FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
DIVISION OF RECREATION AND PARKS
The illustrations in this book are by the well known
nature artist Joy Postle of Orlando, Florida.
S NATURE ON PARADE
Florida is very different in climate, geology and terrain
from the rest of the United States. These differences give
Florida a plant and animal life that is quite distinctive.
Some of the plants and animals such as Spanishmoss,
buzzards and mocking birds are so common that the
average Floridian never dreams that they should be pointed
out and explained to the visitor.
Wondering visitors from all over the world have been
expressing their wonder and their desire to know more
about these phenomena at the gates of the Florida State
Parks ever since their beginning. In 1946, the state parks
began issuing conservation bulletins answering the most
These bulletins had three purposes: to answer the questions
asked, to inspire a little love for the plant or animal, and to
show the plant or animal's place in what we call ecology.
Actually, this ecology or conservation note is only a line or
two giving man's use of the creature, its effect on soil and
weather and its place in the food chain.
We offer the best of these bulletins in this book.
QUESTIONS FREQUENTLY ASKED BY FLORIDA VISITORS '
What is the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
The crocodile has teeth that show on the outside of his mouth, while an alligator
looks like he is smiling when his mouth is closed. Also, the crocodile has a
pointed nose, while the alligator has a broad one. And thirdly, the crocodile is a
vicious animal, while the alligator has a good disposition, rarely, if ever,
attacking a man on land.
If an alligator is black, why is he usually painted green?
People who have never seen an alligator expect it to be green because, for
thousands of years, artists have been modeling all crocodile-like animals after the
crocodile of the Nile. The Florida crocodile is tan.
Alligators like marshmallows. Does it hurt an alligator's teeth to eat them?
No, because he is continually losing the old teeth and growing new ones.
Are all airplants orchids?
No. Most of Florida's airplants are bromeliads (members of the pineapple
family). Airplants may be any kind of plant--a lichen, moss, fern, or seed plant
such as a young fig tree or the cactus airplant (Rhipsalis).
Do animals live in airplants?
Yes. Tree toads, lizards, and insects may live in the airplants.
Do airplants take food from the trees?
No, their food comes from the water, dust, and carbon-dioxide
of the air. Since water is a very important plant food, airplants can
grow only where the air is moist.
Are buzzards and vultures the same?
Yes and no. We Floridians like to call vultures buzzards. They are the same
vultures that they have in the West. The word "buzzard" actually means hawks
that are related to the red-shouldered hawks.
When you see a flock of buzzards, does that mean that something is dead?
Not necessarily. Buzzards live in great flocks.
Why do cypresses have knees?
We do not know. Since we have no record of a cypress ever being torn up by the
roots, we believe that the knees may hold the tree firmly in the mud.
Do the knees ever grow into trees?
No, they grow up to the high water line.
Why are all the cypresses dead?
This is a wintertime question when the cypresses, even though they are related
to pines, have lost their leaves. At this time, they seem to be covered with
Spanishmoss, but the cypress leaves will cover the moss in the spring
and our visitors will not recognize them as the same tree that they r
saw in the fall.
What is the Everglades?
The Everglades is a large area of sawgrass growing
in the water. This area is North, East and South of
Lake Okeechobee and is almost impenetrable for many
miles. People could cut their way through it for miles and
still find nothing but grass. "Glades, glades, everlasting glades",
as Laurence Will said. "Glades" means grasslands.
What is the difference between a marsh and a swamp?
A marsh is an area of grasses and other low plants growing in water, but a
swamp is an area of trees growing in water.
What is the difference between a hummock and a hammock?
A hummock is a small hill, but a hammock is a woodland. There are many kinds
of hammocks but they are all composed of shady, broad-leafed trees. They may
be moist lowlands, on the sides of hills, or on top of the hill.
Why are there so many lime-sinks, springs and lakes in Florida?
The rock under Florida is porous limestone, making it possible for there to be
many underground rivers and caves. When the roof of a cave falls in, we have a
lime-sink. When the underground river comes to the surface, we call it a spring.
If the water flows away in a stream, we have a river, but if it fills up a lime-sink,
or several lime-sinks that have come together, we have a lake.
Is Spanishmoss a fungus and is it related to Labrador-moss?
No, to both questions. Spanishmoss is a bromeliad in the pineapple family. It has
tiny flowers in the spring followed by dandelion-like seeds in the fall.
Labrador-moss, which looks like Spanishmoss, is a lichen and, therefore, has
neither flowers nor seeds.
Are there redbugs or chiggers in Spanishmoss?
Not when the moss is on the trees, but they get there quickly when the moss
falls on the ground.
The waves of the Gulf and ocean bring sand to Florida from all over the
world. As soon as this sand is dry, winds off the water blow it away from
Shells and small plants catch some of the blowing sand and make small
mounds. These mounds stop more blowing sand and become higher. Since
the winds are usually off the water, the sand on the front part of the
mound, or tiny dune, will blow up to the top and fall over the back. Thus,
the tiny dune, will not only become larger, but it will move away from the
shore. Finally, it will become large enough to move over tall trees.
If it were not for the fact that some plants can send out new roots all
through the dunes every time they get covered, the dune would probably
keep moving backwards forever. Plants like sea oats send out branching
roots to all sides. When these sea oats get covered, they send out another
layer of roots above the old layer. These roots hold the sand so that it
When the sand has settled, other plants start growing there. Railroad vine,
greenbriar, and grape vines soon cover the dune, especially the back of
it. Bushes such as waxmyrtle (bayberry), sawpalmettoes, and
running oaks come, too.
