Chronic Wasting Disease Gets Closer to Florida

Chronic Wasting Disease Gets Closer to Florida

Below is a bulletin sent out by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission on 01/10/2022 02:53

Chronic wasting disease or CWD was recently detected in a hunter-harvested deer in northwestern Alabama, making it the 28th state where CWD has been documentedIt’s the first time CWD has been detected in a state that borders Florida. CWD, which is a brain and central nervous system disease that is always fatal to members of the deer family, has not been detected in Florida.

The FWC asks people who plan to hunt deer, elk, moose, caribou or other members of the deer family outside of Florida to be vigilant in helping reduce the risk of CWD spreading into Florida. An important step is to be aware of and follow the rules that prohibit importing or possessing whole carcasses or high-risk parts of all species of the deer family originating from any place outside of Florida.

Under the new rules, which took effect July 2021, people may only import into Florida:

  • De-boned meat
  • Finished taxidermy mounts
  • Clean hides and antlers
  • Skulls, skull caps and teeth if all soft tissue has been removed

The only exception to this rule is deer harvested from a property in Georgia or Alabama that is bisected by the Florida state line AND under the same ownership may be imported into Florida. For more information about the new rules, see this infographic and video.

These rule changes continue the FWC’s work to protect Florida’s deer populations from CWD spreading into the state.

 

 

 

Source: myfwc.com

Click Here for more information on CWD

Battling Bat Myths

Battling Bat Myths

A wildlife biologist feeds an overwhelmed mother bat and her young after they were found on the ground. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

As we enter Halloween season, one of the most popular images of this spooky time of year is that of a bat.  The creepy tales of vampire bats and Dracula are enduring and certainly exciting. Unfortunately, many negative connotations exist around this fascinating species.  Perhaps you’ve heard they carry rabies, that they will fly into your hair, or that many of them are considered blood-sucking vampire bats?

In fact, there are many benefits to having bats in one’s landscape and neighborhood.  The predominant role of bats in our local ecosystem is that of insect predator.  A single little brown bat (Myotis lucifugis), which is native to the Florida Panhandle, can eat 1,200 mosquitoes in one hour of feeding!  Other species in warmer climates eat fruit and play a major role in reforesting rain forests in Central and South America—after digesting the fruit they leave seeds in their droppings (guano is excellent fertilizer, by the way), helping replant 95% of the very trees they feed upon.  Some species feed on nectar, filling the same role as bees and helping pollinate bananas, avocados, cashews, and figs.

Contrary to popular opinion, vampire bats lap up blood from minor cuts on livestock and do not attack or kill them.

Despite the old saying, bats are not blind and many have excellent vision.  However, they do rely heavily on echolocation to sense prey and are extremely accurate hunters. They often fly erratically because they are chasing very small flying insects, so the only reason one would end up in a person’s hair is if a mosquito flew through it with a bat in chase!  While vampire bats do exist, there are only 3 out of over 1,000 species of bats that feed on blood, and they all live in Latin America.  They typically consume blood from livestock by breaking the skin with their teeth and lapping up blood like a cat drinking milk.

Human contact with bats is rare unless the bats are sick, which is why one found on the ground should be left alone.  Rabies transmission from bats accounts for only one death per year in the United States—a statistic much less than that of deaths from dog bites, bee stings, and lighting strikes!  In fact, several towns in Texas with the highest populations of bats in the country have recorded zero human bat-transmitted rabies cases. If a bat is obviously injured or has pups with it, most wildlife sanctuaries will take them in and give you special instruction on how to approach them.

Building bat houses is a great family activity and helps provide much-needed habitat for bats. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Bat populations are declining in North America due to disease (particularly white-nose syndrome), loss of habitat, and the slow reproductive cycle of bats.  However, you can help the world’s only flying mammal by installing a bat house in your yard.  Keep in mind that bats attracted to bat houses prefer to be in open areas away from trees (where their predators hide), and the house should be installed at least 12 feet in the air.  Bat houses can be purchased or built rather simply—keep an eye out for Extension workshops near you, or visit Bat Conservation International’s website for simple instructions.

