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THE LOWER VERTEBRATE FAUNA OF THE
WATER HYACINTH COMMUNITY IN
COLEMAN J. GOIN
University of Florida
Although the water hyacinth, Piaropus crassipes (Mart.) Britton,
is extremely abundant and widespread in the southeastern states, very
little attention has been given to the fauna that is now associated
with its luxuriant growth. Many bodies of water in this region support
large masses of the hyacinth, and some are entirely covered by this
floating plant. In the lakes and larger sluggish rivers it drifts to and
fro with the wind, and it often completely blankets the small ponds,
canals, and ditches.
The roots of Piaropus develop directly in proportion to the depth
of the water. In the shallow water the roots are short, but where
the water is deeper they may extend downward to a depth of three
feet. These large masses of filamentous roots, shaded as they are by
the floating portions of the plants, provide an extensive cover for
numerous animals. Moreover, there is a huge and continuous a
cumulation of hyacinth detritus on the bottom of all hyacinth-
supporting bodies of water, and this detritus not only modifies the
physical conditions on the bottom but, where the plants are thick, also
supplies an enormous mass of organic food. At Newman's Lake, for
example, although the greater part o e-ake is open water and only
the margins are typically covered with hyacinths, a bottom sampling
made with an Eckman dredge at nearly any point in the lake will be
found to contain many fragments of dead hyacinths.
Professor M. D. Cody, of the University of Florida, informs me
that this plant was first brought into the United States in 1835 by
the Venezuelan delegates to the Centennial Exposition at New Orleans.
Visitors to the Exposition received these plants as souvenirs and, by
carrying them home, introduced them to many parts of the Southeast.
It was not until about 1840 that the plant became established in
Florida. After its first establishment it was carried to different parts
of the state by cattlemen who believed the hyacinth was of value as
The abundant and luxuriant growth attained by the hyacinths has
attracted a great number of aquatic and semiaquatic animals which
have become associated with it. Among the invertebrates characteris-
tic of the hyacinth community may be mentioned oligochaete worms
144 PROCEEDINGS FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES Vol. 6,
Nos. 3-4, 1943
(Dero),_iawed _leechP.s (,nathohdellida), amphipods (T lnlnQ a
.crawfish (Procambarus faa), water spiders omedes), and midges
In the course of other studies, I have kept records of the fishes,
amphibians, and reptiles found in this community. Most of these
records are based on about two years' active and intensive collecting,
while random notes have accumulated over a period of some six
years. In addition, records from the University of Florida Department
of Biology collections have been included in cases where the speci-
mens are known to have been collected among water hyacinths. My
absence from Florida during the summers has prevented me from
collecting during the months of June, July, and August. All of the
records given here are for the vicinity of Gainesville, Alachua County,
Florida. Representatives of all species have been deposited in the
Carnegie Museum or in the Department of Biology, University of
Florida, but it did not seem advisable to collect large series of the
abundant species. However, records of all of the rarer and less well
known species are based upon laboratory-identified material. Un-
doubtedly some of the species less commonly associated with the
hyacinths have been overlooked, but I believe that I have records for
all of the conspicuous elements of the lower vertebrate fauna in this
In collecting animals from this community, I used a dredge which
was built specifically for the purpose, and which has been recently
described (Goin, 1942: 183). This dredge can be inserted under a
mat of hyacinths, then raised and carried ashore, where the mass of
plants is taken apart and the animals removed.
Many friends have at various times assisted me with the collect-
ing, but I wish in particular to thank Mr. J. C. Dickinson for his help
on many occasions. I also wish to thank Professor M. D. Cody for
information regarding the water hyacinths, and Dr. A. F. Carr for
his continued aid and assistance and especially for verifying the
identifications of the fishes. Finally I wish to thank Professor J.
Speed Rogers for his aid and advice throughout the st-udy and in the
preparation of this manuscript.
Except where proposed changes have been published, the names
of the fishes in the following list are as given by Carr in his key to the
fresh-water fishes of Florida (1937), and the nomenclature of the
amphibians and reptiles follows Stejneger and Barbour's recent check
list of North American amphibians and reptiles (1943).
LOWER VERTEBRATE FAUNA OF THE WATER HYACINTH 145
Lepisosteus platyrhincus De Kay
This form is common in the hyacinths around the edge of Newman's Lake.
I have records for April, May, June, September, October, and Novmber.
Amia calva Linnaeus
The few spring records I have for this species (locally called the mudfish)
do not give a true picture of its abundance. I have seen four or five grown in-
dividuals on the edge of Payne's Prairie in a single evening. Records for
February, April, May, and October.
