Since last year we have been logging reports from area residents of snake encounters. The purpose of this is education. We are learning which species people most frequently encounter, what time of year different species are encountered, and where they are being encountered. Here is the 2023 3rd Quarter Update.
To date – we have encountered 24 of the 40 species (60%) known to inhabit the Pensacola Bay area.
The most frequently encountered snake has been the cottonmouth. This species has been encountered 45 times. It has been seen every month this year and at the following locations – north and south Escambia County as well as north and south Santa Rosa County.
The second most frequently encountered snake has been the southern black racer. This species has been encountered 35 times and every month except January. Locations reporting this snake included – north and south Santa Rosa County, as well as north and south Escambia County.
The third most frequently encountered snake has been the banded water snake. This species has been encountered 26 times and 25 of those were last winter and spring – the snake was only reported once during the summer and has not been reported this fall. It was encountered from north and south Santa Rosa County as well as north and south Escambia County.
Reports by snake groups…
Small Snakes – 4 of the 7 species (57%) have been encountered. The most common have been the Florida red-bellied snake and the Southern ring-necked snake. These have been reported from north Escambia County, south Escambia County, north Santa Rosa County, Pensacola, Milton, and UWF.
Mid-Sized Snakes – 5 of the 8 species (63%) have been encountered. The most common has been the Eastern garter snake. It has been reported from north Santa Rosa County, south Escambia County, south Santa Rosa County, and north Escambia County.
Large Snakes – 6 of the 7 species (86%) have been encountered. The most common has been the Southern black racer followed by its close cousin the Eastern coachwhip. The only large snake not encountered so far this year has been the Eastern indigo snake, which is a threatened species and encounters in the wild have not been documented since the late 1990s. Coachwhip encounters have occurred from south Escambia County, north Santa Rosa County, and south Santa Rosa County.
Water Snakes – 4 of the 13 species (31%) have been encountered. The most common has been the Banded water snake followed by the Brown water snake. The Brown water snake has been encountered on the Choctawhatchee River, Perdido River, Blackwater River, Escambia River, and south Escambia County.
Venomous Snakes – all 4 venomous species in our area have been encountered (100%). The most common has been the Cottonmouth followed by the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. The diamondback has been encountered from south Escambia County, north Santa Rosa County, and south Santa Rosa County. With high interest in venomous snakes, the other encounters include the Dusky pygmy rattlesnake, which has been encountered from south Escambia County, and north Santa Rosa County. The Eastern coral snake has only been encountered once and that was from south Santa Rosa County.
Rare Encounters – those that have only been encountered once this year…
Rough earth snake was encountered during September from south Escambia County.
Rough green snake was encountered during August from north Santa Rosa.
Eastern hognose was encountered during July from north Santa Rosa.
Eastern kingsnake was encountered in February from north Escambia County.
Eastern coral snake was encountered in June from south Santa Rosa County.
Florida pine snake was encountered during the winter and spring from north Santa Rosa County.
Bay scallops (Argopecten irradians) have been an important part of the economy of many gulf coast communities within the Florida Big Bend for decades. It was once abundant in all gulf coast counties of the state but beginning in the 1960s populations in many bays began to decline to levels where they are all but nonexistent. The cause of this decline has been associated with many factors including a decline in water quality, a decline in suitable habitat (sea turtle grass beds – Thalassia), and overharvesting. Most likely the cause included all of these. Since the collapse of both the commercial and recreational fishery, Gulf coast communities have been trying to address all three of the stressors above. Multiple monitoring projects are ongoing in the Pensacola Bay area and one of those is the Great Scallop Search.
The Great Scallop Search was developed by Sea Grant Agents in Southwest Florida and expanded, through Florida Sea Grant, to Northwest Florida. In each location volunteers snorkel a 50-meter transect line searching for live bay scallops, as well as monitoring the status of the seagrass habitat. Since 2015 317 volunteers have logged 634 hours surveying 407 50-meter transects in 106 grids in Big Lagoon or Santa Rosa Sound. In that time 4 live scallops have been logged, though we hear anecdotal reports of additional scallops being found in these bodies of water.
