Renegade Reptiles

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Cuban Knight Anole
Martin County, FL

 

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Rat Snake in the Garage

Dear Reptilian Neighbors,

I am a lifelong Floridian, so I am accustomed to sharing my world with you.  We go back a long way.   As a toddler, I tried to teach a green anole lizard to swim.   It didn’t end well, and I apologize.

When I was five we found a corn snake in the back yard.   We kept him in a large coffee can and played with him everyday—until Mom found the empty can in the living room.   We searched all day for “Corny” and finally found him when we couldn’t open the sliding glass door.   He was stretched out in the track.   Mom insisted “Corny” be released, so we bid him farewell and set him free.

I do regret that incident with the rattlesnake.   But you have to concede that it was a dangerous situation.   My friend and I wandered down to the creek, and he was coiled up where all the kids liked to play.   He struck out at us, and we raced home.   Worried about the neighborhood children, Mom called for help and the police removed the threat.   I’m sorry it had to end that way.

But for the most part we have peacefully coexisted.   As a kid I remember alligators roaming the streets during mating season.   I’ve admired rough green snakes, gracefully draped in the mangrove trees as I’ve paddled a canoe underneath them.   Box turtles are adorable, and I’ve helped many gopher tortoises safely cross a busy road.   You lizards have overrun my patio while puffing out your red dewlaps to challenge me to “your” territory.   And I don’t complain when ringneck and brown water snakes insist on swimming in the pool.   I’m not thrilled when I surface and find you in my face, but you have to admit I rescue you and return you to the safety of the backyard.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed some changes around here.   Some odd relatives of yours have arrived, and our encounters are more frequent.   A couple years ago I was shocked to see a large black and orange African Agama lizard at the CVS pharmacy.   I thought some joker had painted an iguana until I looked up your species and learned how colorful you can be.   Now I see your kind all over town.   Then last year I found an invasive neon-green iguana in my White Bird-of-Paradise plant.   But this week you have gone too far.

I was carrying an armful of recycling into my closed garage, and I almost stepped on a large red rat snake.   Now I am not afraid of you, but you startled me.   I don’t expect you inside the house.   And did you really have to leave that disgusting pile of scat at the entrance?   Later that day I saw the beautiful hawk in the backyard.   Racing out with my camera, I barely avoided tripping over “Licorice,” the southern black racer snake who resides in our privet hedge, peering up like a periscope to spy on us.   And yesterday as I was watering plants, something large leaped from the Petrea Vine into the neighbor’s hickory tree—and it wasn’t fluffy with a bushy tail.   Almost invisible, it crept through the branches.   The military should study its camouflage pattern.   After twenty minutes and thirty mosquito bites, I had enough photos for my zookeeper daughter to identify it.   We now have a Cuban Knight Anole, another invasive species, in the yard.

So let’s call a truce.   I will watch my steps more carefully and make a lot of noise so you can slither away quickly.   And you will stay outside and not leave poop on the door step.   We have a long history together.   I know we can work this out.

Sincerely,

Florida Girl

 

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Neighborhood Gopher Tortoise

 

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Southern Black Racer–“Licorice”

 

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Cuban Knight Anole with Amazing Camouflage

 

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Baby Florida Box Turtle

Winter Walk on the Wild Side

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Reflections on the St. Lucie
Halpatiokee Park in Martin County, Florida
Photo by Tara Powers

 

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Osprey near Vero Beach, Florida
Photo by Meaghan Powers

When many people think of Florida, they think of palm trees, beaches, and Disney World.   As a huge peninsula, we certainly have some beautiful beaches.   And Disney World is, well, Disney World.   But most people don’t realize that Florida still has some wonderfully wild spaces left in our rapidly changing state.

While the Everglades are well known for being remote, there are many other settings to spend a quiet day or even take a short walk.  Thankfully caring local and state leaders have had the foresight to preserve these areas as parks, and you can take a walk back in time exploring these trails.   As I wander these paths, I imagine what life was like for the early pioneers and original inhabitants of our state.   They must have faced many challenges settling the territory.

Diverse ecosystems are highlighted by these parks.   In some places the terrain is wet, dense, and jungle-like; other areas can be dry scrub or pinelands.   Some of these trails actually cover different habitats mere yards apart.   One minute you can be walking through a dry sandy path, and a few feet later you enter a thick cooler hammock.   There are various critters inhabiting these places.   Lizards, snakes, and gopher tortoises thrive in the sandy patches.   Squirrels and birds dart through the hammocks.   Deer graze and sandhill cranes forage in the grassy fields.   If you spot a dead pine tree, look up.   You’ll likely see woodpecker holes in the trunk.   If you’re lucky you’ll see an osprey or hawk surveilling the terrain from the top.   Take care on your hike, though.   These may be designated parks, but they are still wild places.   You can encounter snakes, alligators, and invasive wild hogs.   While some of us enjoy seeing these critters, others might not feel the same way!

Winter is the best time for this exploration.   The cooler dry air keeps the mosquitoes at bay, and the crisp days are too gorgeous to stay inside.   We Floridians have only limited days of cool weather to enjoy—those are the best times to go on these adventures.   So check your local parks to see what trails they have to wander.   The Florida Trail Association lists interesting ones to explore.  You can go for a day trip or just take a short walk.   Either way you’ll discover a different Florida and hopefully see a beautiful part of our state that we need to preserve and protect.   And admit it, the trails are a lot prettier than the treadmill at the gym.   So go ahead, take a winter walk on the wild side.

 

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Red Bellied Woodpecker in Halpatiokee Park
Photo by Tara Powers

 

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Deer Munching on Leaves
Western Martin County, Florida
Photo by Tara Powers

 

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Sandhill Crane Foraging for Food
Martin County, Florida
Photo by Tara Powers

 

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The Wild St. Lucie River
Halpatiokee Park
Photo by Tara Powers