Megalopyge opercularis, the Southern Flannel Moth, in Ormond Beach, Florida; 15 October 2014

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Megalopyge opercularis, the Southern flannel moth, photographed in Volusia county, Florida (15 October 2014).

We’re starting to bag some lovely cold fronts here in central Florida. Of course, in Florida “cold front” doesn’t quite mean the same thing as it means to our brethren to the north. Still, with near-Arctic temperatures reaching all the way down to the upper-50s, it’s time to pull out the socks, blue jeans, and flannel shirts. It’s also time for the flannel moths to show up in our yards (if they haven’t already).

Featured here is a Southern flannel moth, Megalopyge opercularis. A member of Family Megalopygidae, the Flannel moths, this species can be found year-round in Florida, but is most active during the deep summer months through October. Males are more bodily patterned than females; the individual featured here is, I believe, a male.

Image courtesy Wikipedia, public domain.
Image courtesy Wikipedia, public domain.

Interestingly, the Southern flannel moth’s larval-caterpillar form is coated in a thick, wooly fur laced with venomous spines. The spines are so venomous that medical attention may be sought out by the unfortunate soul who decides to pick up the cute, little ball of cottony fur. Personally, I’ve never seen the caterpillar form of this species, though I have seen a handful of adults over the past few years.

This species, the Southern flannel moth, is quite similar in appearance to the generally-lighter Black-waved flannel moth, Lagoa crispata. In fact, I’d originally misidentified this individual, photographed on my home’s external wall on 15 October 2014, as being a Black-waved flannel moth. Genevieve Dutton, an active and robust Florida naturalist I know on Facebook, was quick to point me in the right direction.

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People often think of the butterflies as being the more-interesting branch of Order Lepidoptera, but I sometimes think the moth branch is where it’s at. I mean, damn… Look at the brilliant patterning on this Southern flannel moth! What a remarkably beautiful and complex pattern and design…

~ janson

Tibicen resonans, the Southern Resonant Cicada, in Ormond Beach, Florida; 10 October 2014

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Tibicen resonans, the Southern resonant cicada, photographed in Volusia county, Florida (10 October 2014).

2014 has certainly proven to be a thin year on the cicada front; we simply haven’t had much activity in our yard this year. That being said, we had a fantastic visitor on 10 October 2014. This is a Southern resonant cicada, Tibicen resonans, photographed on our back patio screen door a bit after 9:00pm.

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An Antlion at Bulow Creek State Park in Ormond Beach, Florida

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Glenurus gratus, the Antlion, photographed in Volusia county, Florida (01 August 2014).

Image courtesy panoramio.com/photo/73545341.
Image from panoramio.com/photo/73545341.

When I was a kid growing up in Florida, I loved messing with antlion sandtraps. You might know what I’m talking about… I’m talking about those tiny little conical traps you find outdoors in loose sand. About an inch or so wide, a tiny little antlion lies in wait like the Sarlaac, hidden just beneath the bottom of the cone, for an ant to stumble into its trap. Once the soon-to-be-victimized ant stumbles into the trap, it tries to climb back out, dragging sand back down into the trap. Then the antlion starts kicking sand up, further dragging the ant to the base of the trap. And then? Then, this captures and consumes the ant:

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At Last, an Eastern Spadefoot Toad!

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Scaphiopus holbrookii, the Eastern spadefoot toad, photographed in Volusia county, Florida (27 September 2014).

This past weekend, I came across a tiny amphibian that’s been on my WANT-list for quite some time. Hidden under a small towel I’d left on my little outdoor “cove,” I was delighted to find this Eastern spadefoot toad, Scaphiopus holbrookii. Though not uncommon, I haven’t seen one of these little fellas in years.

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Green is the Colour… of Fall!

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Hyla cinerea, the American green treefrog (young), photographed in Volusia county, Florida (24 September 2014).

September seems to be winding down, and October looms just around the corner. Pretty soon, Central Florida is going to be thrust into the frigid domain of lower-70s and upper-60s. Time for us all to collectively pull out our Floridian jackets and freedom-hating socks, I suppose. But not yet. No, no, no, not yet. “Fall” in Florida is quite awesome… because we don’t really have one. For us, Fall is simply a subtle slipping from Summer to Winter — the latter being, itself, rather mild by most North American standards. Florida may be a somewhat insane state, but, hey, membership has its advantages. For now, at least.

In some ways, Fall can almost feel like Spring. The intense summer heat eases off a bit, and wildlife can be a bit more active and present, especially as October thickens. As for September, well… It’s often a crazy month. September is the red-flag month for tropical storm activity and erratically powerful thunderstorms. Though we haven’t had tropical storm activity yet this season, we have had some crazed thunderstorms. Last night and this morning, for example, Volusia county was inundated by a massive and powerful thunderstorm system. We’ve collectively had plenty of flash flooding, standing water, damaged property, and blown limbs today. Yay, September!

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A Few of My Favorite Snakes: The Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake, Nerodia clarkii compressicauda

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Nerodia clarkii compressicauda, the Mangrove salt marsh snake, photographed in Monroe county, Florida (09 July 2011).

Continuing our glorious snake run, let’s turn back to the Floridian peninsula and check out this old favorite: a Nerodia clarkii compressicauda, the Mangrove salt marsh snake. A bit smaller than the inland watersnakes, the non-venomous Mangrove salt marsh snake scratches out its living just where the name implies — within and throughout coastal mangrove salt marshes.

I photographed this individual at No Name Key in the Florida Keys. As you can see from the blue-tinted eye, the snake was near ecdysis — the molting of its scales. If you look really closely, you can see me in the reflection of the eye, one arm outstretched with the snake, the other holding my camera. In the last decade, there have probably been more photographs of me reflected through snake eyes than straight-on shots. Heh.

~ janson

A Few of My Favorite Snakes: The Redbelly Watersnake, Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster

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Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster, the Redbelly watersnake, photographed in Lowndes county, Georgia (28 March 2012).

Originally, I planned to write up a big “Life Over The Hill” introspective post in celebration of my birthday, but, well, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. And the lifespan of Dust Tracks is smack-dab in the middle of a watersnake marathon right now. Who am I to stand in the way of Nerodia progress? So, with that in mind, let’s check out this lovely Redbelly watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster) photographed on the Valdosta State University campus in Lowndes county, Georgia.

My home turf is in Volusia county, Florida, on the north-central Atlantic coast of Florida. That’s where I (mostly) grew up and where I currently live. We have a good number of non-venomous Nerodia watersnakes in our area, but the Redbelly isn’t one of them. Truly, having access to Redbellies was one of my favorite parts of living in Valdosta, Georgia from 2011 through 2013. It’s one of the southeastern Nerodia species I simply didn’t have much experience with, and they weren’t really rare in Lowndes county.

Most of the Redbellies I’ve seen along the Gulf-side of Florida and in southern Georgia have been significantly smaller than the typical Browns, Florida greens, and Florida bandeds I’ve come across over the years in Florida. They apparently can average upwards from three to four feet in length, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any above three and a half, if even that.

This individual was caught and photographed in a small creek on the Valdosta State campus. The creek was one of my favorite haunts on campus; it served as home to a number of Redbelly and Banded watersnakes, as well as the random Southern black racer and Gray rat snake. More than once, I had to mentally check myself to not go diving after a snake into the creek just before class… Heh.

Note: This image has been touched up a bit more than usual. Colors were somewhat enhanced, and I also played a bit with blurring the borders. I had fun with this one!

~ janson

words and images by Janson Jones