Volunteers select and survey one of 11 grids in Big Lagoon, or one of 55 grids in Santa Rosa Sound. Once on site, the volunteers anchor and record preliminary information on the data sheet provided. Two snorkelers enter the water and swim on opposite sides of a 50-meter transect line searching for live scallops. Any live scallop found is measured and returned. The species and density of the seagrass is recorded as well as the presence/absence of macroalgae on that seagrass. Four such transects are surveyed in each grid.
# of volunteers
No significant difference between 2022 and 2023
# of grids surveyed
Slight decrease from 2022. 16 of the 66 grids (24%) were surveyed.
# of transects surveyed
A decrease from 2022. More surveys were conducted in Big Lagoon than Santa Rosa Sound.
Area surveyed (m2)
# of scallop found
Four live scallops are a record for this project. It equals the sum of all other live scallops since the project began.
Scallop Size (cm)
Surveys with Seagrass
17/21 surveys – 81%
19/21 surveys – 90%
2/21 surveys – 10%
12/21 surveys (57%) were 100% grass
Note: Volunteers typically select area for transects
with a lot of grass.
12/21 surveys (57%) had no macroalgae.
15/21 surveys (71%) were sandy.
21 surveys were conducted covering 16 grids. 8 grids were surveyed in each body of water.
A total of 77 transects were conducted covering 7,700 m2 and four live scallops were found.
Two of the scallops were found in Big Lagoon and two in Santa Rosa Sound.
All scallops measured between 4-5cm (1.6-2”).
The number of live scallops found this year equaled the total number found over the last eight years.
Most of the transects included a mix of Halodule and Thalassia seagrass ranging from 100% coverage to 5%. The majority of the transects were between 50-100% grass. Four transects had 100% Thalassia. Three of those were in Santa Rosa Sound, one was in Big Lagoon. The diving depth of the volunteers ranged from 0 meters (0 feet) to 2.4 meters (8 feet). Macroalgae was present in 8 of the 21 surveys (38%) but was not abundant in most.
Summary of Project
Live Scallops Found
To date we are averaging 35 volunteers each event, surveying 14 of the 55 possible grids (25%). We are averaging 45 transects each year (4500 m2), have logged 407 transects (40,700 m2) and have recorded 8 live scallops (< than one a year).
Based on the results since 2016 this year was a record year for live scallops. Whether they are coming back on their own is still to be seen. Being mass spawners, bay scallop need high densities in order to reproduce successfully, and these numbers do not support that. The data, and comments from volunteers, suggest that the grasses look good and dense. Thalassia, a favorite of the bay scallop, appear to be becoming more abundant. This is a good sign.
October is Dune Lake Awareness month and as part of the celebration, Walton and Okaloosa County UF/IFAS Extension Agents are joining together to host a Coastal Dune Lake Tour at Western Lake in Grayton Beach State Park. This free event will include a brief lecture and guided tour of the nature trail surrounding the lake. Laura Tiu, Marine Science Agent, will start the tour with a history of the lakes, the unique ecology and some of the local protections. Sheila Dunning, Horticulture Agent, will share information on the unique flora in the dunes including which plants have been used by native Americans and pioneers for food and medicine and the trees we find in the dune landscape surrounding the dune lakes and their adaptations to this sometimes-harsh environment. If you have an interest in our local dune lakes or the tour, you may visit the Walton County Dune Lake website at https://www.co.walton.fl.us/97/Coastal-Dune-Lakes. If you would like to register for this free tour go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/panhandle-outdoor-live-2023-coastal-dune-lake-lecture-and-trail-tour-tickets-722764316527?aff=oddtdtcreator or use our Facebook event link https://www.facebook.com/events/811943803961304. Feel free to call our office, 850-892-8172, with any questions.