 

Summertime is SSSnake Time

Summertime is SSSnake Time

It seems like there has always been a soft spot in my heart for snakes. From a young age, I was fascinated with all reptiles. The rural fabric of where I grew up in Central Florida (think late-1960s) afforded many opportunities for us kids to roam the woods and fields in search of adventure during summer vacation. I vividly remember the occasional eastern hognose snake that we would catch as kids. They were easy to house for a while, as there was no shortage of toads for a food source. This article will focus on some of the common species of snakes in NW Florida and a couple of snake safety tips.

Very likely, one of the first species of snakes most people encounter in North Florida is the gray rat snake (aka oak snake). If you raise chickens, you can greatly reduce the time it takes to enjoy your first encounter. I pull oak snakes out of our nest boxes on a regular basis. I have also encountered some rather large pine snakes in this manner; one with eight egg lumps in its mid-section. These are both harmless, beautiful creatures that can unfortunately make you hurt yourself in a dimly lit coop as you reach in to collect eggs. Another commonly encountered snake in our area is the corn snake, also called a red rat snake. The orange background and dark-red blotches make this one of our most beautiful species. Southern black racers are also a commonly seen species due to their daytime hunting habits. Racers are black on the back with a white chin and very slender for their length. They live up to their name and can disappear in a flash when startled. Two other species regularly encountered here are in the “garter snake” group. The eastern garter snake is one of very few species in our area with longitudinal stripes. They can have a tan to yellowish background color or even a greenish or blue color. The closely related ribbon snake looks similar in color and pattern but has a much slimmer build.

Gray rat snakes are also called oak snakes and are quite common in North Florida

My home county of Wakulla is home to four species of venomous snakes, which include the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, coral snake and Florida cottonmouth. However, if you live in other parts of North Florida, you may have five or possibly even six species that are venomous. The copperhead’s range extends into North Florida in a few Counties along the Apalachicola River and the canebrake (or timber) rattlesnake ranges slightly farther south in the peninsula to North-Central Florida. I’ve only seen one canebrake rattlesnake and it was crossing a road on the north side of Gainesville many years ago. Both pygmy rattlers and cottonmouths can be very abundant locally in the right habitats but diamondbacks and coral snakes are less common these days having lost much of their preferred habitats to development.

 My best advice for those worried about being bitten by a snake is don’t try to pick one up, and watch where you put your hands and feet. It really is relatively easy to avoid (key word here is avoid) being bitten by a snake. There are many good medical sites on the web with detailed recommendations for snakebite treatment. In the very rare circumstance when someone is envenomated, the best policy is to remain as calm as possible and head for medical attention. Do not cut the skin and try to suck out the venom or apply a tourniquet. These strategies generally cause more harm than good.

I always appreciate the chance to get a look at one of our incredible native snakes when afield, especially if it happens to be one of our venomous species. A big diamondback rattlesnake is an impressive animal to happen on when afield. This appreciation does not mean that I don’t get startled occasionally when surprised, but once that instinctive reaction passes, I can truly appreciate the beauty of these scaly critters.

Connecting With Youth Through the Love of the Outdoors

Connecting With Youth Through the Love of the Outdoors

Article by Rachel Mathes, Horticulture Program Assistant with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.

Article by Rachel Mathes, Horticulture Program Assistant with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.

By Rachel Mathes

My only brother and his family live in Appleton, Wisconsin. Though I’m only able to see my niece and nephews one or two times a year, we have a deep connection through our love of the outdoors.

Zach discovering the joy of nature. Photo by Rachel Mathes.

Zach discovering the joy of nature. Photo by Rachel Mathes.

Their middle son, Zachary, is a budding naturalist at just four years old. When I visit them, Zach, his brother Connor, sister Cecilia, and I, load up the wagon and go for walks on the edge of the prairie in their neighborhood. We start our walks looking for scat and signs of wildlife. Because the kids are so close to the ground, they often spot wildlife trails before I do. We talk about what animals may be there, what they eat, and how we can help them.