When the dunes have stopped moving, plants will
start growing on the ocean side of the dune...plants
like sand pines, Florida rosemary (Ceratiola), and
Florida hickory. There is very little plant food in the
sand, and even though the dune is at the edge of the
water, the plants on it may be starving for water.
EYES OF THE NIGHT
Now you see it, now you don't. Glistening diamonds on the grass and the
road, or round coals of fire on the lake...what are they? Are they really
there? Get a flashlight that throws a beam (a floodlight will not do), hold
it to your eye, and look along the beam to the spot where that diamond
flickered momentarily. Follow your beam and you will find a spider, a
frog, or some other small animal with glowing eyes. The person standing
beside you will not see what you see, even though you point it out to him,
until he, too, raises a flashlight to his eyes and looks along the beam or
looks over your shoulder.
There may be a fountain of light over a flower bed because small insects
are enjoying the flowers. Look down in the water while you hold a
flashlight to your eyes...and there you may see Christmas lights moving
here and there...they are fish eyes, or shrimp eyes, or, oh, so many things.
Every animal has a different colored eye-glow. The alligator's eyes may
turn green as you watch because, like all reptiles and birds, he has three
eyelids. The inner one is transparent and protects the eye from dirt, water,
etc. When it is closed, the alligator still sees, but his eyes turn green and
Deer-moss is not really a moss, but a lichen that grows in very dry places all over,
including the Arctic tundras which a plant considers dry since it cannot get
water from ice and snow.
Three species of deer-moss are abundant in Florida's scrub lands. The
commonest looks like round puffs of a whitish sponge. Like a sponge, it is soft
when wet and stiff when dry. When colored with cake dyes, it is used in
dioramas, especially as trees. A cute little species is the British
soldier, which when fruiting has a red cap (fruiting body) on the top
Sof each stalk.
Lichens are one of the wonders of nature, caused by a fungus and an
alga growing together as if they were married. The fungus is the
daddy who brings home water and minerals. If he were not married
to an alga, he would be a parasite because he cannot turn water and
minerals into food.
The alga is the mother. She has a green stove run by sunlight instead
of electricity. She cooks water and carbon-dioxide together to get
sugars and starches. She will add the minerals daddy has brought
home to make proteins and vitamins. If she were not married to a
fungus, she would have to live in the water, because she has no way
of absorbing anything but carbon-dioxide unless she is in water.
Deer, squirrels, and tortoises are among the animals that eat lichens.
They are rich in proteins, but are difficult for man to digest.
The cypress tree of North America is not the same
tree as the cypress of Europe. Our cypress loses its
leaves and small branches in the winter. This is a very
odd thing for the relatives of pines and junipers to do,
but the American cypress does not follow rules since
it grows in water, whereas most trees grow in drier
When living things refuse to do as other living things
do, they have to make some bodily changes or die.
The baldcypress (American cypress) makes these
changes by having knees and swollen bases called
Just what the buttresses do for the tree is not known,
but it is known that hurricanes very seldom pull one
over by the roots. Possibly, there is an exchange of
gases in the buttresses, although this is doubtful.
Perhaps an exchange of gases also goes on in the
knees. Since roots are not green, they do not need
carbon-dioxide, but they do need oxygen. It has
never been proved that the knees get oxygen, but
until recently, it has been believed.
Other plants having knees, or similar appendages, are
blackgum, tupelo, and mangrove. When the cypress is
boiled, the bark comes off, leaving a beautiful natural
sheen. This sheen makes the knees much
appreciated for making ornamental
THE TORREYA TREE
Some of the rarest trees of the world are the Torreya
trees, members of the yew family. These trees are
found in four widely separated valleys of the world:
the Apalachicola valley of Florida, one in California,
one in Japan, and one in China. The distribution of
these trees makes us believe that, at one time, the
Torreya tree was common and spread all over the
North Temperate Zone.
Florida's beautiful trees are found on the steep banks
of the Apalachicola River--and these only on the east
side--through two counties of this state and one of
Georgia. They grow about 50 feet high with whorled
branches that touch the ground all around the
bottom. A lone tree will be a perfect cone.
The leaves are about an inch long, a quarter of an
inch wide, and have a short spine at the tip. When
broken, the leaves smell like green tomatoes. This
odor accounts for its Indian name of "stinking
Another name, gopherwoodd", was given to it by the
early settlers, possibly because gopher tortoises and
other animals eat the flesh off the seeds. In early
English, the word "gopher" meant a burrow or a
burrowing animal, and the word gopherwoodd" was a
wood with burrows through it such as our pecky
cypress. The name gopherwoodd" is not a good
name, for this tree has a smooth white wood.
THE CABBAGE PALM
The state tree of Florida, the cabbage
palm (Sabal palmetto), is a tree of secrets.
It never tells its age for, like its first
cousin, the corn stalk, it has scattered
strings throughout the stalk instead of the
rings that tell the age of other trees.
In youth, the cabbage palm's leaves break off
unevenly, leaving their bases, or boots, on the trunk
of the tree. Later, these boots slough off, giving the
tree a chance to develop a slender, fairly smooth trunk.
Also, like the corn stalk, the palm sends out rings of
roots around its base. When the tree falls, it leaves this
ring of roots with a hole in the middle as a stump.
Sometimes, another ring of roots will form on the stem
of a healthy tree perhaps as high as ten feet from the
ground. Why? Ask the palm, for that is another secret.
The palm's growth is only in its roots and top. This top
bends to the light, twisting its way through other trees.