Miami is ground zero for invasive species in this state. But the Florida panhandle is no stranger to them. Where they are dealing with Burmese pythons, melaleuca, and who knows how many different species of lizards – we deal with Chinese tallow, Japanese climbing fern, and lionfish. The state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year battling and managing these non-native problem species. By definition, invasive species cause environmental and/or economic problems, and those problems will only get worse if we do not spend the money to manage them. Those who work in invasive science and resource management know that the most effective way to manage these species is to detect them early and respond rapidly.
Invasive species have made their way to the coastal waters and dunes of the barrier islands in the Florida panhandle. Beach vitex, Brown anoles, and Chinese tallow are found on most. Recently on Perdido Key near Pensacola, we found a new one – cogongrass.
Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) was accidentally introduced to the Gulf coast via crates of satsumas entering the port of Mobile in 1912. It began to spread from there and has covered much of the upland areas of the southeastern U.S. It has created large problems within pasture lands, where livestock will not graze on it, and in pine forest where it has decreased plant and animal biodiversity as well as made prescribed burning a problem – it burns hot, hot enough to actually kill the trees. The impacts and management of this plant in that part of the panhandle has been known for a long time. The Department of Agriculture lists it as one of the most invasive and noxious weeds in the country.
Two years ago cogongrass was discovered growing around a swimming pool area at a condo on Perdido Key. To be considered an invasive species you must (a) be non-native to the area – cogongrass is certainly non-native to our barrier islands, (b) have been introduced by humans (accidentally or intentionally) – strike two, we THINK it was introduced by mowers. This is a common method of spreading cogongrass, mowing an area where it exists, then moving those mowers to new locations without cleaning the equipment. We do not know this is how it got to the island, but the probability is high. Third, it has to be causing an environmental and/or economic problem. It certainly is north of the I-10, but it is not known what issue it may cause on our barrier islands. Could it negatively impact protected beach mice and nesting sea turtle habitat? Could alter the integrity of dunes to reduce their ability to hold sand and protect properties. Could it overtake dune plants lowering both plant and animal diversity thus altering the ecology of the barrier island itself? We do not know. What we do know is that if we want to eradicate it, we need to detect it early and respond rapidly.
According to EDDMapS.org – there are 75 records of cogongrass on the barrier islands, and coastal beaches of the Florida panhandle. This is most likely under reported. So, step one would be to conduct surveys along your islands and beaches. Florida Sea Grant and Escambia County of Marine Resources are doing just that. EDDMaps reports five records on Perdido Key and four at Ft. Pickens. It most likely there is more. A survey of the northeast area of Pensacola Beach (from Casino Beach east and north of Via De Luna Drive) has found two verified records and two unverified (they are on private property, and we cannot approach to verify). Surveys of both islands continue.
The best time to remove/treat cogongrass is in the fall. The key to controlling this plant is destroying the extensive rhizome system. In the upland regions, simple disking has been shown to be effective if you dig during the dry season, when the rhizomes can dry out, and if you disk deep enough to get all of the rhizomes. Though the rhizomes can be found as deep as four feet, most are within six inches and at least a six-inch disking is recommended. Depending on the property, this may not be an option on our barrier islands. But if you have a small patch in your yard, you might be able to dig much of it up.
Chemical treatments have had some success. Prometon (Pramitol), tebuthurion (Spike), and imazapyr have all had some success along roadsides and in ditches north of I-10. However, the strength of these chemicals will impede new growth, or plantings of new plants, for up to six months. There are plants that are protected on our islands and on Perdido Key any altering of beach mouse habitat is illegal. We certainly do not want to kill plants that are holding our dunes. If you feel chemical treatment may be needed for your property, contact the county extension office for advice.
Most recommend a mixture of burning, disking, and chemical treatment. But again, this is not realistic for barrier islands. Any mechanical removal should be conducted in the summer to remove thatch and all older and dead cogongrass. As new shoots emerge in late summer and early fall herbicides can then be used to kill the young plants. Studies and practice have found complete eradication is difficult. It is also recommended not to attempt any management while in seed (in spring). Tractors, mowers, etc. can collect the seeds and, when the mowers are moved to new locations, spread the problem. If all mowing/disking equipment can be cleaned after treatment – this is highly recommended.
