For several years now Dr. Angela Collins, with Florida Sea Grant, has been conducting research on the status of the Goliath Grouper. This extremely large member of the Family Serranidae has been of concern to fishermen, divers, and resource managers in south Florida. The harvest of goliath groupers has been prohibited since 1990 but their populations have certainly increased. Once found throughout the Gulf region, they became rare from recreational and commercial harvesting in the 1970’s and 80’s; most of the fish that were encountered were encountered in southwest Florida. Today, their numbers have increased and records of the animal have been logged from Tampa Bay, the Big Bend, and now from the Panhandle region. At this point FWC is not sure whether the numbers have recovered enough to remove the ban from harvesting.
Three goliath groupers over wreck in southwest Florida. Photo: Bryan Fluech Florida Sea Grant
Each year, during the first week of June, Dr. Collins conducts a statewide survey of Goliath Grouper encounters. She is particularly interested in Goliath Grouper sightings in the panhandle. This year the survey will begin this Sunday – June 5 and extend to Saturday June 11. Any diver interested in participating in the survey should contact their local Sea Grant Agent to obtain the official data sheet. These sheets can be scanned and returned to your local Sea Grant Agent – or you can contact them for alternative methods for submitting the results.
We hope local divers will consider helping us with this needed information. These data sheets will be part of the annual assessment of the status of this neat fish. For more information visit the Florida Sea Grant website (https://www.flseagrant.org/news/2016/06/great-goliath-grouper-county-provides-fisheries-managers-stock-assessment-data/).
Many plants and animals have been introduced to new regions for centuries, as people have discovered new lands. These transient species are known as non-natives, and can become invasive. Invasive species occur throughout the world and may blend in, be nondescript or highly attractive; they can be plant or animal; terrestrial or aquatic; they may resemble or remind the viewer of something familiar; they may be very good at adapting to our climate and conditions which is how many invasive species get their foothold in an area. And because they have not evolved alongside our native species, when introduced to areas lacking their natural predators, they can adapt and take off.
Conditions in the SE US are ripe for many invasive contenders. Some species have been intentionally introduced and other species have been accidentally introduced. Some common invasive species include red imported fire ants, Kudzu, Privet, Chinese tallow, Japanese climbing fern, Chinaberry, and cogongrass, just to name a few on the tip of the iceberg. These species are now out-of-control, and it is unlikely they will ever be eradicated from their new home.
In 2011 alone, the Department of the Interior spent more than $100 million on invasive species prevention, early detection and rapid response, control and management, research, outreach, international cooperation and habitat restoration in the US. (USFWS) This is a drop in the bucket when you consider in FY 1999-2000, nine Florida agencies spent $90.8 million on prevention, monitoring, control, and restoration efforts. It is estimated that the annual cost of invasive plants, animals and diseases in losses to Florida’s agriculture is estimated at $179 million annually (www.defenders.org).
Much like a cancer can spread in the body, so too, when conditions are favorable can invasive species spread across the landscape. Once established in the landscape eradication is expensive; ideally early monitoring is critical to understanding its movement and dispersal, coverage, and containment. Like cancers, early detection provides better opportunity to address the situation. Within the landscape, an aggressive invasive can impact the entire ecosystem – causing a serious imbalance; followed by a cascade of impact via unforeseen collateral damage.
Take the newest aquatic threat of Lionfish. The trophic impacts of lionfish could alter the structure of native reef fish communities and potentially hamper stock rebuilding efforts of the Snapper –Grouper Complex. Additional effects of the lionfish invasion are far-reaching and could increase coral reef ecosystem stress, threaten human health, and ultimately impact the marine aquarium industry. Control strategies for lionfish are needed to mitigate impacts.
Disturbances like new roads, land clearing, and tropical weather events (hurricanes) can all provide the opportunity for invasive species to get a foothold. So, the next time you notice a plant or animal that you don’t recognize, take a picture and report it using the “I’ve Got One!” phone app or on-line to The Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS.org). You can also report to the nearest Extension Agent.
A good way to learn how to identify and control some of our common invasives is to join a volunteer workday at a park near you sponsored by the Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) or the Florida Native Plant Society.
GUEST AUTHOR: Barbara Albrecht, Director of Panhandle Watershed Alliance, member is the Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area.
