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.
In the fall of the year, North American monarch butterflies travel from their summer breeding grounds to overwintering location. Those from east of the Rocky Mountains, travel up to an astonishing 3,000 miles to central Mexico. Unlike summer generations that only live for two to six weeks as adults, Eastern monarch adults emerging after about mid-August can live up to nine months. They enter reproductive diapause and begin migrating south in response to decreasing day length and temperatures. This generation has never seen the overwintering grounds before.
As the Monarch butterflies migrate through the Panhandle, saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia), is a must visit. Their tiny, white to greenish blooms and “fuzzy-looking” fruit come into flower and are attractive at a time when few other small trees and shrubs are flowering, bring this rarely-noticed native plant into view in the fall landscape.
Saltbush is an oval to rounded, freely branched, multi-stemmed, hardy, semi-evergreen to deciduous, cold-tolerant shrub usually not exceeding about 12 feet in height. Its leaves are 1-3 inches long and about 1 1/2 inches wide, often deeply toothed, and shiny to grayish green. No serious pests are normally seen on the plant. Also referred to as Groundsel, it is native to coastal and interior wetlands throughout Florida, often seen in its native habitat with Wax Myrtle, Buttonbush and Marsh Elder.
The average pace of the migration is around 20-30 miles per day. But tag recoveries have shown that monarchs can fly 150 miles or more in a single day if conditions are favorable. Monarchs migrate during the day, coming down at night to gather together in clusters in a protected area. In the south, they might choose oak or pecan trees, especially if the trees are overhanging a stream channel.
Monarchs migrate alone—they do not travel in flocks like birds do. So they often descend from the sky in the afternoon to feed, and then search for an appropriate roosting site. Most roosts last only 1 or 2 nights, but some may last a few weeks.
By early November, the monarchs gather in oyamel fir (Abies religiosa) trees on south-southwest facing mountains in central Mexico. Orientation of insects is not well understood by entomologists. It can’t be learned from their parents since it’s the fourth or fifth generation that migrates south. Celestial cues (the sun, moon, or stars) and the earth’s magnetic field are the most accepted driving forces influencing the monarch butterflies’ instincts. Unique genetics in North American monarchs have been discovered by researchers. Low metabolic rates and changes in muscle function make migrating butterflies endurance athletes.
The earliest records of overwintering clusters of monarchs are from the 1860s. The chosen grounds provide all the elements needed for overwintering. Because monarchs need water for moisture, the fog and clouds in the two-mile-high mountainous region provide a perfect resting area. Clustered together, covering the trunks and branches of the sacred fir trees, the monarchs are protected form the occasional frost, snow, rain, or hail by the thick canopy of the tall trees, surrounding shrubs, and nectar providing flowers. Milkweed is not the essential plant for the overwintering generation. Come spring, the monarch will begin their search for the milkweed.
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.
My wife and I like to sit on our back porch and watch the sunset each day. We do not make all of them, but we try to make as many as we can. We often see small bats darting in all directions feeding on bugs. Recently we were enjoying a particularly great sunset. The sky was a light blue with streaking clouds of dark gray, purple, orange, and white. It was amazing. As the streetlight came on, we could see a swarm of termites gathering around it. There were a lot of them, but we also noticed the increase in bats. There was a dozen at least, probably more, zipping in and out, darting in all directions. We enjoyed watching them and wondered where all of them were roosting.
Many people are afraid of these creatures. They have been associated with Halloween, horror, vampires, and rabies. They are creatures of the night, and that is unsettling in itself for many. But, as biologists say with most creatures, these stories and legends are just that… stories and legends. Some members of their population do carry rabies, but most do not and the transmission of the disease to humans is rare. The animals are small furry mammals that eat an enormous number of insects each evening, including flying termites and mosquitoes. Many help pollinate plants and help disperse seeds. They are really pretty cool.
There are around 1400 species of bats worldwide1, 13 of these are from Florida2. Though some species feed on fruit and nectar, most feed on insects and consume about half their body weight each evening doing so. The Bat Conservation International states that insect consuming bats may save U.S. farmers $23 billion dollars a year in pesticide use due to their insectivorous diet1. The agave plant, the one used to produce tequila, is primarily pollinated by bats. The 13 species found in Florida are all insectivores feeding on beetles, mosquitos, moths, and other agriculture and garden pests. They are truly beneficial.
Bats are mammals, having fur covered bodies, live birth with young nursing on milk, and being endothermic (warm blooded). Most connect bats with the mammalian order Rodentia (rodents) – often calling them “flying rats”, but – due to the type of teeth – they are actually in their own order Chiroptera. They are the only true flying mammals in the world, the flying squirrel is actually a glider, not a true flyer. They live in a variety of habitats in Florida including pine forests, hardwood forests, riverine systems, lakes, and in urban areas. They most often roost in the crevices of dead trees, beneath the dead fronds of palms, and in Spanish moss. But when available, they will use caves and are notorious for using buildings, culverts, and the underside of bridges.
They fly using wings that are actually thin skin between their extremely elongated fingers. They breed in the fall and give birth to a single pup in the spring. One of the legends is that they are blind. As mentioned above, this is a legend. Bats can see well and see better than we do in dim light. They do have the ability to use high frequency sounds to “echo” off objects in the dark (echolocation) which helps them find, and follow, their insect prey at night. You can notice this hunting tactic as the sun sets and view the bats darting in all sorts of directions chasing their prey.
