If they are totally removed from an environment, the delicate balance between predator and prey can be disrupted to the detriment of the whole habitat. The eggs of the gopher tortoise deposit five to six eggs at a time usually in late April to July. They are very active during the warmest parts of the day. Gopher tortoises are a Federally endangered species, generally caused by loss of habitat. In Florida, they are classified as a Threatened species which means they may become endangered. Not only are the tortoises protected but their eggs are also. Gopher tortoises eat low growing grasses, flowers, berries and legumes. Just one other note, there are subtle differences between turtles and tortoises. Turtle generally spend most of their lives closely associated in or near water and they have webbed feet. Tortoises are strictly land dwellers with no webbing between the toes. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/
Q: I want a native vine to grow on my arbor but I want it to attract hummingbirds. Can you give me an idea of what to plant?
A: I am going to suggest we limit our search to those vines which will be perennial, which means they will return season after season. I have three Florida native vines to suggest. The strongest contender would be coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens as it is evergreen and produces beautiful coral colored, tubular flowers which bloom from spring through summer. It can be somewhat slow growing but that makes it easy to control and keeps it from becoming a nuisance in the garden. Next would be the trumpet vine, Campsis radicans or it is sometimes called, trumpet creeper. It grows quickly and can grow upward to 40 feet. The flowers are very showy in shades of red to orange to yellow. The leaves are delicate and feathery. It can cause skin irritation and has the potential to be “weedy” if left uncontrolled. Another is the Cross vine, Bignonia capreolata, which has a similar looking flower to the trumpet vine but the leaves are very different. It is also fast growing and the first to produce flowers in the spring for returning hummingbirds. One other thought on the topic, consider having some planters at the foot of the arbor to attract more hummers. You could put firecracker or cardinal flower (native) in the planters for drama and more color plus they will also provide additional nectar for visiting hummers.
Q: I have heard if you give hummingbirds sugar water it will cause liver disease. Is it true?
A: I called the Audubon Society about this question just to be sure no new problems had cropped up of which I was unaware. I was particularly interested in your question as I know many gardeners supplement our landscapes with hummingbird feeders. The University of Florida would suggest you always have trees, shrubs and flowers in your yard to attract hummingbirds and provide them with sufficient nutrient sources. Planting a red buckeye or wild azaleas in a shaded site in your landscape will provide nectar in the early spring as these native plants are the first to put out nectar flowers in Northeast Florida. A sugar solution can be made for feeders using 4 parts clean water, and 1 part white, granulated sugar. Use warm water so the sugar will dissolve easily but be sure to stir the solution sufficiently so all sugar particles dissolve. Allow the water to cool before pouring it into the feeders. 1) Never use artificial sweeteners or honey as these can be toxic to the birds. 2) Never add red food coloring as the bird’s kidneys cannot process the dyes. These two important factoids, regarding the sugar water, may be where the rumor of sugar feeders being lethal got their start. If you use multiple feeders, keep them about 10 feet from each other to avoid fights between the birds as hummers are very territorial. Change out the water every 3-5 days as it can become rancid. Wash the feeders when changing out new sugar solutions. Do not use soap or chlorine to clean the hummingbird feeders – just warm water. Bottlebrush trees, butterfly bush, firespike, plumbago, and coral vine are easy care plants to attract hummers to your yard. For more information on hummingbirds check out the University of Florida publication: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW05900.pdf
Q: When do I take in my hummingbird feeders for the year? Someone told me if I didn’t remove the feeders now the hummingbirds would stay around and then die when it gets too cold.
A: October should have been the last time hummingbirds were hovering around the feeders in North Florida. Most birds know instinctively when it is time to migrate to warmer climates. They are very in-tuned with the number of hours a day the sun is shining; therefore you have no reason to worry. In addition, hummingbirds do not totally depend on our feeders for food; the surrounding area provides an abundance of insects and nectar from surrounding flowers. Remove the feeders, clean them thoroughly with warm water and a brush but do not use bleach or soap then store them until next May.
Q: I don’t see the small green lizards here anymore. I used to see them all the time when I moved here ten years ago. They seem to have been replaced by a brown variety. What happened?