If this twisting begins while the tree is young, it will be
very crooked. When the palm gets old, it tends to arch
and finally break, usually in the middle of the arch or at
The common name, cabbage palm, refers to the
fact that its bud can be eaten, using any
cabbage recipe. Taking the bud out kills
the tree so it is a great luxury to be
indulged in only when the tree
would die anyway.
The sawpalmetto, Florida's most common palm, can grow
into a small tree 10-15 feet high, but is generally a bush
with a long woody stem lying on the ground. In most
palms, the only growth area is at the top of the stem, but
the sawpalmetto sprouts heads all along the prostrate stem,
making a very dense growth.
This palm likes plenty of sunlight and will grow on the sand
almost to the edge of the ocean. So dense is its growth that
hardly a grain of sand can be washed or blown away. Only
the machines of man can disturb this relationship, for the
sawpalmetto is not even hurt by fire. Its leaves are covered
with wax that will burn at the touch of a match. Acres of
palmettoes will burn, crackling and popping as they kill the
few trees that grow between them. In a day or two, new
leaves and even flowers will appear on the bare stalks.
Underneath the palmettoes, many a small animal lives. As
they die, they add to the soil; the discarded leaves and
thatch from the palm contribute, too, until, finally, a good
soil is built from the sterile sand.
The fragrant flowers come in April, supplying the bees with
delicious honey. The leaf buds are delicious but too small
to be used in quantities. The Indians ate the dates, but they
have a soapy bitterness that most of us do not like. The
leaves, like all palm leaves, are used in basketry.
.IB//4 :-,,, .
Probably no plant has a more
integral part in the charm of
Florida scenery than the
Spanishmoss or treebeard. It is
regrettable that this truly American
seed plant, swinging freely from
high places, should have been called
"Spanishmoss," for mosses are
lowly plants which usually cling
close to the surfaces on which they
grow and never have flowers or
start their spores off with a coating
of food such as seed plants do.
Its small green flowers, which
appear in late winter or early
spring, are so inconspicuous that
many a Floridian has never noticed
them. The flowers are followed by
cylindrical fruits which split and
discharge parachuted seeds much in
the same way that milkweed pods
do. Occasionally, when the wind is
right, clouds of seeds are dislodged
and scattered among the nearby
trees. Here they get caught in the
rough bark and begin to grow.
The Spanishmoss does not injure
the trees on which it grows, except
in rare cases by shading the lower
branches. Since the moss usually
does not tolerate full sun, it lies bac
leaving the leaves exposed on the ends. I
the carbon-dioxide in the air, dust, a
which can be absorbed through the ha
cover the plant. Many find this hard to
it on apparently dead trees especially3
forget that the trees shed their leaves for
j low Ur
k on the branches,
ts food comes from
nd moisture, all of
iry gray scales that
believe, for they see
the cypress) and
I/ I AIRPLANTS (Epiphytes)
Since all plant foods (except water)
ordinarily can be found in air, we can
have airplanes in Florida's moist climate.
Airplants are plants that grow in the trees
without taking food from them.
Any kind of a plant may be an airplant.
The showiest are those in the pineapple
family, called Bromeliads. The most
common of these are the Spanishmoss,
broad-leafed airplant, medusa-head airplant,
cardinal airplant, and the grass airplant. All of
these have very tiny flowers which are usually in
very colorful clusters and seeds that blow in the wind.
Orchid flowers, themselves, are very pretty, but the
plants seldom are. Their leaves are usually short, thick and
green...that is, if they have leaves. They may have only thick
roots. Of course, there are ground orchids, too.
Many of the ferns are airplants. The most common is the
resurrection fern, which has long rooted runners covering the
branches of the trees. In dry weather, it looks like brown whiskers on
the branches, but a few hours after a rain, these whiskers unfold into green
leaves. You will be disappointed if you try to keep some green in a saucer of
water because this plant does not absorb food through its roots. To stay
green, the leaves themselves must be wetted.
The beautiful little trees with the leathery oval leaves that
have red veins are seagrapes...strange as it may seem, a
member of the buckwheat family.
Besides being pretty enough for anyone's garden, they have
tart red berries that make very good jelly. The flowers are
tiny and greenish in long tails--not worth looking at.
The tree is a favorite in Florida not only because of its
beauty but because it is salt spray resistant.
The beautiful gumbo-limbo is one of the oddest
looking trees in Florida. While it is truly a tropical plant
found only from Fort Pierce, Florida, to Brazil, it loses its
leaves in winter just as if it were a temperate tree. Bare, it
displays a smooth red bark with papery thin sloughings.
This tree is easy to recognize because it has a red columnar
stalk, straight as a palm, that does not seem to taper at all.
Its branches at the top are covered with feathery leaves.
They are bright green--the green that is rarely seen in the
tropics but is quite common in the temperate zone. Its
flowers are not particularly noticeable, but its fruits are red.
Lumbermen tell us this tree is no good because its wood is
pulpy and disintegrates within a year of dying. But the
Mayan and Aztec Indians would not have agreed because
they used the resin as the ancients used the resins of
frankincense and myrrh, both medicinally and in religious
As medicine, myrrh, particularly, was used as a balm for
skin ailments such as insect bites and prickly heat, so
Mary may have been doubly glad for the gifts of the
Wise Men. In religious rites, even today,
gumbo-limbo is sometimes used instead of myrrh
in our church services. It is not as well liked -
because it is smokier.
"The tents of the Arabs are only as high as the mangroves grow in the Red
Sea," goes an old Arabic proverb. Florida's representative of this group of
plants grows in salt water on stilts composed of the roots. Above them is
the plant crown and the branches, which may grow 80 feet high.
