Sunday, August 30, 2009

Flutter By

I took too many photos today. The park was absolutely buzzing with buggy life again today. The numbers and varieties of butterflies seem like they are doubling daily. My butterfly field guide has been getting a lot of use this month and it is great to have such a good refresher for myself. If I keep this up for the next couple of years, I may be able to make my own field guide! Oh yeah, there were people in the park today too. There were no divers in the park at all yesterday, so I had a feeling that we might see some today. It was a somewhat busy morning with several dive groups, but they really did not require much attention. Everyone paid what they were supposed to and I didn't have a hard time checking certifications. It was an easy day. All I had to do was keep an eye on everyone, answer questions, pick up some litter, and try to photograph everything that walked, flew, hopped, and slithered past me. I did too well with the photos though, and I will have to save some for future days off to post.
The first critter I saw today was really pretty exciting for me. I saw a little snake on the walkway to the spring. It surprised me! There are so many things that I see daily on the walkway and this very unique snake is not one of them. I really didn't know what kind it was when I first saw it. Given its proximity to the spring, its color, and the shape of its body, my first guess was that it was a very young Red-bellied Watersnake. Later in the day, I got a chance to do some research online and I discovered that I was definitely wrong. Young Red-bellied Watersnakes have spots. After a little more searching, I was fairly convinced that this was an adult Pine Woods Snake. However, now at home, with my field guide, I have to add the Redbelly Snake (different from the Red-bellied Watersnake) and the Florida Brown Snake to my list of possibilities. I just can't be sure. Unfortunately, my close-up photos of its head and chin did not come out crisp so there are some defining features that I can't make out. I will e-mail some of our park biologists to see if they can tell me. I am very curious! None of the visitors got to see this little snake. I never know how people will react to a snake so I have found that if I can't stand guard to watch the snake, its best to get it out of people's way to ensure its survival. Sadly, I have had to scrape dead, harmless, non-venomous snakes off of the walkway when people killed them, thinking that they were protecting others. If you look closely in the photo, you'll see that I may have interrupted its meal. There was a frog, trying to hide in the crack in the sidewalk. The frog looks much bigger than the snake, but snakes always amaze me when they stretch to eat a large meal.
I spotted this little flutterer hiding under a leaf this morning. I am not sure if it is a butterfly or moth, but I am leaning towards moth. It definitely does not appear in my butterfly field guide. I was not able to get a close look at its antennae, which would tell me whether it was a butterfly or moth. Moths usually have furry antennae while butterflies have thin stalks with a club at the top, or a little bulge. Also, moths are usually more active at night while butterflies are more active during the day. This little guy was roosting (hiding under a leaf), so it may have been settling in for the day.
As always, there were plenty of frogs on the walkway. I took a photo of this one because it has an interesting shape and I see them often. Frogs are so difficult to identify visually unless they are a type with really striking features, but I decided to give it a shot with this one. I was happy to find that in our area, there are not many frogs with this shape. It is a Narrowmouth Toad. That fitting name should be easy for me to remember. They like moist areas with plenty of shelter, so the walkway with gaps in the boards on the wall is a good fit.
I couldn't resist taking a photo of this Skink. It is likely the same one that I mentioned in yesterday's post because I saw this one in nearly the same spot on the walkway. The tail that is is missing would be a beautiful electric blue. Their tails detach easily and will continue to move once they are no longer attached to the lizard. Any predator trying to eat the lizard may be distracted by the moving tail long enough for the Skink to make a get away. I remember the first time I learned about these Skinks. I was very new to Florida and even more new to being a Park Ranger. I was helping another ranger to put away a rescue boat and I looked down to see a bright blue wiggly thing right by my foot! The other ranger told me that it was a Skink tail. I was amazed, but felt terrible that I probably stepped on the lizard and caused it to loose its tail. It takes a long time for the tail to grow back and while it is tailless, it is also without its best defense.
On a trip to the far side of the spring to pick up some garbage, I had a great time butterfly chasing! The mud at the water's edge was very appealing to several butterflies who were drinking the mud to take in minerals from the soil. I spent a good deal of time trying to photograph this Giant Swallowtail. It wasn't too bothered by me, so I was able to get close to it, but its wings were fluttering non-stop! I had to take so many photos to get these two crisp images and I am thrilled that I got them. It was a beautiful butterfly and another first-time photo for me.
More trips up and down the spring walkway yielded these two photos. One is a Lubber, a giant, very slow-moving grasshopper. They are by far, my favorite grasshopper. I love their size and slowness which makes them so easy to observe and their colors are just pretty. The other is a snail. I see this type of snail on the walls of the spring walkway often. I found one once that was much larger, but usually they are about this size and usually they are just slowly moving along the wall. I have not yet been able to identify it, but I will continue to try.
The last photo that I am posting was taken on my way home. I noticed these flowers in bloom yesterday and almost stopped to take a photo, but I was anxious to get home. I am glad now that I waited because a flower and butterfly photo is much better than a flower photo. This butterfly looks similar to the Giant Swallowtail above, but it is lacking that second yellow stripe. This is a Black Swallowtail feeding on a Trumpet Creeper blossom. The Black Swallowtail shares the very fluttery characteristic of the Giant Swallowtail but it was not as patient as the Giant and flew away before I got a good photo. Sorry for the blurring, but I didn't want you to miss this one.


Ranger Amy said...

I have an answer! The biologists' conclusion was that it was a Florida Brown Snake. I am grateful for their help! Its location makes much more sense now. The Florida Brown Snake like moist, forest environments with a lot of ground cover. The area around the walkway fits that description perfectly. It is an uncommonly seen snake so it was a very fun sighting.

Linda said...

The yellow butterfly photo is exquisite! And I also loved the grasshopper and snail. Perfect.