A: Most likely what you are now seeing is the Cuban brown anole, Anolis sagrei. Apparently this lizard was first detected in 1887 in the Florida Keys but has become fully established within the last 10 years. An increase in the population occurred in the early 1940s as it was detected in many areas of South Florida. It became more fully established in urban areas south of Gainesville by 1980. From there it spread to north Florida and the panhandle then extended to Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas either in landscape container plants and/or by cars and trucks. Larger populations of the brown anole began to be seen along major highways at rest areas, campgrounds and hotels in the mid 1990s. Severe cold winters have from time to time reduced their population but this lizard has able to keep a sustainable number of offspring to continue future generations. They are even able to populate islands as they hitch rides on boats or firewood transferred by boaters or campers. This species thrives in disturbed habitats and ornamental plantings but can potentially inhabit almost any inland or coastal habitat in Florida. It is apparently the most abundant anole over much of the southern half of peninsular Florida, and populations now occur in every county in Florida. It often perches low in trees and shrubs but is quite terrestrial, often escaping by running along the ground. Males reach a length of 20 cm (8 in). The body is brown, and males often have bands of yellowish spots, whereas females and juveniles have a light vertebral stripe with dark, scalloped edges. The hanging fold of skin under the neck is called a dewlap. The edge of the dewlap is white and appears as a stripe on the throat when not distended. The dewlap may vary in color from a bright red-orange to pale yellow. They are prolific hunters, similar to the green anoles. It is regrettable the brown anole could not live well with the green anole but this is a common result when an invasive species is introduced and has no local predators to keep it in check.
Q: How do I keep rabbits out of my garden?
A: It is often difficult to determine what animal may be eating your plants however the clean cut you described is most likely a rabbit. Of course, add the fact you have seen them adds validity to the possibility of rabbits being the culprit. Deer do not make clean, nearly perfect cuts to the plant. You can try to fence them out but this is often expensive. Repellents made with ammonium soaps sprayed directly on the leaves have been found to deter deer and rabbits. Chemicals such as hot sauce containing capsaicin can be applied before fruit is formed or after harvest had been successful at repelling deer and rabbits. Capsaicin is a taste repellent which is unappealing to rabbits. These repellants may need to be reapplied after heavy rains or after a lengthy period of time. Please remember to follow the directions on the label for the best results. Marsh hares are found commonly throughout Florida. They are smaller than a cotton tail rabbit with brownish-grey fur. Marsh hares can produce three young as many as ten times a year. It is no wonder their numbers can easily become out of control which is why it is so important to protect our predatory animals such as snakes and hawks.
Q: Rabbits are eating my Asiatic jasmine. What can I do?
A: As youngsters, we have learned to love these furry little critters but now as landowners we have a very different perspective. I have a few hints which should help: 1. Removing dense, heavy vegetative cover, brush piles, weed patches, junk dumps and stone piles adjacent to the landscape will help eliminate rabbit habitats. 2. Fencing made from chicken wire, with mesh less than 1", can be placed around a vegetable garden or herbaceous plant border. The fence must be at least 2' high with the bottom buried at least 3" deep. 3. You can also use cylinders of 1/4" wire hardware cloth extending higher than a rabbit's reach by placing them around the trunks of individual trees and shrubs. Bury the bottom of the cylinders 2" to 3" inches below ground level and place them 1" to 2"inches from the trunk. 4. There are a few plants rabbits don't particularly like: yarrow, aster, wild indigo, daylily, geranium, iris and sedum. 5. There are plenty of things on the market which supposedly repel deer and rabbits such as products containing capsaicin, which is the main ingredient in hot chili peppers. But we have no extensive research to support their claims.
Q: I have this very large lizard with a red head in my yard, what is it?
A: Having a photo of the lizard helped but when you said it had a very large head I suspected a skink. It is in fact a broad headed skink. Broad-headed skinks, Eumeces laticeps, are large (up to 13 inches in length) brown lizards. The males have a distinctive red-orange head. The young are dark with 5 broad light stripes but their bright blue tail makes them easy to spot. Actually the blue tail is used to distract predators. Skinks can be a problem if fluffy, the cat, decides to eat it because it has been know to cause illness in pets. Some people have thought the bite of the skink is poisonous but they are no threat to humans. Their size alone is enough to scare most people but they are basically shy creatures who prefer to be left alone. They feed on insects, spiders and even small lizards and mammals. Female skinks lay from 8 to 12 eggs in the early spring in a rotten log or stump. Skinks will guard their eggs for a couple of months until the 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 inch long hatchlings emerge. The bright red coloration on the head signifies the breeding season where males fight savagely with rivals to defend their territory.
Q: My son is intrigued with the fast running lizards with the blue tails. They run too fast for us to get a real good look at them. They appear to be striped. What can you tell me about them?