The evergreen leaves are protected from salt water by being leathery and
waxy. Its flowers are inconspicuous, but its fruits, by their very oddity,
attract attention. It is a green bell-shaped thing with four backward
turning ears on the top. A thick green root from three to six inches long
grows downward from it.
When the fruit falls, the root pierces the mud, making the seed stand
upright. The new plant is started--unless there was water under the tree
when the fruit fell. In that case, the seed floats away (root downward) to
find a new home.
Many of the Florida Keys have been built by this plant and all of the Keys
have had their coastlines extended by them. The greatest value to us,
however, is that some deep sea animals, such as shrimp, breed under them.
Indeed, if you don't mind climbing over roots and slushing in mud, it
is a wonderful place to look for interesting sea creatures and
This small tree bears black berries the size of an apple that
are edible and taste like a prune. Throughout the West
Indies, it is used in fruit drinks and called genipa. We use
the word "genipa" for the scientific name.
Botanically, many of the fruits we eat are berries, since a
berry is a soft fruit containing many seeds: for instance, the
tomato, eggplant, and cucumber. Of these mentioned, only
the eggplant has a fruit that is close to being black. Black
fruits that are large are rather rare, although as small fruits
they are fairly common.
The seven-year-apple is a member of the madder family,
along with coffee and quinine. Among the beautiful flowers
of this family are Gardenias and Ixora. Like the Gardenia,
the seven-year-apple flowers are very fragrant and waxy
The plant is very plentiful from Palm Beach south.
People who stroll along the beaches frequently find huge seeds that have
come on the waves of the ocean from faraway places. On the other hand,
some of them grow right here in Florida and float to Massachusetts,
Europe and Africa. It is said that Columbus used them to persuade Queen
Isabella to back his first voyage here.
Palm seeds usually will look like under-sized coconuts without the hairs.
They usually have three scars suggesting a monkey's face. ("Coco" is
Spanish for a mask or a monkey face.) Palm seeds may be rough or
smooth, even hairy, depending on the species and the action of the salt
The majority of sea beans are legumes (members of the bean family.) The
Fat-kidney, which is two inches or more long, looks like a huge brown
kidney bean. The Lucky beans are flat like the Fat-kidney, but are circular
in shape with a dark ring around the edge, reminding one of a hamburger
sandwich. The Cluster pea also is flat and is circular except for one straight
side; it is glossy and comes from a high-climbing vine of South America.
Mary's beads have a cross on one end, and from the beginning of
Christianity have been treasured when they were found on European
shores. Nicker beans for the most part are smaller and are yellow, gray, or
brown, with a very thorny pod.
., )' c oC ,":(
Who can catch a grasshopper easily with his bare hands? Grasshoppers are
locusts that, in dry weather, can make enormous flocks flying miles and
miles, eating every plant along their way, and even (they say) the feathers
off the turkeys.
But Floridians can catch a grasshopper without half trying--the lubber
grasshopper. "Lubber" means a clumsy fellow and this fellow is clumsy!
When grown, he is three inches long and as thick around as your little
In a way, he is beautiful. His back and front wings are a mottled yellow
and his under wings are red with a black border. His big black legs are
covered with horns.--he can use them, too, to scratch a little alligator's
mouth. No wonder little alligators spit them out fast.
In the spring, hundreds of baby grasshoppers come out of a hole in the
ground where their mother had put them as eggs the fall before. They look
like black crickets with a yellow or red line down their backs. They eat
every green thing in sight. However, birds, raccoons, skunks, opossums
and armadillos eat them in great quantities.
Before we put the grasshopper that we have caught down, let us put a
blade of grass in his mouth. He moves both jaws! Can you? Try to move
your upper jaw--and look, his mouth is up and down, while ours is
Most people have a fear of snakes or a strange fascination for them. This is
too bad, since most of the snakes are beneficial and gentle animals. They
eat mice, rats, rabbits, insects, lizards and other snakes. They keep your
yard or the camp site clean of other pests.
The ones you will see most commonly are the five-lined rat snake (also
called milk snake and corn snake) and the black snake, both friendly and
The rat snake spends a great deal of its time in the trees where it catches
birds, insects, and rats. (We have no poisonous snakes of Florida that climb
trees except to avoid a flood). The rat snake is yellow with five black lines
running its whole length. If you find one, watch the way he climbs a tree,
because he doesn't go around it to go up.
The black snake is so glossy, so black, and his chin so white, that he is
really a very beautiful snake. He likes insects and frogs best, but a mouse,
young rabbit, or rat is much appreciated. If you see a snake catch an
animal that is larger around than it is, watch it eat the animal...its jaws are
attached so loosely that they can spread until its mouth is wide enough to
swallow a large animal. And then the work begins. If we had to work that
hard to swallow a meal, we would spend more than half our time eating.
Our largest snake is the indigo or gopher snake. This snake is black with a
blue iridescence, thick around as your arm, and may be eight feet long.
Even when caught in the wild, it can be handled with impunity. This is the
snake used for daring pictures of people putting snakes around their necks,
etc. DO NOT HURT THIS SNAKE...it will get every rattlesnake around.
Even the poison snakes are not out to get you intentionally, and will hurt
you only if they are frightened or molested. The coral snake has never
been known to bite unless actually hurt-such as being stepped on or
Our Suggestions For Your Safety
1. that you carry and use a flashlight when out at night,
2. that you do not go barefoot outdoors,
3. that when you push a boat into the water, you look under and
around it for snakes before pushing it,
4. that you look on both sides of a log before stepping over it,
5. that you stay in the middle of the path,
6. that you walk slowly through the woods so that you do not startle
7. that you watch the harmless ones and notice how the sunlight
gleams on them. They are not slimy like a frog, but warm and velvety to
8. that you remember that you are in a great deal more danger
crossing a street or driving on the highway than you are from these
Cicadas are one of the wonder-insects of the world. Some
people call them locusts, but locusts are grasshoppers.