Signalosa petenensis vanhyningi Weed
FLORIDA THREADFnr SHAD
While I have never collected this form among hyacinths, Dr. A. F. Carr in-
forms me that in Newman's Lake the eggs, which are laid in open water, frequently
come in contact with the roots of the hyacinths and adhere to them.
Erimyzon sucetta sueetta (Lac6pede)
EASTERN LAKE CHUB-SUCKER
Only once have I collected this species among the water hyacinths, but there
are records in the Biology Department collection for January, February, March,
April, October, and November.
Notemigonus crysoleucas boscii (Valenciennes)
SOUTHEASTERN GOLDEN SHINER
I have records for January, March, April, October, and November.
Nottopis maculatus (Hay)
My only records are for February, April, and October.
Ictalurus catus (Linnaeus)
Although rare in the smaller bodies of water, this catfish is often caught by
fishermen in many of the larger lakes and streams. The only locality in which
I have found it definitely among the hyacinths is where a small stream enters
Newman's Lake. Commercial fishermen quite often take it in the same region.
Records for February, March, and October.
Ameiurus nebulosus marmoratus (Holbrook)
MARBLED BROWN BULLHEAD
This fish is commonly found among the water hyacinths. Records for
February, March, April, May, October, and December.
Ameiurus natalis erebennw Jordan
SOUTHEASTERN YELLOW BULLHEAD
The yellow bullhead is not so common as the preceding. Records for February,
March, and November.
146 PROCEEDINGS FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES ol. 6,
Nos. 3-4, 1943
Schilbeodes gyrinus (Mitchill)
This form is abundant around the roots of the hyacinths. Records for
February, March, April, October, and December.
Esox niger LeSueur
The chain pickerel, or jackfish, is seldom abundant in this habitat as an adult,
but in the spring of the year the young are sometimes plentiful. During March,
1941, young individuals from 5 to 25 mm. in length were very numerous
among the hyacinths on the edge of Newman's Lake.
Chriopeops goodei (Jordan)
This fish is rarely found among hyacinths. My only records are for the
month of February.
Fundulus chrysotus (Giinther)
Fundulus is fairly common. Records for January, February, March, April,
May, September, October, November, and December.
Jordanella floridae Goode and Bean
This is one of the most abundant fish in muddy, hyacinth-covered water.
It can be collected with ease even after the water has been stirred up and is exceed-
ingly murky. Records for January, February, March, April, October, November,
Heterandria formosa (Agassiz)
This species is very rare among the water hyacinths. I have one record for
Gambusia affinis holbrookii (Girard)
This fish is commonly found, but never in the great numbers in which some
of the other small fish occur. Records 'for January, February, March, April, May,
October, November, and December.
Hololepis barratti (Holbrook)
FLORIDA SWAnMP DARTER
I have records of the darter for February, April, October, and November.
Pomoxis nigro-macidatus (LeSueur)
The black crappie, or speckled perch, is abundant in Newman's Lake but is
seldom taken except during the months of February and March, when the fish
enter the hyacinth-clogged streams that empty into the lake. At this time as
many as thirty or forty may be caught on a hook and line in a single afternoon,
when topfish (Fundulus and Gambusia) are used as bait. During these spring
LOWER VERTEBRATE FAUNA OF THE WATER HYACINTH 147
months they may also be caught all around the shore, but never in as great
numbers as in the mouths of the small creeks.
Huro salmoides (Lacepede)
Although I have never collected this bass among the hyacinths with my dredge,
it certainly occurs there. Fishermen often catch it among the hyacinths both with
hook and line and with artificial bait.
Enneacanthus glorious (Holbrook)
I do not believe that my few spring records give a true picture of the abund-
ance of this species. Records for January, February, and March.
Chaenobryttus coronarius (Bartram)
This form, locally called chub, is very abundant in the shallow waters near
the edges of lakes and streams. A voracious feeder, it can be taken by any
moving bait. I have seen as many as eighty individuals caught by one man in
a single afternoon while fishing with a hook and line on Payne's Prairie, a large,
hyacinth-covered marsh about four miles south of Gainesville. I have records
for January, February, March, April, October, November, and December.
Lepomis macrochirus purpurescens Cope
This locally important panfish is often caught among the hyacinths. Records
for January, March, April, October, and November.
Lepomis marginatus (Holbrook)
FLORIDA LONG-EARED SUNFISH
I have records for February and March.
Elassoma evergladei Jordan
EVERGLADES PIGMY SUNFISH
The pigmy sunfish is not common. Records for January and February.
Labidesthes sicculus vanhyningi Bean and Reid
SOUTHEASTERN BROOK SILVERSIDES
In central Florida Labidesthes is characteristically found in clear bodies of
water. I have two records for its occurence among the hyacinths, once in Feb-
ruary and once in March.
