Summer is a time of remarkable abundance in nature all around Gasparilla Island.
There is a veritable explosion of life in all its amazing forms. There is never a lack of animals and plants for a naturalist to examine.
Two of the rarer plants in July bloom on our Southwest Florida farm are ginseng and Canada lily.
A young fawn near Elk Garden lies still in the presence of danger depending on its spotted camouflage.
Ginseng or "sang" has long been used as a medicinal plant in the Orient and elsewhere in part because the shape of its root resembles the human form. The unremarkable tiny white flowers produce red berries that will be eaten and dispersed by birds. It is like an Easter egg hunt to find the plants since they are so cryptic on the forest floor.
In comparison, the Canada lily is obvious with its large reddish orange flower on a tall stalk. Southwest Florida plants seem to prefer open disturbed sites where competition with grasses and shrubs is minimal and there is protection from deer browsing.
Insects flourish in summer as the predominant form of animal life. We are fortunate to have few blood-sucking insects (ticks are arachnids).
I came across a tiny Eastern tailed blue butterfly on a cool morning, the best time to observe insects up close while they are warming up. The tiny blue flashes of their wings is startling in contrast with the lighter pattern of the closed wings. Butterflies are most often present in areas with the food plant of their caterpillars, which are members of the pea family for blue butterflies.
Every morning I check my outdoor lights to see if anything interesting has been drawn there the night before and was rewarded recently with an adult mayfly. Their life history is peculiar. This species is first an aquatic nymph that lives underground in streams and lakes for years before metamorphosing into a flying adult with a very short reproductive life span.
Dragonflies are a conspicuous insect around Gasparilla Island ponds with a somewhat similar life cycle as its aquatic larvae also metamorphose into a flying adult. However, adult dragonflies have a much longer life span and are beautiful albeit challenging to identify. The slaty skimmer shown here was flying around the edge of one of our eight constructed ponds, which are attractive to insects and amphibians.
Some insects deserve considerable respect since they can deliver a powerful bite. The wheeler assassin bug is one such critter that should not be handled.
The juvenile and adult look quite different. These are true bugs, (Hemiptera) which have sucking rather than chewing mouth parts. You can see the proboscis folded under the head by which they impale prey, poison and devour it.
Juvenile bugs have a red abdomen they hold erect in a menacing manner. Their color and stance advertise their toxic nature.
In contrast, adults are brown and do not advertise their ability to defend themselves. The "wheel" or cog on their back is an unusual feature unknown function.
We have a number of fields on our farm, which grow grasses and flowers. Those uncut for hay grow tall and shelter turkey nests. My wife found one after all turkeys had hatched. It was well hidden even though only 2 feet from a trail she was pruning.
Turkeys nest in thick field sites, which offer them better protection from predators than ground locations in the woods.
Considering the number of deer on our farm it is surprising that we do not find more fawns. When I found a very young fawn near Elk Garden its response was to lie still in the presence of danger. Their spotted camouflage is remarkable.
I have mixed feelings about deer since they are a beautiful native species yet they damage plantings. We have to place expensive protective fences and enclosures around plants and, despite hunting, there seems little chance of controlling their numbers. Coyotes have minimal effect on deer and feed mainly on smaller prey.
It is reassuring, however, a native species is thriving in the changed landscape humans have produced.
Revel in the natural abundance of summer. It will be gone sooner than you imagine!