Cicadas are beautiful, fatbodied insects with transparent
wings that have colored veins. Their eyes are bright colored,
red, green, blue, or yellow.
The famous one is the periodic cicada, a red-eyed beauty
that appears every 17 years in the North and 13 in the
South. Its babies or nymphs spend 17 years in the ground
eating the roots of plants. But they grow so slowly that the
plants never seem to show it. They appear all on the same
day--odd little tan fellows that climb up on a leaf or a tree
trunk and split their skin to let the beautiful adult emerge.
Even though the adults are so abundant that every leaf has
three or four of them, the trees show no harm since the
adults rarely eat. Possibly, they suck up a little moisture. In
fact, they have almost no digestive system.
When the female cicada lays eggs, she puts them in the ends
of twigs. This may cause the tips of the branches to break
off, but this is the only apparent damage this beautiful
Most cicadas like the deep forest or hammocks, but there
are some in the prairies of the West.
DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES
Damselflies and dragonflies, often called mosquito hawks,
are your friends. They dart here and there like thousands of
tiny swallows, catching mosquitos, gnats and midges.
Swallows, however, have only their mouths with which to
catch insects; dragonflies have strong grasping front legs as
Dragonfly young, called nymphs or naiads, also catch
insects, but in the water, not the air. They are vicious
looking and acting creatures that dart out from under
stones extending a long grasping underlip that tears the
entrails right out of a fish three times its size. Of course, the
thousands upon thousands of mosquito larvae that it eats
make up for the fish it gets, too.
Damselflies are very similar to dragonflies, but they are
daintier and slenderer...usually, they are black, with black
or spotted wings which they fold over their backs when
they are at rest. The dragonfly sports many colors and
holds his transparent wings horizontally at his side without
folding them when he is at rest.
You hate spiders? Please don't. They are your friends, for they catch
millions of insects that would make life quite miserable for you.
For the most part, you are not aware of spiders because they are in the
grass, in the ground, and even in the water. Some of them leap at their
prey instead of trapping it in their webs. The large "housewife" or wolf
spider that hides behind the picture on the wall through the day is death
For the most part, spiders are gentle. Few of them will bite unless they are
abused. In this country, only the black widow and a small brown spider
are known to have poisonous bites and these are not fatal except in cases
where the person bitten is already ill.
The most noticeable of our late summer and fall spiders is the golden-silk
spider that spins enormous webs of golden silk between the telephone
wires and across woodland paths. It is a huge, but very gentle, spider with
beautiful yellow markings on its back and black whiskers on the joints of
its legs. Small golden webs are attached to the back of the big web. In
these small webs, her many husbands live...tiny little golden and green
A rare spider, the tube spider, that builds a silken tube from the ground up
the side of a tree for a foot or two, is found at Torreya State Park on
the Apalachicola River.
-%-nd Crab > ,,
Even though crabs, lobsters, and shrimp look so different, they are very much
the same in shape. The real difference is that the thorax (chest) of the crab is
much broader and on land he curls his stomach and tail underneath the thorax.
Most crabs live in the ocean, but a few of them store water for breathing in their
gills and come ashore. These are land crabs, all of which live in burrows. The
most common land crabs are the fiddler and mud crabs, both about the size of a
nickel. These little fellows scurry by the thousands ahead of you as you walk
along the salty beaches or in the salt marshes. As they scurry, they make a click,
click, clicking sound.
Some of the fiddler crabs have two tiny claws and some have one tiny claw and
one big claw. The ones with the big claws are the males. If anything happens to
this big claw, the little claw will grow big and he will grow a little claw where the
big one was. If he was right-handed before he lost his claw, he will be left-handed
In South Florida, we have large blue land crabs that climb trees looking for dead
birds and fruit. (All crabs eat dead and rotten things.) Sometimes you will hear
the clicking of a crab's feet on the white sandy beaches and all you can see is
two black eyes flying across the sand. This is the ghost crab, who is the same
color as the sand.
Crabs are food for all sorts of animals such as birds, opossums, raccoons, skunks,
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Have you ever watched a tree toad climb a glass
window? He has little suction cups on his toes and,
if the glass is clean, he sometimes has so much suction
that he has to tug to get his toes loose. This is funny,
especially when he is after an insect, and funnier still, if the
insect is so large that it frightens him.
Tree toads change color readily. Three were sleeping in an Alamanda
blossom one day, each of them just as yellow as the Alamanda. As they
woke up, one by one, they leaped out onto a porch railing and turned to
their normal green color. On cold days, they will sleep in a crack or in an
airplant, just as gray as a cement sidewalk. Warm them in your hand and they
will turn green.
Their skin is cold and slimy because they are covered with a mucilage that
absorbs oxygen, which they need since their lungs are not well developed.
They live in bushes, vines, and trees, but when they get ready to lay eggs, they
go to the nearest pond. Then, every lily pad may have several frogs sitting on it,
all the males croaking at once...now they are quiet...now they are not...but they
all croak together. Each variety has its own call so that a person who knows
these calls can tell what kind of frog is present, just as he can tell birds by their
calls. Some calls are loud and raucous, and some, like the common toad, may
have a sweet little bird-like trill.