Exclusion cages help us determine how much forage is being produced and consumed. (photo by Jennifer Bearden)
It’s time to start planning your cool season wildlife food plots. Cool season food plots do a great job attracting deer and other wildlife to your property as well as providing a little nutrition. The first step is to choose an appropriate location. Remember wildlife like to stay close to cover but plants also need sunlight. Cool season food plots are generally smaller than warm season food plots (about an acre or so is sufficient). Once you find a suitable location, have your soil tested. Soil test results give you important information like pH, phosphorus levels and potassium levels. In August, perform your soil test so you have more time to adjust your pH. Adjust pH if necessary with lime applications. Cool season forage options include:
- Legumes – arrowleaf clover, crimson clover, ball clover, red clover, white clover, vetch and winter peas to name a few.
- Grasses – ryegrass, oats, wheat, rye, and triticale (a man made cross of wheat and rye).
- Brassicas like kale, turnips and tillage radish
- Forage Chicory
Legumes need to be inoculated with a rhizobium bacteria prior to planting. This will allow the plant to manufacture nitrogen and eliminate the need for extra nitrogen application. The pH range for most of these plants will between 5.5-7.0 but some clovers need a higher pH. I would recommend planting a mixture of these forages. One mixture that had a lot of success in our research plots in Quincy included arrowleaf clover, red clover, crimson clover, white clover, buck forage oats and tillage radish. The target pH for that mixture would be 6.0.
Cool Season Food Plot publication: A Walk on the Wild Side: 2013 Cool Season Forage Recommendations for Wildlife Food Plots in North Florida
Warming temperatures have awaken snakes that have been dormant during the winter months. As a result, they are more active during abnormal times of the day and move more than they typically do while searching for food. This also means more people are likely to encounter with them.
Even though most snakes are nonvenomous, many people fear them and will go out of their way to kill them if an encounter occurs. Interestingly, 95% of the humans bitten by snakes are either trying to catch or kill them; suggesting the best thing to do when encountering a snake is to leave it be.
Brush piles such as these attract snakes. These should be kept away from where family members play. They can actually be used to move snakes away from areas where you do not want them. Photo: Rick O’Connor
How can you reduce your chance of encountering a snake?
Most snakes found around the house are either seeking suitable habitat or food. Anything that could attract rodents or amphibians could attract snakes. Overgrown landscaping, trash or brush piles, bird feeders, water features, garbage, and greenhouses are examples of snake attractants many people have. To reduce your chance of an encounter you should move such items away from the house, and for those that you cannot – keep as clean as you can. Snakes do not like to cross short grass, so a frequently mowed yard helps as well. If you live near good snake habitat you may have to invest in silt fencing, or a similar product, that has a slick surface which is difficult to crawl over. If placing silt fencing along the boundary you should have the wooden stakes on your side of the fence; snakes can climb these.
What do I do if I encounter a snake?
The first thing you should understand is that, like most animals, there is a zone around snakes in which they feel threatened. When they detect you, they react as if you are the predator. If you are outside their zone they will remain motionless. If you cross the line, they will try to move away to avoid being attacked. If they have nowhere to move they will turn and defend themselves; this could mean a strike. If a snake is encountered, try not to move towards the snake and if you are already close try to give the animal an escape route. Many will want to know if the snake is venomous. Of the 46 species and subspecies of snakes in our state only six are venomous. Of these, five belong to the family Viperidae and can be identified by the elliptical eye pupil, the triangle-shaped head, and the second set of nostrils (pits) on the snout. These include the three species of rattlesnakes, the moccasin, and the copperhead. One venomous snake, the Eastern Coral Snake, does not have the appearance of a viper. The coloration of this snake is red, yellow and black with red touching yellow. They also differ from their kingsnake mimics by having a black head.
This copperhead shows the elliptical pupil and pit commonly found in Florida’s pit vipers. Photo: Molly O’Connor
If the unfortunate happens and a snake bites you, the first thing you should do is not get bit twice. Many people react by trying to kill the snake and multiple bites can happen. Nonvenomous bites should be washed with warm water and soap. If the bite is from a viper, remember–do not get bit twice. With venomous snakes many feel the hospital will need the snake for identification of the proper antivenin. This is not necessary and, again, could lead to multiple bites. Viper bites can be extremely painful and, if venom is injected, can induce severe swelling. You should remove rings, watches, or any garment that may impede swelling. Many of the traditional first aid treatments for snake bites can cause more harm than the bite. It is recommended that you hold the bite below heart level if possible and calmly go to the hospital. Coral snake bites are often undetected but are very serious and medical attention is needed.
As we approach spring, locals should be aware that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is trying to track three species of local snakes; the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Florida Pine Snake, and the Southern Hognose. If you think you see one of these FWC would like to know. A GPS mark and photograph is needed. You can find the log site at FWC’s website: www.MyFWC.com. For more information on snakes, contact your local County Extension Office.
