Category Archives: Wildlife in North Florida- Critters Big and Small

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

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

Mist covers a Saint Vincent Island Beach.

Saint Vincent Island | Where Red Wolves Learn to Be Wild

The following video on the red wolves of Saint Vincent Island premiered at our screening of Red Wolf Revival at the Tallahassee Museum last Saturday.  Next Thursday, April 27, at 8 pm ET Reel South: Red Wolf Revival will air on WFSU-TV.  This award winning documentary looks at the wild population of red wolves, which lives in North Carolina.

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REEL SOUTH is a co-production of UNC-TV, South Carolina ETV, and the Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

If you missed it, make sure to check out our previous red wolf segment, on the breeding program at the Tallahassee Museum.

As in that previous segment, original music was composed for this video by Tracy Horenbein.  Thanks to Tracy, and to Velma Frye and Becky Reardon for allowing us to use their song, Saint Vincent Island.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

Looking at it on a map, you can see how Saint Vincent Island is different than its neighbors.  Think of Cape San Blas, St. George Island, and Dog Island as its siblings, all four birthed by the Apalachicola River.  The others are skinny, while Saint Vincent, the oldest sibling, is, to put it nicely, thick.  It’s not typical of barrier islands in Florida.  However, this size makes it an ideal host for endangered red wolves. Continue reading

Red Wolf at the Tallahassee Museum.

Red Wolf | A Local Predator Finds Help at the Tallahassee Museum

Join us at the Tallahassee Museum on April 15 for a screening of Reel South: Red Wolf Revival.  Red Wolf Revival is an award winning documentary on the wild population of red wolves, located entirely within North Carolina.  We will also screen two shorts about our local efforts to help this endangered predator.  Click to learn more.

REEL SOUTH is a co-production of UNC-TV, South Carolina ETV, and the Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for providing original, local music for this segment.  Tracy composed the score for our Roaming the Red Hills series last year.

Thanks also to Suzie Buzzo, Mike Jones, and the rest of the Tallahassee Museum animal staff for your help.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

I didn’t think they’d put us in the enclosure with the red wolves.

We’re at the Tallahassee Museum, and we just finished interviewing Mike Jones, the Museum’s animal curator.  He has just told us that negative portrayals of wolves in children’s stories have painted an unfair picture of them.  I guess I’m about to find out how unfair. Continue reading

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, coiled.

Into the Forest with Bruce Means and the Eastern Diamondback Rattler

We’re in the Apalachicola National Forest with Dr. Bruce Means and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Bruce is considered a leading expert on this misunderstood species, and has written the definitive book on the rattler, called Diamonds in the Rough. Through its life Bruce has a lot to show us about the longleaf ecosystem.

Music in the segment was provided by Don Juan and the Sonic Rangers.  You can see “Don Juan” Fortner with the Smooth Sailing Jazz duo, and with the Mary and Aaron Band.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

At one point in the video above, Bruce Means, his arm in a stump hole, begins to scream.  Then, he turns to the camera and laughs.  “I love to do that with groups,” he chuckles.  He’s showing us a favorite hiding place of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.  Using a little bit of theater- and citing decades of research- he’s turning an unremarkable burnt out stump into a dynamic refuge within the longleaf pine forest. Continue reading