The gopher tortoise lives in a long tunnel under the ground, usually in
sandy places. This fact gave him the name of "gopher." It seems that when
the early colonists came to this country, the word "gopher" meant any
animal that lived in a burrow. The northerners chose the chipmunk to be
their gopher, but the southerners picked the tortoise and even gave him
the scientific name of Gopherus.
Tortoises are said to be the most intelligent of the cold-blooded vertebrate
animals and no one watching the gopher will doubt this. As a pet, he learns
to know you and can be house-broken! It is even safe to let small children
play with him. He is big enough for the smallest of them to ride and he
will not bite. However, when kept as a pet, he must be kept dry because he
will sicken and die in a damp place.
He usually comes out in the heat of the day to eat grass, Sansevieria,
tomatoes, Irish potatoes. Anything a rabbit will eat, he will eat and a lot
more. He can wreck a garden--and he goes under the fence to get there,
Since he is too gentle to run other animals out of his hole, various types of
insects and snakes, including the rattlesnake, come to live with him.
NEVER put your hand in a gopher hole.
Have you ever watched a common fresh-water turtle lay her eggs? She digs
three holes with her two hind legs!! How? Well, you try it...dig two holes
in the sand with your toes, then move over so that the left foot is in the
track of the right foot and dig again. You've got three holes. The turtle
probably doesn't think about it, but the nature-loving world hopes that
the skunk, the raccoon, the fox, and the squirrel that dig up her eggs will
only find one hole.
The soft-shelled turtle doesn't trust nature this much, for she buries herself
and lays her eggs deep in the ground.
The common turtle usually goes up hill to lay her eggs and goes down hill
if she wants to go to water. If there is a fence in the way, she stays there
stupidly trying to get through the fence until she dies. We say that she lives
by instinct, just as her playmates of the dinosaur age did. She has out-lived
them by milleniums probably because she had a better shell.
About the only animal that can kill the turtle is the alligator, who eats
them as a main diet. And yet, the turtle will sleep on the alligator's back
anytime he isn't hungry. Stupid??
Turtles eat almost anything they can catch including insects, frogs, and
even birds. In fact, the snapping turtle catches dibbling ducks by their
WEST FLORIDA'S RARE TURTLE
Barbour's Map Turtle is a rare turtle found only in the
Chipola, Apalachicola, and Escambia Rivers of Florida.
Unfortunately, this turtle is in danger of extinction because
he, like many other turtles, floats in the water with his head
above it, making him easy to catch.
The male is only five inches long, but that lady of his may
be 10 inches long.
This turtle is an olive green with yellow around the scales.
The third and fourth scales of the ridge of its back are
horned. The first horn is slightly slanted toward the back,
while that of the fourth scale is small and pointed
backward. Its head is very broad.
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There are no poisonous lizards in Florida Anof
and only one small group of poisonous lizards
(the beaded lizards or Gila monsters of Mexico and
Arizona) in the whole world. Our Florida lizards, in
fact, have such small teeth that they rarely break our
skin even when they bite hard.
Some people think that the lizard called a skink is poisonous
because the musk gland situated near his tail is poisonous to cats.
The poor cat becomes paralyzed and frequently dies. But most of us do
not eat lizards!
This skink is interesting because while most lizards lay their eggs in
protected places and forget about them, she lies on her eggs until they
hatch and is willing to fight to protect them. Some lizards, such as
hornedtoads, have live young.
Florida lizards are insect-eating and often will keep gardens free of insects.
They are very fascinating creatures to watch...for instance, have you ever
seen lizards fight? They bite off each other's tails. (Of course, they grow
new tails again).
Florida has many lizards, but the best known is the chameleon, or
Anole, who changes from green to brown and back again when
p the notion strikes him.
An alligator is neither a stupid nor a lazy animal. It usually is active at
night, sleeping through the day.
Since it is a cold blooded animal, it takes the temperature of the air or
water instead of generating a body temperature of its own. Therefore, in
cold weather, it is so stiff it can hardly move. In the summer, he will
occasionally catch a thrown marshmallow before it hits the water, but stiff
as it is in the winter, it has a hard time getting the marshmallow out of the
water, and then a harder time swallowing it.
The alligators live in dens, which are huge underground caves, sometimes
fourteen feet across, that are connected to their wallows by a tunnel. Here,
the mother lays a cylindrical egg, four inches long and covered with a lime
shell, in a mound of leaves and trash. She stays nearby to protect them
until they hatch in the fall. When the babies are ready to hatch, they
become quite noisy. Mother tears the nest open, whereupon the babies all
come out--20 to 50 of them. Then she leads them to her den, but she does
not feed them because they have food stored in their bodies--enough to
last until spring. When you hear a mother alligator hiss, LEAVE. She is a
very dangerous animal if you come near her eggs or her babies.
The alligator is a very beneficial animal because both its dens and wallows
make water storage places in times of drought. Too, it eats turtles, gar,
catfish and mudfish, all of which eat our food fishes.
SIt astonishes Floridians when their northern guests
% ask to see a mocking bird because they are
everyday sights here. But things such as mocking
birds, Spanishmoss, buzzards and alligators are
among the "musts" to the sightseer because they
are not known everywhere.
The mocking bird likes open places such as towns and pinewoods. He
claims his hunting grounds by drawing boundaries with three or four high
spots from which he sings--going from one to the other. "This is mine. If
you come in, I'll chase you out," he trills.
He means it, too. He will chase even a blue jay that enters his territory. It
is quite amusing, in fact, to see him fighting another mocking bird over an
imaginary line. It looks like a dance, and we who look on and try to
interpret the bird's actions are confused because we usually imagine that
one of the birds is his mate and this is a courtship dance. Sometimes it is.