Amphiuma means means Garden
I have never found this form common in the water hyacinth community.
I have records for January, February, March, October, November, and December.
148 PROCEEDINGS FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES Vol. 6,
Nos. 3-4, 1943
Triturus perstriatus Bishop
FLORIDA STRIPED NEWT
This newt is relatively rare in the Gainesville region. The only time I have
taken it definitely in the water hyacinths was on February 18, 1937, when I
collected four adult specimens in a small, hyacinth-covered, woods pond about
three miles east of Gainesville.
Triturus viridescens louisianensis (Wolterstorff)
The Louisiana newt is abundant in shallow water among the roots of the
water hyacinths during the winter months. A gravid female was collected and
placed in an aquarium on February 8, 1940. She deposited three eggs on the
bottom that night, and five additional eggs on February 12. The first three
eggs were stuck together in a string, but the five eggs laid on the twelfth were
deposited singly. An adult male collected on the same date regurgitated an adult
Gambusia. Records for January, February, March, and October.
Manculus quadridigitatus (Holbrook)
Van Hyning (1933: 3) lists this form as common "among leaves in dried-up
ponds in woods, and among roots of the water hyacinths (Piaropus crassipes)."
It is often found in small woods ponds that are covered with hyacinths, but I
have seldom taken it among the hyacinths in large bodies of water. Records
for January, February, March, October, and November.
Pseudobranchus striatus axanthus Netting and Goin
No other aquatic vertebrate in Florida seems to be so restricted to the water
hyacinth habitat as is P. s. axanthus. I have collected extensively in Alachua
County for this species, and while it is usually abundant in all of the hyacinth-
covered lakes, prairies, and ditches that I have worked, I have never had any
success seeking for it in other situations. Records for every month of the year
except June, July, and August.
Siren lacertina Linnaeus
This species is quite common in and among the roots of the water hyacinths
in the Gainesville region. I have seen several dozen in a single evening while
wading near the shore in Payne's Prairie. Records for February, March, April,
October, and December.
Acris gryllus (Le Conte)
Acris gryllus is extremely common at all seasons of the year around the edges
of bodies of water covered with Piaropus. I once saw a large water spider
(Dolomedes) catch and kill a full grown cricket frog. Records for January,
February, March, April, May, October, November, and December.
Hyla cinerea cinerea (Schneider)
GREEN TREE FROG
The green tree frog has been found climbing about on the emergent por-
tions of water hyacinths on several occasions. Concerning this species, Kilby
LOWER VERTEBRATE FAUNA OF THE WATER HYACINTH 149
(MS 1936) says, "By far the greatest concentration of individuals .is found
among lake or pond shore vegetation and on the floating rafts of water hyacinths
that are common in Florida Lakes." My own records are for January, February,
Hyla crucifer bartramiana Harper
SOUTHERN SPRING PEEPER
The six specimens from Alachua County, Florida, listed by Harper (1939: 2)
in the original description of this form, were taken in a small woods pond which
is nearly completely covered with hyacinths. The greatest number of individuals
I have seen at any one time in northern Florida was in the above mentioned pond,
where I collected eighteen on the evening of December 31, 1940. In the
Gainesville region the peepers usually enter the ponds and marshes in late De-
cember, and continue to call spasmodically until early spring. My only col-
lection records are for February and December.
Rana catesbeiana Shaw
In the Gainesville region adults of this species are seldom found in the
hyacinth-covered ponds and streams, but immatures are quite common in this
habitat in the spring. Records for January, February, March, and December.
Rana clamitans Latreille
The bronze frog is very seldom found among the hyacinths. In Florida this
form seems to prefer springs and seepage areas in heavily forested areas to any
other habitat. My only records of its occurrence with the water hyacinths are for
January and December.
Rana pipiens sphenocephala Cope
This frog is quite common near the edges of the larger bodies of water.
Records for January, February, October, November, and December.
Microhyla carolinensis (Holbrook)
I have never taken this toad among the hyacinths proper, but it can often be
found under mats of dead hyacinths that have been thrown up on shore. Records
for April, October, and November.
Alligator mississippiensis (Daudin)
Alligators are, unfortunately, becoming quite rare in many parts of the state;
but about fifteen or twenty years ago they were regularly seen in Newman's
Lake, a large lake that has long supported a dense growth of hyacinths. It was
then not at all unusual to be able at a single time to count six or eight large
"gators" floating at the surface of the water.
150 PROCEEDINGS FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES Vol. 6,
Nos. 3-4, 1943
Sternotherus odoratus (Latreille)
The few records of this and the following form do not give a true picture of
their relative abundance in the water hyacinth community. They occur com-
monly in many aquatic situations, particularly those that are choked with trash
or vegetation. Records for February and October.
