Category Archives: Natural History

Shark Attack

A shark chased a fish to the beach at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

I was standing at the edge of the surf on the beach at Cape Canaveral, Florida, looking for dolphins to photograph, when I heard thrashing sounds in the surf on the beach about ten feet away. It was a shark, about five-feet-long, attacking a fish. It was a ferocious struggle. Too close for comfort. Another reason why I never swim in the ocean!

I don’t know what kind of shark it was.  I’m guessing that it was a tiger shark, because of the shape of the head and because it was so aggressive. But I’m not a shark expert.

Here’s a list of sharks you might find off the coast of Cape Canaveral and nearby Cocoa Beach, Florida.  Seven Florida Shark Species.

A fishing site describes the seven shark species: Descriptions of Seven Florida Shark Species. 

About the Tiger Shark.

Click on this photo to see more details:

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The Turtle Hospital, Marathon, Florida

The Turtle Hospital is housed in the former Hidden Harbor Motel in Marathon, Florida. The Turtle Hospital opened its doors 1986 with four main goals: 1) rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, 2) educate the public through outreach programs and visit local schools, 3) conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles (in conjunction with state universities), and 4) work toward environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.

I love turtles, so I was glad to see The Turtle Hospital exists to help sea turtles in distress. My husband and I visited The Turtle Hospital while visiting Marathon in the Florida Keys.

The Turtle Hospital, 2396 Overseas Highway, was the first state-certified veterinary hospital in the world for sea turtles. Among the threats to sea turtles are monofiliment entanglement, rope and net entanglement, boat hits, oils spills and tar, intestinal impaction from eating debris, such as cigarette filters (which look similar to shrimp) and plastic bags, coastal development that can damge nests and disorients adults and hatchlings from artificial light, and fibropapilloma tumors that result from a virus. Also, turtles also can suffer from extreme cold when they don’t migrate to warmer waters soon enough.

The Turtle Hospital, which is housed in the former Hidden Harbor Motel complex, is funded entirely by donations and tickets sales to visitors, who take a tour. The motel owner Richie Moretti founded The Turtle Hospital. After a hurricane ruined the motel, Moretti decided to dedicate the motel entirely to turtle rescue.

Five species of sea turtles are found in the waters of the Florida Keys: Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Green (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii).

This Kemp’s Ridley turtle is recuperating in a tank in The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida. Every year Kemp’s Ridley turtles are found cold stunned on New England beaches. Volunteers will look for these cold stunned turtles on the beach and transport them to the New England Aquarium, according to The Turtle Hospital. Once they determine that they are stabilized and ready for transport, they get shipped south. They do not fly commercial, they get volunteer pilots from “Turtles Fly Too!”

 

Green Turtles

Green Turtles that have been hurt in accidents, been damaged from net entanglements, have ingested foreign materials or suffer from diseases are taken care of at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida.

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Elk Photo Shoot

Here are three of the seven bull elk that lounged and grazed in a neighborhood where friends and I stayed in Estes Park, Colorado.

My husband and I visited several U.S. National Parks in the last year and a half, and we didn’t see one large mammal — even in Yellowstone National Park, where you can always see bison.  I’d seen plenty of elk, moose and bison a few years earlier, but I had entered an animal drought. I was determined to see some elk on our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) in early November 2018.  We stayed just outside of the park in the town of Estes Park.   I was very eager to shoot a few elk with my new camera.

We’d visited RMNP in August, and I only saw a large ground squirrel in the park.  During that visit, we’d hoped to see bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes, where we’d seen a herd in a visit a few years ago, but the ranger report this year indicated that the sheep hadn’t visited in a week.  We waited for two hours, anyway, before giving up.

This “I Saw an Elk in the Rocky Mountains” hand towel was a gift from friends who knew how excited I was to finally see some elk.

We were returning from our second no-elk trip from RMNP, when friends texted me that there were seven bull elk lounging right outside our condominium building! My friends seen one or two elk before, but the elk had always eluded me. On our way to the condo, we saw a large herd of elk — females led by a big bull elk. They were so magnificent.  There were elk all over the town of Estes Park!  We went from visual famine, to visual feast.

The elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) is one of the largest species within the deer family, Cervidae, in the world, and one of the largest terrestrial mammals in North America and Northeast Asia.

This bull elk groomed himself after rubbing his antlers against a tree near a condominium parking lot in Estes Park, Colorado, in early November. The rutting season was over, and this guy missed out on romance, but he’s keeping himself in shape and looking good. Maybe next year he’ll find success. In the meantime, he’s hanging out with his other male friends.

In early November, the rutting season was over, but these two bull elk decided to spar a little. They apparently didn’t attract any lady elk this year, but it doesn’t hurt to practice for next year’s mating season.

