Although southern Florida seems to be in a state of perpetual springtime, such is not the case.
There are distinct, summer wet and winter dry seasons with associated changes in the prevailing temperatures.
The onset of spring (first day, March 20) is quite noticeable due to the responses of plants and animals to longer day lengths with changes in growth and behavior
Healthy alligator sunning himself along the Myakka River.
Everyone on Gasparilla Island is noticing an earlier onset of spring this year with premature flowering of the willow trees being an obvious sign. They have been in bloom for almost a month and it is an exciting sign of the coming wet season. However, for the northward migrating warblers dependent on these flowers for food when they pass through, this could be a problem later.
Florida residents have planted many exotic trees such as the tabebuia or pink trumpet tree, and the silk cotton tree. The flowers of the silk cotton are enormous and absolutely gush with nectar, attracting many birds. If a homeowner is willing to put up with such a messy tree, the rewards are considerable in terms of the spectacular blooms and wildlife viewing.
The life cycle of one of our most incredible moths was revealed recently when I found a large pupa with a spine on the hind end. I suspected that this was a hornworm or Sphinx moth.
William Dunson, Ph.d., professor emeritus of biology at Penn State University, splits time between Southwest Florida and his farm in Connecticut. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I had seen the caterpillar of one species of this unusual moth earlier feeding on the primrose willow plant that grows around the edges of ponds at Wildflower Preserve just outside Gasparilla Island. This bush has a beautiful yellow flower that is esteemed by many insects.
Although sometimes despised by fishery managers since it thrives in shallow nutrient-enriched waters, it's a premier wildlife-friendly plant.
I placed the pupa I found in a box and waited to see what would emerge. To my delight, within a few days a banded sphinx moth appeared, confirming the life cycle of this remarkable night-flying nectar feeder that hovers at flowers and feeds with a very long proboscis on nectar.
Another sign of the spring season was the appearance of blue tilapia on their spawning beds around the edges of ponds such as this one at Wildflower Preserve. Although this is an exotic from Africa, which is not entirely welcome, it is an interesting species of mainly herbivorous cichlid fish. A primary ecological impact seems to be as a competitor with dabbling birds such as gallinules and coots, which often lose meals to this fish.
Alligators enjoy the warm rays of spring sunshine and are out basking on the river and lake banks exposed by lower water flows. It is a peculiar circumstance that gators have the easiest time finding food in spring since aquatic life is concentrated in small pools by reduced rainfall. During the summer when water levels are high, gators have to pursue prey when the density of fish is at an annual low point.
Springtime brings a strong feeling of emotional renewal stimulated by flowers, the leafing out of trees, the calling of frogs and the singing of birds that announces re-birth of ecosystems. It is a special time and a tribute to our primal links with nature that we feel this change so strongly and celebrate it.