Wednesday, March 26, 2008

April Atala News and Events

One of my favorite quotes by Albert Einstein is called to mind this month: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”

I hope to see you at one of the events scheduled.... mysteries and art abound!

April 10, 2008. 7 PM, at the Broward County Extension Office, I’ll be speaking at the North American Butterfly Association meeting on “Butterfly Migration in South Florida: Beyond the Monarch.” Come learn about the other species--36!-- that migrate through South Florida, as well as the latest info on the Monarch’s unbelievable flight. Scientists have discovered a lot of new information about how they navigate hundreds, or thousands, of miles and the news is not only fascinating—it’s miraculous!

April 12, 2008: Join us for the annual NABA Spring Butterfly Count! Experienced and novice participants, and children, are welcomed alike. We have three counts taking place in the North Circle:

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, 3109 E. Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale. Contact Janice Malkoff at to RSVP.

Hillsboro Pineland Natural Area, US 441 and NW 74 Place, Coconut Creek. Contact me at to RSVP.

Crystal Lake Sand Pine Scrub, 3299 NE 3 Avenue, Pompano Beach. Contact me at to RSVP.

We will be counting from 9 AM to noon, breaking for lunch at a near-by restaurant and then continuing for the afternoon until about 3 PM. You do not have to do both morning and afternoon counts. Bring plenty of water, snacks if you wish, sunscreen, hat, and be prepared for the great outdoors. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and I also suggest wearing long-sleeves just in case... We seldom need “bug repellant” and if we do, I will have some with me. You may want to bring a camera, and binoculars, too!

The seasonal butterfly counts help us keep tabs on the fluctuations in populations, and determine when a species is at high risk. We can’t emphasize how important these counts are!

April 26, 2008. John Williams Park/Sheridan Oak Forest Natural Area, 6101 Sheridan Avenue, Hollywood, Invasive Exotic Plant Workshop, 9 AM-noon. You will learn some of our native plants, see and walk the new Nature Trail, and help dedicated volunteers remove the invasive plants from along the trail. Dress for serious work (suggested attire: long sleeves and pants, tennis shoes or boots--no sandals!) I’ll have insect repellant as mosquitoes are frequent in the hammock. Bring water, a snack if you wish, and a hat and sunscreen. If you’ve never been to John Williams, take the time to visit this gem of beautiful oak hammock nestled amidst the concrete jungle of Hollywood.

We installed the new signs this month along the trail: we are ready for business! That's Jack Mathison, Assistant Director of Hollywood Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts, and me, with the signs we designed. Each sign has my photographs and a little information about the plants and animals on the sign.

And every time I visit the park, something new shows up! This time, it was a beautiful female Horace's Duskywing, and a very pale Green Anole. A Red-Shouldered Hawk was causing all the Blue Jays and Mockingbirds to raise a fuss, but the bird was too fast for me to capture on film! This little guy is a ring-necked snake; he is so delicate!
(The next workshop is May 24, 2008. We will break for the summer until next fall.)

I’ll also be accompanying Middle School children from Miami Country Day School to Everglades National Park several times this month and next! They’ve been studying the Everglades ecosystems for weeks and are finally ready to visit the real thing. They will be making Nature Journals, and I’ll be posting pictures! We found this beautiful orchid in the Pine Rock Lands and is called Grass Pink (Calopogon tuberosus). Here's a photo of the kids enjoying their first view of alligators and Black Vultures!

By the way, I did get an “A” in Everglades Ecology (whew!) and making a journal was part of the fun for the class. I like looking back in the journals and remembering all the wonderful things I did and saw in my field classes.

I also spoke to the John Knox Village Garden Club on March 24, 2008, giving what has become my ‘signature’ presentation, “Butterflies, Botany and Battlefields.” The residents are involved with their butterfly garden with a passion and it shows. They have a pine rock land area and are considering adding more coonties to establish an atala colony!

Speaking of which, my friend Roberta Shaw (whom I first met a LONG time ago when we both worked at the Wildlife Care Center), informed me that Broward Community College is also housing an atala colony! The butterflies self-established near the Art Department. BCC is across the street from NSU and UF....the corridors are getting established in Davie without any other human help but installing the right plants! Tree Tops Park and the Pine Ridge have had atalas for a long time, thanks to the aware staff at Tree Tops, and residents in the Pine Ridge community.

Atala populations are doing well in most colonies again…the winter slump is ending and the butterflies are flying again. Alana Edwards in Palm Beach County, president of the Atala Chapter of NABA, wrote that Bob Pyle (the founder of Xerces!) visited South Florida this month and spent hours watching the atalas in her colony as they did their butterfly things. Bob is traveling throughout the United States for the next year and documenting all the butterflies he meets in order to raise money for Xerces. Visit the site! Alana has some wonderful photographs of the Martial’s Hairstreak and atala, as well as Bob writing as he watched some of Alana’s atala’s emerge. Bob's journey and experiences are something in which all of us wish we could indulge and which all of support wholeheartedly!

