Steephead Salamander Search, and the Apalachicola’s Ice Age Refugees

In a steephead ravine, we enter a landscape as Appalachian as it is Floridian- perhaps a glimpse at the Apalachicola River of the ice ages.  In part 3 of our salamander adventure, Bruce Means climbs down in search of the Apalachicola dusky, an animal he discovered here over 50 years ago.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

“We’re standing at one of the places I most love in this world,” Bruce Means tells the camera.  “There’s a big surprise right behind me.”

Dr. Means stands in an open field, a row of oak trees a short distance away.  When we get to the tree line, we look down.  Up here, all we see are the tops of trees and a slope that descends into shadows.  At the bottoms of those trees, however, lies the promise of rare plants and animals, a few of which aren’t found anywhere but the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines region.  This is a steephead ravine. Continue reading

Bruce Means inspects his dip net, which is full of dead leaves. He is searching for southern dusky salamanders in the Bradwell Bay Wilderness, Apalachicola National Forest.

Bradwell Bay | A Last Refuge of the Southern Dusky Salamander

The Bradwell Bay Wilderness is dark and mysterious- and full of life.  In part 2 of our salamander adventure, Bruce Means searches the swamp for the southern dusky, a critter that has disappeared from almost everywhere else.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

Is there something you love doing enough to do it for over fifty years?  Some do, and that’s why I’m here today.  I’m following Bruce Means into a titi swamp in the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.  He’d scour this place as a Florida State University graduate student in the 1960s, and today we’re on the same mission.

We’re on the hunt for southern dusky salamanders. Continue reading

A Hillis's dwarf salamander perches on the finger of Dr. Bruce Means.

Dwarf Salamander Search in the Chipola River Floodplain

We take an eye level look at the habitat of the Hillis’s dwarf salamander, a species new to science.  Our guide is Dr. Bruce Means, who, along with other researchers, discovered the salamander along regional waterways.  A few months ago, we spent a day in the forest with Dr. Means and an eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

After about an hour of searching for salamanders, Bruce Means stops to grab a drink.  It’s a hot summer day, and about time for some cool refreshment.  He gets down on his hands and knees and presses his lips against the muck on the slope.  There, cool, clean water is seeping from an underground lake, creating the ecosystem favored by the subject of our search. Continue reading

Underwater archeologists excavate the Ryan-harley site on the lower Wacissa River.

Seeing the Ice Age Wacissa Through Artifacts and Fossils

Last week, we met Morgan Smith’s team and got to know their archeological sites on the Silver River.  Today, we’ll revisit their Wacissa River site, see some of the artifacts and fossils they’ve found, and learn what they can tell us about ice age Florida.   We’ll also look ahead to potential off shore digs.

Special thanks to Shawn Joy, Morgan Smith, and Matt Vinzant of Karst Underwater Research for letting us use their underwater footage.  Morgan’s research is sponsored by the Felburn Foundation, Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University, and the PaleoWest Foundation. He would like to thank the Silver River State Park, Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

In the video above, we visit three archeological sites on two rivers.  When you watch footage from each sites, one sticks out as the most visually striking.  It’s an underwater cavern at the head spring of the Silver River, and it’s full of mammoth bones.  It looks like a cool place to explore.  But it’s also the site with the least scientific value. Continue reading

Morgan Smith, in full scuba gear, descends into Silver Springs' (Florida) head spring, also known as Mammoth Spring.

Underwater Archeology in Florida Part 1 | Silver River Mammoths

Last year, an archeological site on the Aucilla River made international news when an artifact was found in sediment radiocarbon dated to 14,550 years ago.  This makes it one of the oldest sites in North America, further evidence that people were here earlier than once believed.  We catch up with the research team behind that find.  Our area is a hotbed for underwater archeology; in fact, our many waterways might be our greatest archeological asset.

Special thanks to Shawn Joy, Morgan Smith, and Matt Vinzant of Karst Underwater Research for letting us use their underwater footage.  Morgan’s research is sponsored by the Felburn Foundation, Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University, and the PaleoWest Foundation. He would like to thank the Silver River State Park, Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

“Ocala famous, baby!” Shawn says as he and Morgan look over the cover of the Ocala Star Banner.  In one photo, the two of them are beneath the Silver River in scuba gear, under the headline “Unearthing History”.  Excavating a submerged mammoth kill site might be as glamorous as prehistoric archeology gets, and it looks good on the newsstand. Continue reading

Three monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed plant.

Monarch Caterpillar Predators | Beneficial Insects Aren’t Always Beneficial

If you haven’t seen it, you might be interested in watching our video chronicling the life cycle of the monarch– from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.  We also went down to the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge last fall for a little monarch tagging, and to learn about their Monarch Milkweed Initiative.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

Our second monarch raising season started much earlier this year.  At this point last year, we had just released our first six monarchs; as of Monday, we have released twenty six (we released one on August 21, just after the eclipse).   Continue reading

A red wolf puppy peeks out of its artificial den at the Tallahassee Museum.

Red Wolf Pups at the Tallahassee Museum | July 2017

These puppies are running!  The Tallahassee Museum’s red wolf pups are three months old, and visibly larger than the last time we saw them.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

If you’ve been visiting the Tallahassee Museum looking to catch a glimpse of their red wolf pups, you’ve been out of luck.  So far, anyway.  They’re growing fast, and their behavior is changing as they grow.  There is a pattern to my two shoot days with them.  After the animal exhibit trails close, they start to poke their heads out.  When the animal staff heads out on their cart, the four pups come out and explore. Continue reading

Red Wolf Pups at the Tallahassee Museum | June 2017

We’ll be visiting the Tallahassee Museum every few weeks to see how their four red wolf pups are growing.  If you missed it, we had previously visited the Museum when their mother was pregnant with them.  We also took a look at the Museum’s role within the overall effort to restore this native predator to the American southeast.  We also visited Saint Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, a red wolf island propagation site within the system.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

Yesterday, the Tallahassee Museum reopened its red wolf exhibit.  Their four new pups are two months old, and they’re still kind of shy.  But, if you’re patient, you may get a look at one of them.  Last Friday, I took a camera down to get the shots in the video above.  After two-and-a-half hours, people stopped coming and little heads topped up from the wolf den.  Thirty minutes after that, perhaps they felt better about my presence; they came out and played with their dad for a few minutes (The mom came out for a total of ten seconds during my time there). Continue reading

Adopting an Ephemeral Wetland | Kids’ Adventures in Citizen Science

(Above) Zoe, Dylan, and Max sit in a field of bog buttons after a day of sampling ephemeral wetlands in the Apalachicola National Forest.  Read more about their adventures in citizen science below.  Thanks to Dylan’s dad, Don, for letting us use his photo.  And thanks to my wife, Amy, for taking most of the photos below.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

After a picnic by the water, the kids all pile into a surprisingly sturdy hammock.  Four sets of arms and legs shift and bulge against the hammock’s mosquito netting, laughter mixing with the occasional “Ow!”   They’re wearing fresh, dry clothes after a wet and muddy Sunday morning.  Citizen science can be dirty work, after all. Continue reading

The Coastal Dune Lake Watershed | Connected by Fire and Water

Over the last year, we’ve explored many aspects of fire ecology.  Today, we see how fire helps water move through the coastal dune lake watershed, connecting pitcher plants and nesting shore birds.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media 

The snowy plover, sitting on its nest by the coast, is connected to the pitcher plant growing by the upland forest.  We’re at Deer Lake State Park in Walton County, Florida, tracing this bond through a coastal dune lake watershed.  Water, of course, unifies this system.  But for that water to move through the system how it should, it needs fire. Continue reading