This nonvenmous gray rat snake has a head shaped more like your thumb and the round pupil. Photo: Molly O’Connor
The Choctawhatchee Beach Mouse is one of four Florida Panhandle subspecies classified as endangered or threatened. Beach mice provide important ecological roles promoting the health of our coastal dunes and beaches. Photo provided by Jeff Talbert
Sea Turtles are one of the largest and most beloved animals associated with Florida coastal habitats. However, there is a tiny creature that depends on the coastal dune system that few get a chance to see, the beach mouse. As the name implies, beach mice make their home on beaches and in nearby dunes. These mice are a subspecies of the oldfield mouse. There are eight subspecies, five on the Gulf Coast, two on the Atlantic, and one extinct species.
The Florida Panhandle has four beach mouse subspecies: (in order from East to West) St. Andrew beach mouse, Choctawhatchee beach mouse, Santa Rosa beach mouse, and the Perdido Key beach mouse. Beach mice utilize the primary and secondary dunes for food, water, cover, and raising young. They have many burrows throughout the dunes and forage on seeds, fruits of beach plants, and insects. Beach mice are most active during the night and considered to be nocturnal. Under the cover of darkness, they make several trips in and out of their burrows to find and cache food. Feeding activities of beach mice disperse seeds and plants, adding to the health of the dune ecosystem.
Worldwide, the biggest threat to ecosystem biodiversity is habitat loss and fragmentation. Since beach mice are dependent on one specific type of habitat, it makes them susceptible to natural and human created disturbances. Due to loss of their primary and secondary dune habitats, all the beach mice except for one are classified threatened or endangered. The Santa Rosa beach mouse is the only subspecies that is not listed as threatened or endangered due to most of their habitat being protected within conservation lands on Santa Rosa Island.
Beach mice populations are continually monitored to track movement, growth, and reproduction. The common method for population counts is through the use of traps and track tubes that record mice tracks. Track indices have been developed to estimate mouse abundance.
Choctawhatchee Beach Mouse photographed during research effort in South Walton County. Photo by Jeff Talbert
A collaboration of three state agencies just concluded a five day population study of the Choctawhatchee beach mouse in south Walton County. The purpose of this effort was to study the movement in heavily (beach mice) populated areas and the effects of non-native predators on those populations. Predators specifically studied were feral cats, foxes, and coyotes. The study also evaluated the 2011 re-introduction of 50 beach mice, from the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park population into the Grayton Beach State Park population. Reintroduction was done to boost numbers of the mice in that area and expand the gene pool for the subspecies.
The data from the current effort is still being analyzed but positive results are expected due to healthy beach mice being found in areas of focus and some new areas. Public lands such as parks and wildlife refuges are important for the preservation of beach mice as well as other coastal dune species that utilize similar habitats. It is important that awareness be shared on these and other species to help these efforts to keep our habitats safe and healthy.
For more information on marine science and natural resources information, email or call email@example.com or 850-689-5850.
This fall remains mild despite a couple of recent frosty mornings.
Lone Star Ticks carry Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness. Photo Courtesy of UF/IFAS Communications
With mild temperatures comes ticks. Ticks carry and transmit several diseases.
Brown dog ticks are found mainly on dogs and can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
American dog ticks are also usually found on dogs but will also attach to other mammals and humans. They also can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. American dog ticks can cause paralysis when they attach to the base of the skull or spinal column. Recovery usually occurs within 24 hours of tick removal.
Gulf Coast Ticks are similar to the American dog tick with larger mouthparts. They transmit a less severe relative of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Gulf Coast Ticks are commonly found on the ears of large mammals such as horses and cattle.
Lone Star Tick is the most common human-biting tick in Florida. They transmit Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness which is similar to Lyme disease.
Black-legged tick, also called deer tick, is most commonly known as the carrier of Lyme disease.
Here are a few ways to prevent tick-borne illnesses:
- Remove ticks as soon as possible
- Wear light colored clothing so ticks can easily be seen
- Keep all clothing buttoned, zipped and tucked-in
- Use Repellents with 20-30% DEET on exposed skin
- Apply Permethrins to clothing and allow them to dry before wearing
- Avoid brushing against plants in tick-infested areas
- Clear brush along pathways and walk in the middle of pathway
If you are bitten by a tick or develop symptoms, contact your physician. Early diagnosis is best and makes treating tick disease easier and more effective.