A: Congratulations for having a child interested in nature. Cultivating that early curiosity will hopefully keep you child interested in learning about nature and how to protect it for years. The creature you saw was probably the Southeastern five-lined skink, Eumeces inexpectatus but it could have been the Broad-headed skink, Eumeces laticeps or perhaps the five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus. The scientific name sounds like something right from a Harry Potter spell doesn’t it? I am not an expert herpetologist so it could be any of the three and they are difficult to distinguish from each other without looking at specific scale formations under the tail. It is unlikely that you or I would be handling them closely enough to determine scale formations. The Southeastern five-lined skink is the most common skink found in Florida with the five-lined being the least common. Both five-lined skinks grow 6-8 inches in length whereas the broad-headed skink is the largest of the three reaching lengths of over 12 inches. Five-lined skinks may be found in almost any habitat, but are most common in wooded areas with an abundance of fallen trees and stumps to hide in. Broad-headed skinks are more common along coastal regions but inhabit wooded areas as well. As you stated, they move incredibly fast. In fact, I had some difficulty getting a photograph of one in my yard. The body of the lizard is neutral gray, brown or black. The five stripes, from which its common name is derived, are white to cream colored. Young skinks have the distinctive bright blue tail, which caught your son’s eye. Once the skink reaches adulthood, the bright colored tail and stripes will fade. It will have a dull orange or red head but loses very little of its fast movement. They eat insects, spiders and small invertebrates; therefore we consider them beneficial animals to have around the landscape. Like many other lizards, they can lose their tail as a defensive mechanism.
Q: I have a snake in my yard that is not afraid of us, but should we be afraid of it? It has a small head, mostly black with a yellow stripe down the side.
A: I believe you have a garter snake ( Thamnophis sirtalis) or a ribbon snake ( Thamnophis saurius) and I am happy to tell you neither is poisonous and you have no need to fear either of them. The garter snake is slender with a maximum length of 48 inches. Large garter snakes may eat rodents but it commonly eats worms, minnows, frogs or toads. They can be aggressive especially if cornered. The ribbon snake, a close relative, is even more slender and reaches a maximum length of 40 inches. Ribbon snakes feed mostly on small fish, frogs or lizards. They are shy and nervous and will flee if given any opportunity. Both snakes will exude a foul smelling musk odor from their body if handled.
Q: I found a long, brown striped snake in my yard. I am worried it might the snake might attack me or my pets. How concerned should I be?
A: This question is actually come to me twice this week so I thought I should write something again about the importance of snakes. The most important thing to do is to stay away from them as most bites and injuries occur when people poke at the snake or try to pick it up. Snakes are not going to chase you down and attack – you can definitely out run them. Even if the snake is not venomous it can bite, so just leave well enough alone. The non-venomous snakes are also keeping our rodent (rat) populations in check and some even eat the venomous snake varieties. It was especially fortuitous for me to have a yellow rat snake to end up in my back yard this weekend. The snake was especially patient with me by staying stationary long enough for me to fetch my camera and take a couple of snapshots. The juvenile is very different looking as it has black and white patterns which people often mistake as venomous. Notice the pupil of the eye is round which is another indication of it not being poisonous; at least this is true here in Southeast Florida. University of Florida publication titled, “Dealing with Snakes in Florida's Residential Areas - Identifying Commonly Encountered Snakes” will probably be very helpful when finding snakes in the yard. I would suggest making a copy and having it readily available should the need to indentify a snake arise. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw258
Q: I almost stepped on a snake in my yard and wanted to know what kind it was. It was light brown with patterns on the back. I couldn’t tell if the head was truly triangle but I am curious if it is dangerous.