Most of the 13 species of Florida bats can be found in the Florida panhandle, with the gray bat only found in Calhoun and Jackson counties and nowhere else in the state. Rabies is a concern with bats, and it is true that an infected bat with the disease can transmit it to humans, but this is very rare. That said, anyone who is bitten by a bat should seek medical attention. The animal was also connected with the transmission of COVID during the early period of the pandemic3. Bats, like many other mammals, can pass infectious diseases and there is also a fungal growth associated with their droppings that has caused medical problems with some humans. If working in an area where bat guano is abundant, a mask is recommended. If an injured animal is found in your yard, wear a pair of gloves and take it to your local wildlife rehabber.
Florida bats do face problems in our state with the loss of habitat. We often remove dead trees and cut dead fronds from palms. The benefit we receive from them (consuming thousands of pest insects each night) leads to a need for their conservation. To date, the white-nose syndrome, which has infected many bats north of us, has not reached Florida but is of concern. Despite the fear many have of this animal, they are quite beneficial and should be allowed to exist in our panhandle habitats.
Species found in Florida:
Mexican Free-tailed bat
Eastern red bat
Northern yellow bat
Gray bat – endangered; only found in Calhoun and Jackson counties.
Florida has a love-hate relationship with this animal. Some find them cute and adorable, others find them a pest and a nuisance, either way there is no ignoring this guy. They are everywhere and yes – they can make a mess of your lawn and garden. So, for those who are not so in love with the creature – what can be done?
Let’s first meet the animal.
There are about 20 species of armadillo found in Central and South America but there is only one in the U.S., the Nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). The Nine-Banded Armadillo is originally from South America and there were several different species of armadillos that made the trek from South to North America prior to the ice age. But after the ice age it seemed no armadillos were present in the U.S. After the ice age, the Nine-Banded Armadillo expanded north into Mexico, but it seems could not cross the Rio Grande. That is until Americans began to settle the area. Prior to American settlement, armadillos were hunted for food, and the land on both sides of the river was regularly burned. The American settlers ceased the burning and the Native Americans declined in numbers, so hunting pressure declined as well. Many armadillos were probably brought across intentionally, but others who managed to swim across, and armadillos can swim, now found suitable habitat with the decreased burning. They had arrived and began expanding both east and west across the southern U.S. However, the Mississippi River presented another barrier they could not deal with.
The introduction in Florida was a different story. Apparently in the 1920s and 30s they were released by humans. One release appeared to be an escape from a small zoo. Another was from a circus. There are reports of armadillos riding cattle cars on trains from the west and this allowed them to cross the Mississippi. In the 1920s bridges were built across the river for a new invention called the automobile. All of this led to the invasion and the animals are now here, they are also expanding north.
Armadillos like warm/wet climates. They prefer forested areas or grasslands and, again, can swim small rivers and creeks easily. It has been reported they can hold their breath up to six minutes and have been seen literally walking along creek bottoms.
They feed primarily on a variety of small invertebrates such as grubs, snails, beetles, and even cockroaches (many of you will like that). They like to feed in wet areas or loose sandy soils where digging is easier. Unfortunately, your lawn is a good place to hunt. They rarely, but do, feed on small reptiles and amphibians and eggs.
They breed in the summer but delay egg implantation so that birth is in the spring. They typically give birth to quadruplets. The armor of the young is not hard at first but hardens over time and does provide protection from large predators like panthers, bears, and alligators. They typically live 12-15 years, but some have reached the age of 20.
So… now you know the animal… for those who do not want them, what can be done?
Based on an article from UF IFAS Extension, not a lot. Typical methods of deterring wildlife have not worked. Poisons, smells, and even using firearms has not relieved the homeowner of the problem. One study looked at trapping and found that in general it is hard to get them to enter. In this study they caught one armadillo every 132 trap nights – low percentages. Another study looked at baits and found crickets and worms worked best, but the smell of other armadillos in the trap also lured them. One colleague mentioned the need for solid wood traps and he baits them with nothing but the shells of roadkill as had good success. He mentioned the designs of these wooden traps are online. You can get plans to build them, and you can also purchase pre-made ones. Once captured they can be relocated but the trapper should be aware that armadillos have many peg-like teeth and very sharp claws for digging. HANDLE WITH CARE. It is also known that armadillos can carry leprosy, though cases of leprosy being transmitted to humans are rare. None the less, handle with care.
For more information on this animal, contact your county extension office.
In the southeast it marks the beginning of Fall. The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is found throughout North America. They spend their spring and summer months in the northern states but as the winter temperatures approach, they migrate to the southern gulf states. This allows them to escape the summer heat which is extremely stressful to them.
Robins migrate due to the freezing temperatures which harden the ground making it difficult for them to access their main food source, the earthworm. As they migrate, they travel at about 30 to 36 m.p.h. covering anywhere from 100 to 200 miles per day. To navigate their way during migration robins use the angle of the sun in relations to the time of day, this is why they travel during the day.
While robins are excellent migrators, only about 25% of all fledglings will survive the migration, and several adults will fall victim as well.
The head and tail feathers of the male robin are very dark with brighter orange when compared to the females. In the spring the males will migrate back to cooler climates before the females. This has to due with the roles they play in raising their young. The male’s job is to find the best territory and defend it. While the females build the nest, lay, and incubate the eggs. The female has no rush to return so she will wait until the thaw has come. If she returns to early to start building, a frost can damage the strength of her nest, which is built from mud.
While robins typically nest in the exact same location every spring in the north, they typically wander in the winter months to different locations from year to year. As our fall temperatures continue to bring a chill, be on the look out for the American Robins as we welcome them to the south this fall. And while they are likely not the same birds we had last fall, they have made their 1000 + mile journey to enjoy our mild winter.