Santa is back at the North Pole and will not return until next December. The confetti and party hats are all used up and the reality has set in that January 2014 is here.
What passes for winter’s long nap, in Wakulla County’s case not-too-long, has set in. Frost has covered most of the county several times so far in the winter of 2013/14.
Unlike latitudes to the north, mammals do not hibernate in north Florida. Bears, squirrels and others still roam the forest, marshes and swamps in search of a meal.
The insects and amphibians are a different situation. As the days have shortened and the temperatures dropped, they fall into silence awaiting the return of warmer weather.
All use the moist soil, leaf litter and decaying wood to provide the insulation and camouflage to survive during the cold periods. Nature repurposes its plant materials to assure the continuation of the smaller creatures which inhabit the area.
There is the oft repeated winter wish of “I hope it gets cold enough to kill all the bugs”. Short of the return to an ice-age, there is little chance of a major insect die-off.
As the rainiest year in recent history, 2013 saw heavy insect activity. Notable was the first recorded appearance of the new invasive insect, the Kudzu Bug which overwinters in kudzu patches.
After Wakulla County’s “Year of the Bug” the cooler weather has arrested much of the activity.
Cicadas, which double the decibel level of every summer night, are currently silent. The next generation is securely bedded down beneath the soil’s surface.
They continue their development during the period of cold and cloistered dormancy. Emergence comes when the spring sun warms the soil and the new cicadas return to enliven the nights.
Frogs are the most sensitive to changing temperatures. A mid-winter warm spell will have them peeping and croaking, which may be their wish for continued balmy conditions.
A drop in temperature and they return to their moist lodgings and wait for the next warming trend.
Earthworms uses the ample leave fall as their warm winter’s blanket and food source. The recycled foliage provides insulation layers much like people stay warmer with multiple layers of clothing as opposed to a single heave garment.
They also utilize the leaf decay as a source of nutrition. Their work speeds the breakdown so plants can again utilize the resulting organic deposits.
Moths and butterflies winter quarters’ depends on the particular species. All are inactive during low temperatures.
Sometimes during a winter warm spell, butterflies and moths will hatch. The life expectancy of the unfortunate is usually cut short by the return of seasonal weather.
Mosquitoes are well adapted to overwintering in Wakulla County. This unpopular nuisance insect halts its pursuit of blood meal during cold weather, only to return shortly after a warm up.
The mosquito larvae halt their development when the weather is too cold or dry. This state of diapause can last for weeks or months with no harm to the insect.
When the environmental conditions return to a favorable state, development continues. Within a week or two after the return of warm weather, everyone will be swatting again.
To learn more about insects in Wakulla County, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County website at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco or call 850-926-3931.