Mocking birds seem to enjoy singing...sometimes, if it's moonlight, they
sing all night... and, now and then, they sit on a street light and sing. They
will mimic almost anything, other birds and even the tunes on a
phonograph record, especially violin solos. One bird mimicked a woman
calling her cats so well that the cats came, looked at it, and meowed for
Someone long ago decided it was proper to call the American
animal the opossum and the Australian one possum. They are
very similar and actually, the term "opossum" is very seldom
When a little possum is born, it is about the size of a bumble bee,
has no eyes, no ears, no fur, and no hind legs. It crawls into its
mother's pouch where there are about twelve nipples, attaches
itself to one, and stays attached for several weeks.
When it comes out of the pouch, it reminds us of a small kitten.
It rides on its mother's back, holding on to her fur and tail with
its claws and tail. Both front and hind paws are like little hands,
making it possible for it to pick up things with its hind paws as
well as its front ones. Not only that, it can pick up things with its
long, pink, scaly tail. In fact, it carries leaves wadded into a bunch
in that tail and lines its nest with them.
It eats everything--dead animals, fruits of all kinds, mushrooms,
insects, mice, moles, rats, birds and their eggs, snakes, fish,
frogs, and lizards.
The possum may get into your garbage
can, and if he does not finish the
food when he is full, he will
just sleep there. He is
not apt to hurt
when it comes
time to fight, he
The oddest wild animal that we have in Florida is the
armadillo. He seems to be a composite of all other animals
put together. He has a shell on his back like a turtle, fur on
his stomach and legs like a pussy-cat, feet like a bird, a face
like a horse, ears like a mule, and eyes and nose like a pig.
He reminds people of a pig. He even grunts like a pig and
often scares campers by grunting around their tents at
night. His pig-like nose is used for digging up the soil to find
insects. Since he is in the anteater family, he not only likes
to eat insects, but he has to because he has almost no teeth.
Instead, he has a long sticky tongue with which to catch
When he finds an ant hill, he digs into it with his long claws.
He gets down into it eating ants as fast as he can, and he
can catch 50 to 60 ants with one swipe of his long sticky
tongue. The ants run all over him. When they bother his
eyes, he wipes his face with a crooked furry elbow just as
we sometimes wipe our faces with our sleeves.
About 1940, there were no armadillos in Florida, but they
got loose from captivity in two places near St. Augustine.
Today, they are in almost every part of Florida, with the
possible exception of the Keys. This is because there is no
animal except the alligator in Florida that knows
how to kill and eat them.
They probably do us a lot of good
because they eat so many
insects, but there are so
many of them now that
our lawns and gardens are
all torn up by them. Some
of the holes are so large
that people, horses, and
cows can break their legs
stepping in them..
RATS AND MICE Fe-
The cutest little white-footed
mice come to visit the camper
as soon as it is dark. They
usually do not go inside his tent or trailer, for they are field mice, but they
pick up every crumb that may have been dropped. Their big ears and their
white and tan (or cream-colored) bodies charm most campers.
One nearly extinct variety of the white-footed mouse is the white beach
mouse. This mouse likes places where the humans have not started to live
and places in the sand dunes close to the salt water.
The rats are not the house rats we hate, but wood rats, water rats, and
cotton rats that stay in the fields. Most of these have hairy tails and white
feet and bellies.
The wood rat is also called the pack rat because he is a confirmed hoarder.
When we find a nest, we sometimes find in it cakes of soap, socks,
underwear, rings, watches, marbles, anything. His nest, itself, is a
wonder...at least here in Florida, where he takes whole palm fronds and
piles them higher and higher. Where a deep-pit privy has not been in use
for some time, he has been known to fill the whole building with his palm
frond nest and other trophies.
From our point of view, rats and mice breed and are born to feed the rest
of the world. They are one of the important food links between the plants
and the meat-eating animals because they eat mostly plants, thereby
passing the sun's energy stored in the plants to the animals.
Florida has three squirrels: the cat or gray Sqt. r e
squirrel, the fox squirrel, and the flying
The gray squirrel is a winning little fellow who is
everywhere, and always friendly. The young are as playful
as kittens, running up and down trees and jumping through the
Squirrels are related to rats and mice, and, like them, have needle-sharp
teeth that will cut nuts, branches, and roots. Besides nuts and tender
twigs, they eat acorns, buds, fruits, seeds, and mushrooms.
When they have had enough to eat, they bury seeds...and later when the
seeds begin to sprout, they dig them up. Of course, they do not find all of
the seeds they buried, and thereby plant trees and bushes.
It is better not to feed the squirrels at all because they become so tame
that they run up trouser legs and shirt sleeves. Above all, do not let them
eat out of your hand, because they frequently get a finger by mistake.
The fox squirrel is a large black, gray, or red squirrel that lives in
the pinewoods. He does not tame easily because he is so shy.
Squirrels are eaten by owls, hawks, wild cats, snakes and
other meat-eating animals.
Florida has three rabbits. The cottontail with his white belly, white feet,
and white pompom tail is the best-known of the three because he seems to
be everywhere, although he really likes open country near some bushes
where he can feed on grass tops, leaves, and seeds.
The swamp rabbit is our largest rabbit, but also our scarcest because he
likes only the Pensacola area...and, of course, Alabama and Mississippi. His
feet are brown and the top of his tail is brown, but the bottom of it is
The marsh rabbit lives all over the state. Instead of hopping, he often runs.
His tail is stubby and brown, his ears are small and he has no white at all.