Kinosternon baurii baurii Garman
Records for January, February, October, and December.
Kinosternon subrubrum steindachneri Siebenrock
The Florida musk-turtle can often be seen sunning itself in hyacinth-filled
road ditches, canals, and ponds. Records for January, March, May, and October.
Pseudemys nelsoni Carr
This "cooter" is quite common on Payne's Prairie, a large, hyacinth-covered
marsh about four miles south of Gainesville. Records for January, February,
April, May, August, October, and December.
Deirochelys rIeticularia (Latreille)
Unquestionably this is one of the most ubiquitous of all Florida turtles,
occurring in large clear lakes, rivers, marshes, prairies, ponds, and ditches.
The only records I have in which it was definitely among the water hyacinths
are for March and December.
Farancia abacura abacura (Holbrook)
The horn-snake is abundant in densely vegetated muddy marshes; it is very
common on Payne's Prairie. Records for January, February, March, April,
September, October, and December.
Diadophis punctatus punctatus (Linnaeus)
SOUTHERN RING-NECKED SNAKE
I have never collected this snake among the water hyacinths, but Carr
(1940: 79) states "I have found several in the water among water-hyacinth
roots with Farancia and Pseudobranchus."
Lampropeltis getulus floridanus Blanchard
The Florida king-snake is wide spread but not particularly abundant.
Records for February, March, April, May, September, and October.
LOWER VERTEBRATE FAUNA OF THE WATER HYACINTH 151
Natrix sipedon pictiventris Cope
FLORIDA BANDED WATER-SNAKE
This snake is extremely common and wide spread. Records for March,
April, May, October, November, and December.
Seminatrix pygaea (Cope)
With the possible exceptions of Pseudobranchus s. axanthus and Liodytes
alleni, this snake seems to be more closely correlated with water hyacinths than
any vertebrate known to me. I have records for February, March, May,
October, November, and December.
On the afternoon of October 18, 1939, I collected a large female which that
night gave birth to eight young. The following table gives the measurements
and scale counts of this series of young. The catalogue numbers are those of
the Carnegie Museum.
CM No. Sex Scale Rows Abdominals Sub-caudals Total length Tail length
18753 c" 17-17-15 121 54 129 31
18754 d 17-17-15 123 54 127 29
18755 d 17-17-15 126 53 134 30
18756 9 17-17-15 127 44 123 24
18757 17-17-15 125 45 124 25
18758 d 17-17-15 126 55 128 30
18759 9 17-17-15 122 42 124 24
18760 ? 17-17-15 125 45 124 25
The mother (CM18752) had a maximum of 17 scale rows, 122 abdominals,
43 sub-caudals, and a total length of 379 mm. and tail length of 67 mm.
Liodytes alleni (Garman)
As stated by Carr (1940: 92), this is probably the most aquatic snake in
Florida, and is fairly common among the water hyacinth roots in shallow water.
Records for February, October, and December.
Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus (Lac6pede)
I have never found this snake common among the hyacinths. It seems to me
to be more commonly found along the borders of lakes and streams in heavily
wooded regions. I have records of its occurrence among the hyacinths for
February, April, May, and December.
152 PROCEEDINGS FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES Vol. 6,
CARR, ARCHIE F., JR.
1937. A key to the fresh-water fishes of Florida. Proc. Fla. Acad. Sci. for
1936, 1: 72-86, 1 fig.
1940. A contribution to the herpetology of Florida. Univ. Fla. Biol. Ser.,
3 (1): 1-118.
GOING, COLEMAN J.
1942. A method for collecting the vertebrates associated with water hya-
cinths. Cokeia, 1942, No. 3: 183-184, 1 fig.
1939. A southern subspecies of the spring peeper (Hyla crucifera). Notulae
Naturae, No. 27: 1-4.
KILBY, JOHN D.
1936. A biological analysis of the food and feeding habits of Rana spheno-
cephala (Cope) and Hyla cinerea (Schneider). Unpublished Master's
thesis, University of Florida.
STEJNEGER, LEONHARD, and THOMAS BARBOUR.
1943. A check list of North American amphibians and reptiles. 5th ed.,
xix 260 p. Bull. Mus. Camp. Zool., 93, No. 1.
VAN HYNING, OTHER C.
1933. Batrachia and Reptilia of Alachua County, Florida. Copeia, 1933,
No. 1: 3-7.
LOWER VERTEBRATE FAUNA OF THE WATER HYACINTH 153
Water hyacinths (Piaropus crassipes)
Upper.-A mass of water hyacinths completely covering the mouth of a creek
entering the St. Johns River.
Lower.-Two individual plants in an aquarium showing the submerged root
-Photographs by Albert M. Laessle.