Friend Dick Freshley from Okeeheelee Nature Center sent some awesome photographs, too. The colony is flourishing and he asked about the odd “whiskers” he could see on the atala eggs. These are scales containing microscopic spicules from the abdomen of the female’s body that are released as she oviposits. The scales contain the same neurotoxins that she ingested as a caterpillar from the coontie plant, and are sequestered in her body. The spicules around the eggs act as a protective mechanism against most predators. Some ants, however, sneak in between the scales and attack the eggs. Dr. Eileen Smith-Cavros at NSU first documented this predatory behavior in 2002 as a Master’s student at Florida International University.

Dick writes that he has been showing visitors to park the atala eggs under a dissecting microscope and awakening them to the beauty and incredible details. The eggs remind me of a birthday cake decorated with sprinkles…I urged Dick to continue bringing this magic to his visitors. Even the tiniest fly, no bigger than a speck, has the most intricate and delicate details when seen through a microscope. Some have striped antennae, soft feathery filaments around the wing edges, and other minutiae that would astound you. This is one reason why scientists become so enamored with their work.

Nature is incredible! Another Einstein quote comes to my mind: “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Everything I see reminds me every day that Life in all its forms is a miracle.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Atala News March 2008

I was the Teaching Assistant for the NSU field trip to Myakka State Park and Venice Beach for Dr. Joshua Feingold’s Marine Biology students this month; it was great! (Plus it was my birthday, so this field trip was like a birthday present!) At Upper Myakka Lake, we witnessed an adult Bald Eagle sitting on the ground for quite a while…What was it doing? What we didn’t realize, until a moment later, was that the eagle was focused on an osprey that was cruising over the water. When the osprey caught its’ fish, the eagle lifted off and chased the osprey until it released its catch of the morning. The eagle then caught the fish in mid-air, and was then immediately chased by an immature eagle until they flew out of sight—perhaps an offspring, still looking for a free meal. What can be deduced is the old maxim: No honor among thieves!

We also saw an adult wild boar (or sow) foraging on the opposite shore, and a turkey foraging in the grasses, as well as the ubiquitous alligators. Limpkins were searching for apple snails, and we found plenty of ‘de-snailed’ shells along the shore, proving that the limpkin was successful, and that there is a healthy snail population at Myakka. The snails were not our native apple snail species, but fortunately neither the limpkin nor the endangered Snail Kite seem to care. The ancient oaks were a main attraction to the students as well!

Sandhill Cranes were seen flying overhead, and there were plenty of Florida’s beautiful wading birds—Tri-color, Great Blue, Little Blue and Green Herons, Snowy and American Egrets, Glossy and White Iibis. Also seen: Carolina Wrens, Black and White Warblers, Red-Shouldered Hawks, Skimmers, Blue-Winged Teal ducks, Anhingas, Cormorants, Black Neck Stilts, and Wood Storks.

An interesting luncheon was observed as a small group of Black Vultures snacked on a dead Soft-Shell Turtle (Apalone ferox). That's Dr. Feingold taking close-ups of the event.
And smaller critters, too: this pretty but deadly bloodsucking “Assassin Bug” (Triatoma sanguisuga). This female Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) stayed still long enough to snap her photo.

These photos of me, the shark teeth and shark egg cases are compliments of Dr Feingold.

At Venice Beach and Manasota Beach, we saw White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans, Ruddy Turnstones, Least Sandpipers, and Short-billed Dowitchers--all in all we saw 28 species of birds in our two day adventure! But, only one butterfly to list: the Queen. The rack line provided plenty of sea shells for the students to identify, as well as shark egg cases, sponges, Gorgonian sea fans, corals, sea beans, sea weeds, amphipods, and living mollusks.

Everyone went home happy despite the rainy weather and very long drive…because everyone went home with a small collection of shark’s teeth and intact shells from the shores famous for them…one has to wonder how many sharks there must have been at one time: for over a hundred years tourists have been collecting the teeth and yet there are still more to be found….one of Life’s many amazing mysteries!

And speaking of amazing teeth: I came across this very prehistoric remnant skeleton of a Mesozoic fish, Amia calva, on the shore of the Francis Taylor Wildlife Management Area this week at work. (Thanks to Dr. Rehage for the ID!) It is the only remaining fish of an otherwise extinct genus and is also known as Mudfish and Dogfish. They are capable of breathing air when necessary, and therefore able to survive in waterways with low oxygen content. It is only found in North America, but ancient fossils have been found in Europe. From what I have read about it, fishermen warn that those teeth will bite at anything in their way, including human fingers…so beware! They seem to be more dangerous than alligators….I also found an alligator vertebra …evidence of a once-big gator. I don’t think the Mudfish had anything to do with the demise of the gator, though…..

You never know what you’ll find in Florida’s wonderful ecosystems! There are a lot of events scheduled for April, too, so I hope you stay tuned for the news, and hope to see you at an upcoming program!