A: It is tough to identify a snake just by oral description but a photo would make it much easier to determine if it is poisonous. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History of the 45 species of snakes found in Florida only 6 are venomous and dangerous to humans. They have a wonderful on-line guide to local snakes: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/FL-GUIDE/onlineguide.htm In general, snakes are protected if they are not poisonous. Most Florida snakes are not aggressive and will try to get away from humans but they will bite if threatened or cornered. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, “The only acceptable treatment for venomous snakebite, involves the use of antivenin. So if you or someone else is bitten by a venomous snake, seek immediate medical attention at the nearest hospital or medical facility. Stay calm, remove any rings that could restrict circulation if tissues swell, keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart, and immediately seek medical attention. Your most important aids in getting to a hospital and treatment may be car keys or a cell phone.” This website is very user friendly and I especially like that it gives a picture of the adult and the juvenile. The juvenile snake often looks quite different from the adult. Spend some time looking over these pictures and become familiar with them ahead of time, especially if you live near a body of water or a heavily wooded area. It is interesting that most snake bites occur when people reach down to pick up a snake. Our advice is walk away from the snake and do not reach down to touch it. Obviously there is no way to totally eradicate snakes from our area and we would not want to get rid of them because they are so valuable in controlling our pest rodent populations. In addition, some of the beneficial snakes even prey on the poisonous snakes. So the take home message is to develop a live and let live stance then talk to your family and children about leaving snakes alone. We don’t want children to become fearful of snakes and other creatures we just want them to have a healthy respect. Now that I have said all this, I was pleased you sent me a picture of the snake and you identified it as a banded water snake, Nerodia facitata – nothing like someone doing my job for me. The banded water snake is harmless but is often mistaken for a more serious poisonous snake. I have included the picture you sent me so the public can now recognize and appreciate this beneficial snake.
Q: I always lift the cover off my gas BBQ with caution because I never know what I might find. This time I found a snake. I washed him off with a hose but do you have any idea what he is?
A: I am sure that gave you quite a scare and as always thanks for the photo. The following information was adapted from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: “There are only two species of rat snakes native to Florida, but they are so variable in color and pattern you'd think there were many more. The red rat or "corn" snake is the only large, red-orange snake likely to be encountered in developed areas of Florida. Because of its color, this snake is frequently mistaken for the dissimilar, venomous copperhead. Actually, the copperhead is rare in Florida and found only in the heavily timbered counties flanking the Apalachicola River. Throughout most of the peninsula, however, the adult rat snakes are orangish with four narrow, brown stripes running the length of the body. These are commonly called yellow rat or "chicken" snakes. The red rat snake may grow to a length of 72 inches, but averages 30-48 inches. The gray and yellow rat snakes may reach a body length of 84 inches, but those most commonly seen are 42-72 inches. Both species are found throughout Florida in almost every habitat, but are shy and secretive, spending most of their time in trees, under brush and mulch piles, or inside old buildings and other structures. Rat snakes are the best climbers of Florida's snakes, thanks to powerful constricting muscles and specially edged belly scales that they press into tiny irregularities in order to climb vertically up tree trunks and other surfaces. Young rat snakes feed mostly on lizards and frogs, but adults graduate to rodents and birds, which they kill by constriction. They are quite useful in controlling rats and mice. In late spring to early summer, females lay up to 30 eggs, which hatch in mid- to late summer. Rat snakes tame easily, but will defend themselves aggressively when cornered. When threatened, they may also vibrate their tails rapidly”.
Q: Our neighbor found this snake in the garden. Can you tell us what it is?
A: The photo you sent made the identification much easier. The snake is a Red Cornsnake but it is commonly called several other names such as Chicken snake or Red Ratsnake. The “cornsnake” name comes from this snake feeding on the rats and mice eating harvested corn stored in barns. People often make the mistake of assuming all poisonous snakes have patterned skin while many of our pattern snakes are non-venomous. The Red Cornsnake has been confused with the venomous copperhead snake but only because of the reddish coloration of the scales on the beneficial Red Cornsnake. If you look closely you will quickly see important distinctions between the two snakes. The Red Cornsnake is a very important snake in our area because it keeps many of our vermin populations in check. I know most people say the only good snake is a dead snake but nothing could be further from the truth. We would be totally overrun with rodents without snakes. I know you are thinking – so what? Remember, rats and mice have the ability to carry fleas and other vectors of disease which can be transmitted to humans. I also know most of us have an aversion to snakes but try to avoid them and allow them to do their job. We directly benefit from having snakes around. Attached is a publication regarding venomous snakes from the University of Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW22900.pdf Check out the photos from the UF Florida Museum of Natural Science regarding the Red Cornsnake:
Q: I am having a terrible time with the squirrels eating the bark from my maple and oak trees. What can I do?
