Summer Wildlife Happenings
Summer has officially begun and so too has the rainy season. Florida is one of the most biodiverse states in the nation with over 4,300 known animal species and over 3,000 species of vascular plants. Unfortunately, Florida’s climate and status as a major traffic and tourism hub has also lead it to have one of the greatest concentrations of invasive exotic plant and animal species too. Let’s take a look at some wildlife activity happening in these summer months.
The picture you see here is one of our most common invasive exotic animal species in north central Florida, the Cuban tree frog. Ironically this guy is sitting just outside my office window now. Notice the very large pads on his toes. Cuban tree frogs can come in many different colors but the tell-tale indicator of the species is its size and those extra large toe pads. Any tree frog you see larger than 2.5 inches is not native and is most likely the Cuban. The peak of their breeding season, like many frog species, is during the summer rainy months. To learn more about Florida’s tree frogs, including my personal favorite the squirrel treefrog, visit https://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/frogs/treefrogs.shtml
It’s puppy season! No, not the barking tail-wagging kind, the flying mammal kind. Baby bats are called pups. We have 13 species of native bats in the state and they’re all beneficial either as insect eaters, particularly mosquitoes and agricultural pests, as pollinators or as seed dispersers. The official maternal period for bats is April 15 – August 15th, and in that time frame it is illegal to extract or exclude bats from a structure such as from attics, sheds, folded up porch umbrellas, etc. It is illegal year-round to intentionally harm or kill bats. A favorite roosting place for several bat species is in the dead fronds of palm trees so if you have a palm tree, avoid pruning the dead fronds or “skirts” of your palms during this maternal period. It’s also best for the health of your palm tree to not over-prune it since palms uptake nutrients from old fronds to feed new growth. Living with Bats.
The birds, the bees and the summer breeze! Summer is breeding season for many avian species including our state bird, the mockingbird. Mockingbirds on any day can be rather aggressive, but take extra precaution during the breeding season when they are known to attack passerby’s that get too close to nests. Similarly, if you visit a beach this time of year you’ll likely notice marked off areas for nesting shore birds including terns, black skimmers and oystercatchers. It was once my job to protect these nesting shorebird areas and sea turtle nests and I can say from experience, give them plenty of space! Terns, like their inland cousins, can become quite aggressive around their nesting grounds. Keep vehicles, children and especially dogs from disturbing these areas during your beach getaways.
Speaking of turtles, it’s sea turtle nesting season and the peak of our inland gopher tortoise breeding. Florida is visited by all 5 species of sea turtle but most commonly by the loggerheads. If you see staked off areas with the sea turtle nesting sign posted, leave it alone, keep dogs from digging there and be sure to clean up any trash or beach toys before you leave. And although your children may be very proud of the large crater they dug, holes can easily trap and kill hatchlings so be sure to fill in any dug-out masterpieces before you go. As for gopher tortoises, these are strictly a ground-dwelling species. I have personally seen gopher tortoises floating down the intercoastal because well-meaning folks think they’re returning it home to the sea. Gopher tortoises do not have webbed toes or flippers. Instead, they’re equipped with clawed feet great for digging their below ground burrows. Gopher tortoises and their burrows are legally protected and should not be disturbed or destroyed. Plus, with an active gopher tortoise burrow on your property you’ll have the wonderful joy of seeing the adorable yellow hatchlings.
A frequent and beloved visitor to our Florida springs, coasts and rivers is the manatee. Manatees, like the gopher tortoise, are keystone species. This means that if something were to happen to either of them, many other species or entire ecosystems will suffer. When manatees are struggling as they are now, it also indicates that something is seriously wrong with the ecosystems they depend upon. Summer is manatee mating and peak calving season. Mating herds usually occur in shallow water such as river banks, marshes and springs where they can create quite a commotion with flailing tails and flippers. Unfortunately, in these shallow waters they are also more susceptible to boat collisions and harassment. Always heed “no wake” and manatee protection zones while boating and although it’s tempting to get close and pet these gentle sea cows, keep your distance and respect their space.
Many other young animals such as racoons, opossums, armadillos, foxes and bobcats will be leaving their dens in the coming months as will alligator hatchlings that emerge from their nests in July – August. Mother alligators are extremely protective of their nests and of their young so NEVER approach a nest or alligator hatchlings no matter how cute they may look. Big momma gator is likely not far away.
To learn about more fun wildlife happenings and how you can protect and provide habitat for wildlife, visit UF/IFAS Florida Wildlife Extension or contact your UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Service at 352-671-8400.