Alligators and more

The swamp is full of some of the conspicuous and charismatic creatures to which visitors flock to see, and love to photograph. The chance to spot a panther or python draws in the adventurous, with alligators and wading birds being the standard-bearers that most people spot. Cypress domes | Strands and sloughsSwamp mosaic?Flood and fire | Marl Prairies | UplandsBotany | Alligators and more | Life cycle of a pond apple | mangroves

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Tortoise and Hare of the Swamp
And why they both deserve participation trophies

South Florida’s water cycle …

Resembles the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.

Rainfall is fast and evaporation is slow, but over a year they usually balance out.

Think of rainfall is the Hare.

Summer rains are drenching and drainage of the swamp’s flat landscape poor. That causes water to rise rapidly and stay there through the summer and into early fall. But come mid October the wet season ends.

That’s when the Hare falls asleep and the dry season begins.

The Hare sprints ahead from late May into early fall

Enter the slow and steady Tortoise:

Evapotranspiration is slow and steady worker – some would say inexorable. As dry season weeks turn into months and the Tortoise marches on, by some point in the winter and definitely by spring pretty much all the water in the swamp is gone. Or in other words, drought …

And yes, wildfires, too.

Come spring the Tortoise catches up

But not so fast.

All it takes is one big rainstorm for the Hare to wake up, hurdle the Tortoise and sprint ahead out of sight, but not for long. Unlike the real fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, south Florida’s annual race called the water cycle has no beginning or end. Or in more scientific terms: The swamp is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depend on a goldilocks dosage and return interval of flood and fire to maintain the health of the swamp mosaic.

And the winner is …

Moral of the story:

The Tortoise and Hare are both winners. Participation trophies for both!

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Tidbit: The south Florida rainy season lasts from mid May to mid October, or about 5 months.

Bobby Angel Campfire

Ballad of a Florida Panther
Engineer and panther forge a lasting bond

How to you make a road safe …

for the panthers (and other animals) that cross it?

Bobby Angel is a troubadour of the Nature Folk Movement (NFM)

In this Bobby Angel standard, the singer/songwriter recounts the story of a transportation engineer named Krista who was called in to help prevent panthers from getting hit by vehicles on the Tamiami Trail. It’s one of the swamp’s most scenic roads, but also one that crossing wildlife often finds itself in harms way. At some point the song veers off into fantasy with the transportation planner and panther escaping into nature and forging a relationship for life — but is it fantasy, really, or just how life should really be? To answer that question, you’ll have to watch the video and judge for yourself.

Be sure to stay on after the song to hear an interview with Bobby Angel about the song. Topics discussed include an exclusive inside scoop on the making of the smash hit, including never before revealed details on his first sighting of (what he thought initially) was a “large dog,” why they used to be more rare than seeing Ivory-billed woodpeckers, the movie magic of he videos opening scene, and how the use of silhouettes really make the video pop.

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Crayfish carapace
And why the live ones are underground

Usually when I find them …

They are dead.

Fish, wading birds, otters and alligators eat crayfish

Crayfish enjoy algae, aquatic bugs and small fish

Crayfish holes can extend 3 feet deep (so I’ve read)

But wherever I find them there is usually also ample evidence that they are alive, in the form of tiny tunnels that wormhole out of sight into the marl where often but not always the water table can still be seen. It sort of reminds me of how alligators wallow out water holes, but on a smaller scale.

That brings me back to finding them dead. I’ve never been pinched by a crayfish, but I have been pinched by a blue crab, and yes that hurt. But who could blame the crab: Being a Marylander, I’ve eaten dozens of them in a single sitting, and probably over a thousand my entire life. Or in other words, I deserved to get pinched.

Crayfish are the base of the food chain

Meanwhile in another part of the glades, there’s a patch of peat that is completely bereft of crayfish holes. The reason? The amplitude between summer wet season water depths and the spring dive of the water table below the ground is too great. The culprit is a nearby canal and levee called the L-28 Interceptor. The good news is that there’s a plan to fill the canal in and take the levee out. The result? While the future is always uncertain and there are no guarantees, my hope is more crayfish holes, even if when I find them they are always dead.

A carapace in the hand is worth two underground. (Not sure if the final catch line works … but you know what I mean.)

Swamp or glades gator?
And how to tell the difference

To the undiscerning eye …

This probably looks like a glades gator.

As seen in the southeast corner of Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve

The dead giveaway is the open river of grass and the tree islands in distance (looking south), right? And for anyone who lives in the swamp (not many), they know that Big Cypress gators typically make their home a circular-shaped cypress dome or a linear swale of cypress called a strand. However, on technicality, the gator shown in the photo above is officially ruled a swamp gator for the reason its alligator hole is located in the southeast corner of Big Cypress National Preserve. That being said, I wouldn’t rule out him having cousins on the glades sides of the dotted line.