A: Eastern Gray Squirrels are the most frequently seen mammal in our area. They are members of the Rodent family, and spend most of their lives in trees. Eastern Gray Squirrels usually live to be about five years old. They survive with their good sense of vision, smell, and hearing. Although squirrels may be amusing to watch (except when they are eating my bird seed); they can indeed damage trees significantly. They typically strip bark during winter and spring but there is no reason to think this could not occur any other time of year. Deciduous trees with smooth bark sustain the most damage, but other trees can be targeted. Remember, deciduous trees are the ones dropping their leaves in the fall. Twig clipping occurs most frequently in spring and early fall. Fortunately, trees can sustain damage up to 50 percent of the trunk’s circumference and foliage losses up to 30 percent without significant impacts. If the squirrels chew more than 50% of a limb it is possible for the limb to die and ultimately break off and fall to the ground. Landowners can prevent damage to trees by installing metal collars. The metal collars can be used to encircle trees and prevent squirrels from traveling up and down the limb. Collars should be at least 2 feet wide and placed 6 to 8 feet above the ground. Collar edges should be overlapped and connected by springs to allow for tree growth. These same types of collars could be placed on the limbs.
Q: I know you usually work with plants but I was hoping you might help me identify the turtles I see on logs within the Egan’s Creek wildlife preserve behind my subdivision.
A: As luck would have it, I was searching for invasive plants at Egan’s Creek Greenway a few days ago and noticed dozens of turtles sliding of the logs once I got nearby. This phenomenon of sliding off logs is precisely where the turtle gets its name – Yellow-belled sliders, Trachemys scripta scripta. I was able to snag a photo from a distance of a young turtle basking on a log. The turtle is indigenous to northern Florida. Pond sliders are aquatic and rarely leave the water unless they are basking on logs but they quickly dive into the water when startled. Pond sliders are omnivorous generalists, which means they feed on plants and animals. Adult turtles prefer plants more than young turtles, but both will eat aquatic insects, fish, frog eggs, and tadpoles when the opportunity presents itself. Although they prefer quiet waters, these turtles can tolerate brackish waters, manmade canals, and even city park ponds.
Q: I found a small, turtle with a very long tail in my driveway. It did not look like any turtle I am familiar with as the outer shell was very rough. I have included a picture. Do you have any idea what it might be?
A: I believe you may have found a hatchling of the Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentine or possibly the Florida Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentine oceola. They are sometimes confused with their larger distant relative the Alligator Snapping turtle. But the Common Snapping turtle has a serrated tail unlike the Alligator Snapple turtle. Plus the Common Snapping Turtle is much smaller. Its shell or carapace can be tan, black, or dark brown and only about 8 - 14 inches in length whereas the Alligator Snapping Turtle carapace can reach up to 31 inches. Adult Common Snapping Turtles weigh from 10 - 35 pounds while the Alligator Snapping Turtle can be up to 200 pounds. Common Snapping Turtles are freshwater turtles with a long tail and neck and three rows of low carapace keels. Mating can occur in any month from April and November. Nesting generally occurs between early May and mid-June. Females come out to lay eggs in either the morning or evening in loose sand, loam, or plant debris. Females lay from 20 - 40 eggs which are incubated for 75 -95 days. The eggs hatch in August to October. The Common Snapping Turtle can inhabit almost any freshwater river, lake, marsh, swamp, or pond. Some have even been found in brackish salt marshes. It prefers bodies of water which have a soft mud or sand bottom, aquatic vegetation, and plenty of submerged tree trunks or brush. It will eat almost anything such as aquatic plants, algae, arthropods, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Its eggs are preyed upon by raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, bears, crows, and Hognose Snakes. Juveniles and hatchlings are eaten by herons, egrets, alligators, and predatory fish. When approached by humans or other predators this turtle can bite viciously. In the wild, snapping turtles are estimated to live up to 30 years and potentially 47 years in captivity. Once these turtles reach a certain size there are few natural predators willing to tangle with them. Snapping turtles sometimes bury themselves in mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed. This burying behavior is used as a means of ambushing prey. Snapping turtles will eat nearly anything such as carrion, invertebrates, fish, birds, small mammals, amphibians, and a surprisingly large amount of aquatic vegetation.
Q: I would like to have plants which will provide food for wildlife in the winter. What would you suggest?
A: The best environment is a allowing a natural buffer between houses and subdivisions. Saving large stands of trees and clumps of green space enable native plants the ideal environment to flourish. Wildlife has a place to nest, feed and hide. In these green spaces, it is vital to remove any invasive plants as they reproduce so quickly they disrupt the natural food chain balance. Adding clusters of native plants to your own landscape will also be of benefit. Most of the local plant nurseries carry a variety of native plants and we have one native plant nursery here too. However, it is important also to note a plant does not have to be native in order to provide sufficient food or shelter. Good plant choices are red cedar, Virginia Creeper (see photo above - this is not an invasive vine), and staghorn sumac.