After each walk, we wind down at home with an iNaturalist session. Zach and his siblings help me choose what animal or plant we think we saw with the help of the app’s nearby suggestions tool. A favorite game we play after all our photos are entered into the app is a game we’ve coined, “where’s that animal?” We use the iNaturalist explore feature to find sightings of exciting creatures like wolves and beavers near their home. The kids have learned that even scientists often don’t see the animals they study, just signs of them.

At age three, Zach learned to identify milkweed with impressive accuracy. I pointed out the plant on a previous trip more than six months earlier and he remembered how to find them. Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is a large leafed species that prefers winters a bit colder than we get here in the Florida Panhandle, but is native in northern states across the Eastern US, including Wisconsin. Zach is often stopping the wagon to scout for monarch caterpillars, finding even the smallest instars and eggs.

Zach learned to identify common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, at the age of three. Photo by Rachel Mathes.

Zach learned to identify common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, at the age of three. Photo by Rachel Mathes.

When I video call the kids from Florida, Zach is often asking to see my fruit trees, vines, and bushes. He knows that we have very different seasons than Wisconsin when I am eating blueberries in May and he’s still knocking frost off his snow boots. In July, he tells me about the raspberries they find in the woods with their dad. We both get a bit of seasonal berry jealousy. On my last trip we planted thornless blackberries in their garden together. It remains to be seen whether the birds will let the kids have a harvest, but the kids will be excited either way.

Though we may live a thousand miles apart, I know my relationship with my niece and nephews will continue to thrive as they explore the natural world around them. One day, I hope to introduce them to the awe of Florida manatees and alligators. Until then, I will relish the time we get to spend together outdoors in nature and on the phone together. I know that Zachary and his siblings will grow up having respect for the natural world and I hope he always exclaims, “Monarch! Look auntie Rachel, a monarch caterpillar!” on our walks together.

Author: Rachel Mathes, Horticulture Program Assistant with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.

Howling Coyotes

Howling Coyotes

It’s Halloween…

The time of year we think of werewolves, warlocks, witches, and full moon evenings.  But there is another creature who likes to howl at the moon this time of year – the coyote. 

A coyote moving on Pensacola Beach near dawn.
Photo provided by Shelley Johnson.

Actually, coyotes howl all throughout the year, and they are not specifically howling at the moon.  The name “coyote” is a Native American term meaning “singing dog”, or “barking dog”.  They are famous for their early evening and early morning calls.  Howls, barks, yelps, and yaps are very familiar to those living out west – and now for those living in the eastern United States. 

 

It is believed the animal originated in the grasslands and deserts of the American southwest feeding on a variety of rodents.  They have successfully dispersed across the country and can now be found in almost any habitat in the continental United States – including barrier islands.  Though they owe much of their success to their ability to adapt to different foods and habitats, they also owe some of their success to humans.  We have reduced their primary predators – bears, wolves, and mountain lions – to a level where they could move around more safely.  There have been efforts to restore these predator populations in some localized areas of the U.S., but those are localized, and the process has been slow.  All the while the coyote has enjoyed a more predator free world. 

 

They are also opportunistic feeders.  Though the bulk of their diet are small rodents, they are known to eat small birds, reptiles, amphibians, rabbits, squirrels, and even fruit.  Out west, working in teams, they can take down larger prey – such as deer, and can do so here in the east as well.  But their large prey targets are usually smaller members of the herd, sick, or old ones.  They have also learned to feed on road kills of these animals. 

 

Then there are humans.  We provide an abundance of garbage which they have learned to scavenge through.  Pet food left outside, gardens with produce, small livestock, and even pet cats and small dogs have been added to their menu.  We have made their world much better. 

 

With their numbers increasing in human populated areas, like Santa Rosa Island, people are becoming a bit nervous around them.  The image of the toothed predator howling at the harvest moon on Halloween night in a pack with others makes us a bit uneasy.  So, how dangerous are they? 

 

Not very. 