Since he likes to swim and lives in the dark woods where he has no
shadow, this is a protection. Think how easily an alligator would find him
if he had a white belly, but a cottontail needs a white belly to absorb his
The tiny blind babies are almost safe in a little hole their mother digs and
lines with her fur. They are covered with leaves but, now and then, a wild
cat, snake, a skunk, or a raccoon finds them and eats them. There are two
to six of them, and as soon as they are grown, there will be another litter.
Sometimes here in Florida, there are four or five litters a year. Of course,
they supply the meat-eating wild animals with plenty of food.
It is hard to find deer in Maich and April because they are hiding. The
does have hidden their fawns in the bushes and, although the mothers
don't stay with the fawns, they hide nearby. Evidently, the does are afraid
their scent will attract wildcats and panthers to their babies.
The buck is hiding because he has lost his antlers. As soon as the new
antlers grow, he becomes rambunctious. He scrapes the velvet (which is a
fuzz of blood vessels) off his antlers by rubbing them against a tree.
We like to have deer around because they kill poison snakes with their
razor-like hooves. These hooves will cut a snake to pieces and can kill a
man. Does seldom get mean, but tame bucks do. Fortunately, a deer is
born with a fear of man and will not come too near people unless he is
used to being fed. Even though a tame deer does not become mean, his
tameness may mean death to him for sooner or later when he goes begging,
he will be killed for venison.
Deer, being very fond of rain, come out to feed or play when it rains. They
also feed for three or four hours after sunrise and again in the late
afternoons. After feeding, they lie down to chew their cuds just as a cow
does. The cud is nothing more than the food they have stored in an extra
stomach until they have time to enjoy chewing it.
Skunks have become little beggars in some of our state parks.
They are gentle little animals ready to socialize with dogs, cats,
Of course, they have the strongest animal musk known and a
throwing device at the root of the tail that is target-accurate up to
about 15 feet. However, they will touch noses with a cat or a dog,
and let you pet them until something frightens or angers them.
Then they will stamp their front feet and snarl---!! The spray is
They cannot climb, but they are good diggers, living in burrows
and digging small holes to find insects, mice, turtle eggs, moles,
etc. In some states, they are protected because they catch so
many mice and insects.
If they should get into your trailer or tent, and they are naturally
tame enough to do it, lie or sit still until they have left. DO NOT
TRY TO CATCH THEM OR PUT THEM OUT. If you do get
skunked, the following washes are recommended (every
woodsman has his favorite, and none of them are perfect),
vinegar, tomato juice, gasoline, or ammonia.
-ell / //
Raccoons, commonly called coons, are the smartest, the
cutest, and the most mischievous animals in the woods.
They are related to bears and, like them, go hunting for
food at night, and are willing to eat almost anything edible
that they find. Usually, this food is dipped in water, not so
much because the coon is so sanitary, but because he has
very little saliva and needs the moisture to swallow.
You will see coons digging in the mud for small animals or
climbing trees for berries and fruits. Their front paws are
like little hands with long fingers and they can learn to
open screw-top jars, garbage cans, and doors. They are good
climbers, making it almost impossible to keep them out of
The babies are born in a hollow tree and are blind for a
month. Their mother is very devoted to them and is capable
of killing a good-sized dog in their defense.
FLORIDA SCRUB JAY
The Florida scrub jay is a mischievous '
and friendly, blue-and-gray crow about the
size and shape of a mocking bird--as smart as a
bird as you will ever meet. He lives in flocks of
eight to 20 birds. Like all crows, the flocks have
sentinels and once you have fed them, there is a bird
watching you all the time. When he squawks, almost
instantly you feel their wings touching you and their little
claws landing on your head, shoulders and hands. If you are
offering more than one peanut, it is serious business for the jays, as
one by one they sit on your hand weighing the peanuts to see which is
Those waiting their turn (when the whole flock is there) may impatiently
throw tantrums by jerking their heads back, shivering, and clucking. Books
say that this action is a bid by the female for male attention, but all the
birds at your feet may do it at once, and throwing a peanut to them
insures their doing it the next time.
Hungry or not, they take the peanuts. When not hungry, they bury them
with their beaks and cover the spot with a leaf or a piece of bark. To hide
it? Or to mark it? Anyway, at daybreak, they are out there fussing and
The jay not only knows the hand that feeds him, he knows the cat that
wants him and the cat that does not. He pays little attention to the second
cat, but the whole gang, together, torment the first cat until the cat is
afraid of a jay. After that, the cat and the jays live in peace.
Jays live in pine scrub--white, sandy areas where the sand pines, palmettoes
and the bush oaks grow. As we destroy the scrub for homes and
agricultural purposes, we destroy the Florida scrub jay, because the
stubborn little fellow will not live anywhere else.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR...
Carol Beck was reared and educated in Lafayette,
Indiana, where she attended Purdue University, receiving a
bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in botany
with side majors of English, chemistry, psychology and
educational techniques and Spanish. She later did work
S' with Tulane, Duke and Florida
,. W,',. Universities. She came to
Florida as a high school science
teacher in 1934 and taught 10
Miss Beck started part time
botanical work for the Florida
State Park system in 1942, and
became full time botanist in
1945. Later, she was named chief naturalist and in 1969
became conservation specialist. Most of these years with
state parks, she made her headquarters at Highlands
Hammock State Park near Sebring, where she also gave
nature tours and lectures.
Miss Beck has received several honors: Business and
Professional Women's Woman of the Year, 1955; Florida
Audubon Society's Conservation Award of Merit, 1961;
Florida Federation of Garden Club's President's Award of
Merit, 1968; Highlands County Wildlife Award of Merit,
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