In Estes Park, Colorado, elk graze in neighborhood yards and freely travel the streets and highways. In the lower right photo, a bull elk bugles to his herd of females to follow him.

A herd of female elk, plus one bull elk, rest on a traffic island in Estes Park, Colorado. I took this photo through the car window, so it’s not that great, but it does give you an idea of how much the elk feel at home in the town.

 

Bull Elk Bugling, Estes Park, Colorado Photo Print

Bull Elk Bugling, Estes Park, Colorado

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Florida Panther Crossing

Florida panthers must navigate traffic, maneuver around walls and traverse ever growing human populations in the Florida panther’s habitat in south Florida. Here are panther crossing signs warning drivers in Naples, Florida, to watch for panthers.

I would have loved to have seen a Florida panther in the wild while in Florida this past winter, although it’s best that they remain away from people.

Florida Panther crossing signs show the perilous route that Florida panthers must take to traverse their territory. They must cross busy streets flanked by walls and navigate through the ever growing construction of homes in South Florida.  There are wildlife refuges for panthers to live in, but their actual territory is much larger, and even in refuges they can be hit by cars. The panther currently occupies only 5 percent of its former range.

Florida panthers are the larger of Florida’s two native cat species (panthers and bobcats). The Florida panther is an endangered population of the cougar (Puma concolor) that lives in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mixed swamp forests of South Florida in the United States, according to Wikipedia.

Panthers are listed as an Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act.  There are approximately 120-230 adult panthers in the population, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  There has been some progress in increasing the panther population since the 1970s and 1980s, when it was estimated only 20 to 30 panthers remained in Florida.

As the human population of Florida continues to grow, panthers will find it harder to find a place to live.  Twenty-one million people currently live in Florida; 16 million lived in Florida in 2000. It is one of the fastest growing states and is the third most populous. People are attracted to Florida because of its climate and long coastline, and I can’t blame them.  I enjoyed a month there this year.  Along with Hawaii, Florida is one of only two states that has a tropical climate, and is the only continental U.S. state with a tropical climate. It is also the only continental U.S. state with a coral reef named the Florida Reef.  Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, approximately 1,350 miles (2,170 kilometers).

In 1982, the Florida panther was chosen as the Florida state animal.

Florida Panther Population Update.

About the Florida Panther.

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Strangler Fig in Big Cypress Nature Preserve

Strangler Fig, Big Cypress Swamp, Florida Poster

Strangler Fig, Big Cypress Swamp, Florida.

In the photograph above, a strangler fig embraces a cypress tree in Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. The strangler fig is (Ficus aurea) one of the most striking plants in the Big Cypress swamp in Florida. It grows around the host tree, actually strangling its host over time.

The strangler fig is an epiphyte, a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, such as the numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks in tropical rainforests. However, the strangler fig is the only epiphyte that will affect the host in which it grows. The strangler fig grows very slowly as it matures, extracting water and nutrients directly from the atmosphere. As the plant gets larger, it may grow both up and down the trunk of the host tree. Eventually, the strangler fig will reach the ground and start growing more rapidly. The strangler fig encircles the roots of the host tree, eventually killing it. As the host tree rots away, a hollow void is left with the strangler fig standing alone.

Each of the 750 fig tree species found throughout the world are pollinated by a wasp specific to each fig, according to the Big Cypress National Preserve official website. The fresh waters of the Big Cypress Swamp, essential to the health of the neighboring Everglades, support the rich marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast. Protecting over 729,000 acres of this vast swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther.

Big Cypress National Preserve official website.

History of Big Cypress Swamp

The Fascinating Strangler Fig of Florida. 
Click on the thumbnails to see a full-size photo.

David Attenborough, BBC Wildlife:

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Bountiful Butterfly Garden

A male monarch butterfly sips from a tropical milkweed flower in my neighborhood butterfly garden. Just a few weeks ago, almost two dozen Monarch butterfly caterpillars were feasting on these milkweeds. Is this an adult returning to his nursery before heading off to begin the journey to a winter in Mexico?

A male monarch butterfly sips from a tropical milkweed flower in my neighborhood butterfly garden. Just a few weeks ago, almost two dozen Monarch butterfly caterpillars were feasting on these milkweeds. Is this an adult returning to his nursery before heading off to begin the journey to a winter in Mexico?

As summer draws to a close, our neighborhood butterfly garden is now a flowering paradise finally crowded with bugs and animals. During June, July and August, the garden reminded me of a dinner party where few of the guests showed up, despite the mass of plants that bloomed all summer. We did get a lot of rabbits, who found the young plants very tasty and ate them almost to the dirt.  Joan, one of the hardest working neighborhood gardeners, built cages around the tender coneflowers and tropical milkweed plants so that they’d have a chance to provide food for other animals, and of course to be beautiful for our enjoyment.

A Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed flower in the neighborhood butterfly garden.

A Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed flower in the neighborhood butterfly garden.

I’ve seen many types of butterflies in the garden this week.  The two species I plant specifically for are the Monarch Butterfly and the Black Swallowtail Butterfly.  We plant food plants for the caterpillars and lots of flowering plants that butterflies and other pollinating insects prefer for nectar. For Black Swallowtail caterpillars, we plant bronze fennel and parsley. Monarch Butterfly caterpillars will only eat milkweed, and they sometimes are picky about which kind of milkweed.  Tropical milkweed is the most popular milkweed in our Kansas City area garden, and it has lovely scarlet and yellow flowers, too. Unfortunately, it’s an annual in our climate so it has to be re-planted every spring. I buy my plants from Monarch Watch on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas, at their plant sale in May. Monarch Watch sells a lot of plants for butterflies and other pollinators.  Their butterfly garden is worth visiting.  They also have an open house in September every year.

Protecting and fostering pollinators is good for the environment and for our food supply. A large percentage of our food plants must be pollinated to produce a crop. On a recent visit to the garden, a ruby-throated hummingbird whizzed by me. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, which are also pollinators, also visit the feeder at my house.

The Monarch butterfly population is in serious decline, so I would encourage everyone with a yard to plan a butterfly garden.  To find out more click on this link: Monarch Watch.

In the upper left is a Red-spotted Purple butterfly. The lower left is a Painted Lady butterfly. Can anyone tell me in the comments what the other two butterflies are? Can you see the insect lurking or resting under the petals of the coneflower?

In the upper left is a Red-spotted Purple butterfly. The lower left is a Painted Lady butterfly. Can anyone tell me in the comments what the other two butterflies are? Can you see the insect lurking or resting under the petals of the coneflower?

In the top left photo, a Black Swallowtail caterpillar eating fennel. In the lower left photo, a crowd of Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat parsley. In the upper right photo, two Monarch butterfly caterpillars thrash around as their antennae meet. In the center right photo, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar eats Tropical Milkweed. In the bottom right photo, Black Swallowtail butterfly eggs glisten on the narrow leaves of a bronze fennel.

In the top left photo, a Black Swallowtail caterpillar eating fennel. In the lower left photo, a crowd of Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat parsley. In the upper right photo, two Monarch butterfly caterpillars thrash around as their antennae meet. In the center right photo, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar eats Tropical Milkweed. In the bottom right photo, Black Swallowtail butterfly eggs glisten on the narrow leaves of a bronze fennel.

Here is a collage of photos from the founding days of the neighborhood butterfly garden. The top photo is from 2012, a hot summer in which I had to bring gallons of water from my house to water the new plants, because the sprinkler system didn't provide enough water. The bottom three photos are from 2013.

Here is a collage of photos from the founding days of the neighborhood butterfly garden. The top photo is from 2012, a hot summer in which I had to bring gallons of water from my house to water the new plants, because the sprinkler system didn’t provide enough water. The bottom three photos are from 2013.

An empty Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a butterfly bush.

An empty Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a butterfly bush.

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Sue, The Tyrannosaurus Rex

Sue in the Main Hall

Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex, in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois.

When I visit Chicago, Illinois, I like to visit my old friend Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex. In early April, my husband and I got re-acquainted with Sue when we were in the city for a wedding.  We braved unseasonably cold weather, high wind (well, it is Chicago, the Windy City) and some snow and ice to see the old gal.  She looks pretty good for 67 million years old, although she does admit to some cosmetic help.

When I was refreshing my memory about Sue’s many attributes and history, I was thrilled to read that the T rex mural on the wall behind Sue is by John Gurche, a University of Kansas graduate. I’d met John Gurche years ago while I was at KU and am always happy to discover one of his works. I bought his dinosaur stamps, and of course I never used them on an envelope. (What would happen to the U.S. Postal Service is all of the stamp collectors suddenly used all of their stamps as postage!)  Gurche’s work is featured in museums and in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian and the Boston Globe. He was named one of the 2013-14 Distinguished Alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, the highest honor from the College.

I’m not sure when I’ll see Sue again, so I will get my next fossil fix at the KU Museum of Natural History.  And one of these days I’ll post my story about a dinosaur dig I went to in Wyoming near Newcastle.

About Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

 

Dinosaur Stamps

John Gurche’s U.S. Postage Dinosaur Stamps.

About John Gurche.

 

 

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