Step one would be to determine if you have cogongrass on your property, then seek advice on how to best manage it. For more information on this species, contact your local extension office.
A deer darting across a path, a bobwhite calling at sunrise, or the tracks of a coyote in the mud are all fascinating examples of how we enjoy our natural areas. Have you ever wished you could watch wildlife all day to understand the intricate relationships they have with one another? What if you could learn more about their behavior? And their habitat and daily activities?
Dr. Carolina Baruzzi at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center and Dr. Corey Callaghan at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center are launching “ConservationCam”, a new extension program to help you monitor wildlife on your property using camera traps.
Camera traps are a valuable tool for wildlife monitoring. When an animal moves in front of a camera, they trigger a motion sensor to take a picture or video. Camera traps can be set up in multiple ways to target a species or habitat of interest, such as a forest opening or a wildlife burrow. Thanks to their versatility and relative low cost, camera traps are being used in a variety of contexts, for example, understanding the effects of wildlife or habitat management on target species.
The primary goal of ConservationCam is to provide private landowners with access to camera traps, and expert guidance about monitoring wildlife and managing natural resources for biodiversity based on camera trap observations. Armed with this knowledge, landowners can make informed decisions about land management practices that positively impact biodiversity on their property. If you live in the Florida Panhandle, and are interested in using camera traps to monitor wildlife on your property, while learning how to answer different ecological questions, we are gathering expressions of interest through this online form.
Discover the fascinating world of Cuban Treefrogs and join us for an exciting workshop aimed at effectively managing their invasion. Led by Dr. Steve Johnson, an expert on Cuban Treefrogs from UF/IFAS Extension, this workshop will provide you with valuable insights on recognizing these invasive frogs and exploring management options. In addition, attendees will have the opportunity to learn how to monitor and report data on Cuban Treefrog populations. Together, let’s take action to address the challenges posed by the invasion of Cuban Treefrogs! The Workshop will be held September 28th 9am – 3pm CDT at 2728 E14th St, Panama City, FL 32401Register Here
The Invasion of Cuban Treefrogs:
Originating from Cuba and introduced unintentionally to Florida in the 1920s, the Cuban Treefrog has rapidly established itself across various states, including Georgia and Louisiana. Believed to have arrived as stowaways in shipping crates, these non-native frogs have become a cause for concern due to their impacts on native treefrog and toad populations.
Understanding the Threat:
Cuban Treefrog adults and their tadpoles are known predators of native treefrogs and toads. Their presence poses a significant threat to the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Therefore, it is crucial to develop effective management strategies to curb their invasion and minimize their impact on our native species.
During the workshop, Dr. Steve Johnson, an esteemed authority on Cuban Treefrogs, will guide participants through the identification and management of these invasive frogs. Attendees will gain valuable knowledge and practical skills to recognize Cuban Treefrogs and explore options for effectively managing their populations. Participants will also build and take home their own treefrog house (refugia) made with PVC.
Contributing to Research:
In addition to learning about identification and management, workshop attendees will have the opportunity to play an active role in monitoring and reporting data on Cuban Treefrog populations. By actively participating in data collection efforts, you will contribute to scientific research and provide crucial insights into the distribution and behavior of these invasive frogs.
Join the Cause:
The invasion of Cuban Treefrogs is a pressing environmental issue that requires collective action. By attending our workshop, you can become an agent of change in addressing this invasive species. Let’s work together to protect our native treefrogs and toads by effectively managing the population of Cuban Treefrogs.
Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to join Dr. Steve Johnson and fellow nature enthusiasts in our workshop focused on managing the invasion of Cuban Treefrogs. By acquiring knowledge, developing practical skills, and contributing to data collection efforts, you can actively participate in protecting our native species and preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Together, let’s make a difference and tackle the challenges posed by the Cuban Treefrog invasion. Register now and be a part of this important environmental initiative!