After a two-month absence from Florida it was a treat to return to visit one of my favorite places - the Wildflower Preserve just off Placida Road near Boca Grande.
There had been a protracted drought so water levels were down in ponds. But just during our stay, a more normal pattern of summer rainfall began and ponds started to fill back up.
Volunteer Jane Wallace and her helpers have been busy planting flowers to create butterfly habitat. One of the most striking results was a red swamp hibiscus in bloom.
Invasive Cuban tree frog on palm frond.
This obligate wetland species is spectacular and, although it is not used by butterflies to my knowledge, it will please bumblebees who collect its pollen. I have even successfully planted this on our Virginia farm as a reminder of my beloved southern swamps.
I found a remarkable echo moth caterpillar feeding, to my great surprise, on the poisonous cycad coontie. Few caterpillars can eat coontie and this was the first time I had seen this happen although it is reported in "Caterpillars of Eastern North America" by David L. Wagner.
This could explain why these caterpillars are so brightly colored: to warn potential predators that they are poisonous due to the toxins they have eaten. Some of the larger caterpillars were marching around on the ground in jerky motions in a highly unusual manner.
Bill Dunson from Englewood and Galax, Va., Penn State University professor emeritus of biology, can be reached at email@example.com.
Although I have not seen bobcats at Wildflower Preserve recently, I was pleased to see numerous rabbits, which is ideal food for our sometimes under-nourished bobcats. Although rabbits are cute, I have difficulty enjoying them because of their appetites for our garden vegetables. I have learned to fence the garden better, persecute rabbits less and enjoy them as they occupy an important place in the food web.
The onset of summer rains brought frogs out in numbers and there are few sounds in nature as wonderful as a frog chorus on a summer night.
At Wildflower Preserve I have mainly heard greentree frogs, a few narrow-mouthed toads and Cuban tree frogs. The latter are non-native but flourish in our area by preying on our native frogs but as a herpetologist I still find them intriguing and hard to dislike.
One of the predictable events of summer is the dry-down of Lemon Lake just south of Wildflower Preserve. It lies at the southern headwaters of Lemon Creek, which passes through Wildflower Preserve, and is part of the overall estuarine ecosystem the Lemon Bay Conservancy wants to protect.
The water level in the lake originates from tidal flow of Lemon Creek plus rainfall minus evaporation, which is high in the summer. Thus when summer rainfall is low, the lake dries down and may even become an expanse of cracked mud.
What happens to the fish?
Birds eat many of them, many die, and some migrate down the creek into Wildflower Preserve. One day during the driest time I noticed thousands of sheepshead minnows concentrated in Lemon Creek in Fiddler's Green development and Wildflower Preserve.
The very next day, after a rain, most of these had disappeared, apparently swimming back into portions of Lemon Lake that re-flooded. This illustrates very well the cycles of life in the lake and creek and how they vary with rain, tides and weather.
Enjoy the natural wonders of summer wherever you are!