Keys Critters

an adult Peregrine Falcon streams toward the FKH watch on Sept 27, '13 one of 429 tallied this day!

adult Peregrine Falcon, Florida Keys, Sept 27, ’13 – Leica V-lux 4

As you know, the Traveling Trinovid is on a big year tallying the many birds species encountered on its travels. There are great spectacles along the way, like experiencing a flight of 429 Peregrine Falcons on September 27th at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch! Of course, there are loads of other wildlife species and scenic vistas observed along the way as well. Below are just some of those OTHER highlights from the keys on this past Florida Keys trip.

Tropical Butterflies!

Tropical Butterflies!

Being surrounded by lush tropical hardwood hammocks with Ironwood, Gumbo Limbo, and other species more typical of the Caribbean, butterflies and other critters seen at roadside have a distinct tropical feel. In the image above a Zebra Heliconian poses in front of an unidentified dragonfly and a Julia Heliconian butterfly!

Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charitonia)

Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charitonia) - Leica V-lux 4 superzoom camera – Sept 26 ’13

The lovely Zebra Heliconian (formerly Zebra Longwing) is the official Florida State Butterfly. Their host plants include a few species of “passion flowers” and adults are unusual in that they can feed both on pollen as well as sipping nectar!

Julia Heliconian (Dryas julia)

Julia Heliconian (Dryas iulia) – Sept 26, ’13

The lovely Julia Heliconian butterfly (or simply Julia) is a member of the brush-footed butterfly group (Nymphalidae) which contains more widespread species like Emperors, Admirals, Frittalaries, and Tortoiseshells. It is found mainly in Central America – ranging from Brazil and barely reaching the US in southernmost Florida & Texas. However, in some summers they will show northern “irruptions” and show up far north of their typical range.

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

The Halloween Pennant is a commonly seen dragonfly species throughout Florida. The Pennants are named from their habit of clinging to the very tip of a stalk (as above) looking much like a pennant flying from atop a flagpole. This one is a female with yellowish “wing veins” and yellow abdominal spots. In males these both are pink.

Mangrove lined channels

Mangrove lined channels, Florida Keys

Between individual keys and along the water’s edge here mangrove forests are common and one can find a number of unique species here as well.

Mangrove Skipper (Phocides pigmalion)

Mangrove Skipper (Phocides pigmalion) - Leica V-lux 4 camera 9/27/13

A large skipper species (wingspan >2″) with swift and direct flight, the Mangrove Skipper appears all dark when it zips by, but when perched one can note lovely iridescent turquoise spots on the hind wing and lines on the body! It is found from throughout Florida in the US through the Caribbean, & in Central / South America from Mexico to Argentina.

Hammock Skipper - digiscoped with iPhone 4s through Leica APO Televid spotting scope

Hammock Skipper – digiscoped with iPhone 4s through Leica APO Televid spotting scope

We saw the similar shaped & sized Hammock Skipper feeding side by side with the Mangrove Skipper on the early morning field trips at Long Key State Park. Also a member of the Hesperiidae family like the Mangrove Skipper but lacks the turquoise spotting on the hind wing and lines on the body. Instead it shows a series of blocky light spots on the forewing seen from above or below. Members of this genus tend to have thick bodies and show “club-shaped” antennae.

Hammock Skipper (Polygonus leo)

Hammock Skipper (Polygonus leo) – Leica V-lux 4, 9//27/13


rare palm trees sheltered in a Tropical Hardwood Hammock

rare palm trees sheltered in a Tropical Hardwood Hammock

Silver palms are a popular plant in yards and are commonly dug up and transplanted we saw some of these safely preserved in Long Key State Park (above), and appreciated some Brazilian Nightshades (Solanum seaforthianum) in bloom as at trailside. The latter are characterized by their distinctive red berries.

Brazilian Nightshade (Solanum seaforthianum)

Brazilian Nightshade (Solanum seaforthianum) - Leica V-lux 4

Also hiding in the shade here was a small white Orchid which which I’d assumed was native but it seems it is the introduced Monk Orchid (Oeceolades maculata).

Small white orchid species

Small white orchids

Of course introduced exotics in South Florida are nothing new. The news has been full of reports of the Everglades Pythons , Monitor Lizards have taken hold in some areas, and Green Iguanas are a common sight throughout much of south FL and the keys. The middle keys even hosts a population of the Madagascar Giant Day Gecko now famous through recent “Geico insurance commercials”.

Green Iguana at roadside Marathon Key

Green Iguana at roadside Marathon Key

A variety of mollusks and their kin could be found as well throughout the hardwood hammocks.

Peanut Snails hang from trunks in the hardwood hammocks

Peanut Snails hang from trunks in the hardwood hammocks

“Peanut Snails” are a small to medium sized air breathing tropical snail endemic to the Caribbean regions. These are members of the genus Cerion.

Liguus Tree Snails

Tropical Tree Snails

Colorful tree snails were found in the hardwood hammocks here as well, but there seems to be great variation and confusion online and I’m not experienced with these groups. As example, Liguus Tree Snails are found here (Liguus fasciatus) and listed as occurring in Tropical Hardwood Hammocksas is the “Banded Tree Snail” and the endangered “Stock Island Tree Snail” (Orthalicus reses). If anyone is experienced with these animals please comment on this post.

Giant Blue Land Crab (Cardisoma guanhumi) - Leica V-lux 4

Giant Blue Land Crab (Cardisoma guanhumi) – Leica V-lux 4

Giant Blue Land Crabs were observed posturing at the mouths of their burrows near the mangrove edges. Apparently in extreme cases these critters can reach sizes of up to 14″ in length and wights near 18 ounces!

Golden-silk Orb Weaver (Nephila clavipes)

Golden-silk Orb Weaver (Nephila clavipes) – Leica V-lux 4

Two similarly named large spider species that are as flashy as their names were seen along the way as well. The Golden-silk Orb Weaver has a golden cast to the threads in its web. The females get quite large and their legs can span 3 inches from top to bottom. Despite their large size though their bite is harmless to humans and they have a docile reputation. The Silver Argiope (below) was not quite as large (1.25 – 2″ top to bottom including legs) but also impressively marked.

Silver Argiope (Argiope argentata)

Silver Argiope (Argiope argentata) – iPhone 4s