February 2018

February 2018


Great Blue Herons are mighty hunters


Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield  
Published: 2018-02-27  

Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield

Published: 2018-02-27  


Great blue in his breeding plumage. Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield

Great blue herons like to hang out anywhere there is water, which may include backyard ponds and random places like roadside ditches. They enjoy hunting in freshwater and saltwater because I'm certain they have stomachs made from steel. If you see these birds you may think it is just hunting for fish and tadpoles, but it's likely eyeballing juvenile Godzilla because based on what I've seen herons will eat anything.
Here's a short list and by no means a complete of the delicacies that Great blues enjoy:
  • baby alligators (baby alligators are at high risk of all kinds of predators)
  • snakes 
  • aquatic insects
  • frogs
  • fish the size of a puppy 
  • probably a puppy if small enough and in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • small mammals (marsh bunny babies beware)
  • other birds
  • anything in your goldfish pond that is alive
  • baby turtles
  • crayfish
  • crabs
Great blues will nest in trees or on the ground. Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield

Once paired up a couple will remain monogamous until the next breeding season (perhaps not the fairy tale ending expected, but that's nature). These birds are protected by state and federal laws because there was time in our not-so-long ago history that people preferred bird feathers as an accessory for hats rather than just appreciating the feathers on the bird.
There is a white form of the Great blue heron, which I'm still struggling with identifying since it looks like the White egret (so tips are welcome here).
One of the many reasons that I love Florida. Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield

He's probably about to catch a small child. Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield

This is not a Great blue heron white morph. It's a White egret with the best Uber ever. Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield




Snapshots of our local love birds - Happy Valentine's Day


Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield  
Published: 2018-02-14  

Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield

Published: 2018-02-14  


We hope everyone has a peaceful and beautiful day.

Our resident love birds  Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield
They're gorgeous when they aren't attacking the garage windows Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield
Looking for lunch Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield
 Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield
Peaceful day Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield
 Photo Credit: Clare-Anne Canfield




Elephants Have Extra Protection Against Cancer


Written by: Neil Copes  
Published: 2018-02-13  

Written by: Neil Copes

Published: 2018-02-13  


Photo Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

A simple rule of math states that for multicellular organisms: more cells equals more chances for a cell to become cancerous. An organism with 200 cells has twice the number of cells that could become cancerous as an organism with 100 cells, etc. Based on this fact alone, large animals should have higher rates of cancer formation than smaller animals, and animals like elephants and whales should have significantly shorter lifespans than smaller animals like humans. 
Given that elephants live as long as humans, and blue whales live much longer, there must be something else going on here. In 2015, it was discovered that elephants have extra copies of the p53 tumor suppressor gene. Just recently, researchers at the University of Chicago found that elephants also have an extra copy of an anti-cancer gene called LIF (leukemia inhibitory factor). Now, if I can just figure out how to pull off a similar trick for myself!
Photo credit: Clare-Anne Canfield




Watch out for holes in the ground, they may be burrows.


Written by: John Canfield  
Published: 2018-02-12  

Written by: John Canfield

Published: 2018-02-12  


If I told you there is an owl that spends most of its time on the ground and lives in a burrow, would you believe me? . . . Well, you should. Meet the burrowing owl: 
Yes, they have ears... you just can't see them. Photo Credit: Alan Vernon

These guys live in underground burrows that they dig themselves or hijack from another burrowing animal, such as a tortoise or prairie-dog. On top of that, they hunt during the day and spend most of their time on the ground, or on a low to the ground perch. I must admit, they are not what I usually think of when it comes to owls! 

Unfortunately, the population of these beautiful birds has declined significantly in the last 30 years, largely due to habitat loss and the decline of other burrowing animals. Fortunately, these birds will hijack just about any burrow that is of suitable size – and conservationists take advantage of this! In many areas, the use of man-made artificial burrows has really helped to stabilize populations of these lovely birds. See below . . . 
Burrowing owl near a man-made artificial burrow. Photo Credit: George Gentry USFWS

 I will leave you with two fun facts: 
  1. Cowboys used to refer to burrowing owls as “howdy birds” since they often could be seen sitting at the entrance of there burrow bobbing their head at the cowboys, as if to say “howdy” 
  2. Females will often line the entrance of the burrow with animal manure. This draws in dung beetles and other bugs so she can catch a meal without even leaving the burrow while incubating the eggs. That is pretty crafty, if you ask me.  




The Everglades Mink - An enigma in the swamp


Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield  
Published: 2018-02-06  

Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield

Published: 2018-02-06  


You used to could find this subspecies from south Florida to Lake Okeechobee, but hunting, chemical runoff, and habitat destruction dwindled that range to southwest Florida. If you're lucky you may see them in freshwater swamps including Fakahatchee Strand, Big Cypress Swamp, and southern portions of the Everglades, but don't hold your breath because they're not an easy critter to catch a glimpse of.
Mink or phantom? Photo Credit: John Bob Carlos

Like many species of mink, they can be quite aggressive and have the ability to take down larger prey, but they are also vulnerable to predators. Some very disturbing predators are the invasive pythons that are taking a toll on all wildlife in South Florida. 

Everglades mink are reclusive and tough to study, so even though they are classified as threatened and protected many people think that they should be listed as endangered. The truth is that there's just not much known about this species or their population size. 

For more information about work going into learning more about Everglades mink visit The Conservancy of Southwest Florida.




I told You I could Do This Myself: The worm that hasn't had sex in 18 million years


Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield  
Published: 2018-02-01  

Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield

Published: 2018-02-01  


So, Diploscapter pachys, a tiny worm found in soil decided about 18 million years ago that sex was fun and all, but it was absolutely too much work and who can really argue that? 
Picture credit: David Fitch

This little species of roundworm reproduces solely by cloning itself. A life of abstinence wasn't always how this worm would roll, you see there was a time that D. pachys reproduced sexually, but that was around 18 million years ago. 

Is this very important? Well, if you're like me then you learned that genetics is pretty darned important for survival. Sex allows species to mix up their genetics and hopefully make offspring that adapt well to their surroundings without accumulating an enormous amount of mutations that result in extinction.

Picture credit: Karin Kiontke and David Fitch