Coyotes are intelligent animals, and though they have learned to live and hunt within our neighborhoods, they are still afraid of us – they consider us trouble.  On a recent trip to Colorado I was hiking down a trail and saw what appeared to be two sets of pointed ears in the grass.  My guess was coyote but was not sure – so I began to walk towards them.  Three coyotes immediately got up and moved off across the next ridge.  They wanted nothing to do with me.  And that is how it should be. 

 

Those on barrier islands, like Santa Rosa, are no different.  They are more active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) and spend their days and late nights in a den somewhere.  Occasionally people will see them in the middle of the day, or hear a yelp or howl around 2:00 AM, but it is more of a sunrise and sunset deal for them.  They can remain motionless and undetected when people are around and will often run if we get too close.  Many are not sure whether they are seeing a coyote or a German shepherd when they see one, both being about the same size.  Coyotes tend to run with their tails down, unlike dogs and wolves who prefer to run with their tails up. 

 

All of this said, there have been attacks on people – mostly out west and in southern California in particular.  In most cases, the animals have either intentionally or unintentionally been fed by people.  When this happens, they lose their fear of us and return for another easy meal.  They are wild animals and being cornered by people or dogs (intentionally or unintentionally) can lead to defensive behaviors that could include attacks.  To avoid this, we should not approach any coyote.  Keep your trash secured and in cans that would be difficult for coyotes to access.  Bring your pet food in at night and do not let pet cats and small dogs out in the evenings without supervision. 

 

Bad encounters with these howling animals are rare, and with a little education and behavior changes on our part, should remain so. 

 

Happy Halloween. 

Heavy Rains Spark Explosive Breeding Events for Amphibians

Heavy Rains Spark Explosive Breeding Events for Amphibians

WOW… is all I can say, when I step outside at night of late and become immersed in the spectacular chorus of calls from breeding frogs and toads near my Wakulla County residence. The sound reverberates to the level where it sometimes feels like it is echoing inside one’s head. Recent heavy rains have awakened local species to the notion that there is no time like the present for pro-creation; given the fact that many of the shallow, depressional wetlands in our region will only contain water for a short window of time.

This may seem like a drawback to the life style of frogs and toads that depend on these wetlands but nature has a way of surprising us with incredible adaptations for survival. For instance, the eastern spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii) can actually survive through several years with no water available for raising their young. They do this by remaining buried in the ground, only emerging after heavy rains that collect in depressions. Tadpoles metamorphose into small toads within 28 days so by the time the pool goes dry they are likely long-gone. Female spadefoots will lay over 2,000 eggs at a time so the number of progeny that can emerge from a small depressional wetland is phenomenal. I recall seeing black stains across roadways all over the County about a month after one of our tropical storms. Baby spadefoot toads were dispersing by the millions from hundreds of shallow pools across the region and local roadways were one of the hazards they faced on their journey.

Another advantage to amphibians breeding in ephemeral (temporary) wetlands has to do with the fact that there are no fish to prey on the tadpoles. This is not a requirement for all species, as some have chemical defenses (bad taste) that limit predation, but others could not successfully breed in permanent bodies of water.

Some of the species I have heard calling lately include squirrel treefrogs, green treefrogs, Cope’s gray treefrogs, southern toads, cricket frogs, and a few others I have not identified yet. If you have never made an effort to identify the night calls of frogs and toads, you don’t know what you are missing in your local environment. Some are quite difficult to separate but many of very distinct and once you put the call with a name you won’t ever forget it. Take a moment to listen to one of my favorites, the southern toad; the origin of a beautiful, high-pitched trill that you most likely have never paid much attention to. This website (The Frog Blog) is a great resource to learn more calls. Be sure to listen also to the southern cricket frog call that sounds like two marbles clacked together, and Copes’ gray treefrog, which many might mistake for a bird as they call from high in the tree canopy.

cricket frog on hand

Cricket frogs are one of the smallest vertebrates on the planet.

The cacophony of sounds on a warm summer’s night can seem chaotic and random but if you spend a little time sorting out the musicians, you are sure to develop a deeper appreciation of the symphony, along with a better understanding of the well-orchestrated cycles of nature in your Panhandle backyard.