Archives for category: Critters


Panoquina ocola

Family/Subfamily:  Skippers (Herperiidae)/Banded Skippers (Hesperiinae)

Egg: single green on host plant leaf

Laval host:  various grasses

Frequency:  common in Florida all year round

Nectar:  On Womack creek in early fall on Marsh sunflower, climbing aster and climbing hempvine.  In the summer buttonbush and pickerel weed.


P1050585Urbanus proteus

Family/subfamily:  Skippers (Hesperiidae)/Spread-wing skippers (Pyrginae)

Egg: single pale yellow on underside of host plant leaf

Larval host: legumes, wisteria, kudzu, beggarweeds

Nectar:  On Womack Creek commonly seen on fall flowers:  climbing hempvine, climbing aster, swamp sunflower

Migrates to frost-free areas of Florida in winter.

The lower photo is of the underside (ventral) of the wings.


Agraulis vanillae

Family/subfamily:   Brush-foots (Nymphalidae)/Longwing Butterflies (Heliconiinae)

Egg:  single yellow laid on host leaf

Larval host: Passion flower species, maypop

Larva: orange with greenish black stripes and black branches spines

Frequency:  All Florida

Gulf fritillary can also be seen on climbing hempvine which blooms on the creek at the same time.

In the spring and summer the gulf fritillary can be seen in southeastern US where they lay their eggs.  In late summer they migrate further south to frost-free areas of Florida.   They can be found throughout Florida.



Dolichovespula maculata L.

On climbing hemp vine.   Can also be seen on climbing aster which has a longer bloom period (September-November.)

The baldfaced hornet is really a yellow jacket, with a sting  worse than many yellow jackets.   It is very protective of its nest and can sting repeatedly.   Unique to this species is the capacity to squirt venom from its stinger into the eye of the nest intruder, causing watering of the eye and temporary blindness.

Hornets are social insects living in a matriarchal order.  The queen bee, a fertilized worker bee,  overwinters in logs, stumps or soft ground cover. With spring, she begins construction of a paper nest, lays eggs, and collects insects to feed the larvae as they hatch out.  The first generation of workers  continue with the nest building and maintenance, foraging for food and caring for the young. The queen’s duty, after that, is to continue to lay eggs.  A colony can be as large as 700 bees and the nest, the size of an elongated basketball.   The nest  shown in the photograph above was about 20 inches long and very active.

From spring through summer the eggs all develop into female worker bees.  In the fall the queen lays eggs which become either male or female.  When fully matured, these bees mate.  Apparently the male drone bees exist to fertilize the females.  Drones do not sting.  The fertilized adult females overwinter.  They become colony builders (queens) the next season.

Even in north Florida, old nests are abandoned after each season.  Except for the fertilized worker bees, the whole colony dies after a season, including the queen.

Hornets feed on nectar, tree sap, fruit pulp,  insects and other arthropods.  They have been known to scavenge raw meat.

Animals which prey upon the hornets are raccoons, striped skunk and fox.   They tear the nests apart in the fall when the nest is not as active.  They eat the adults, pupae and larvae.

P1020412Gopherus polyphemus

Family: Testudinidae

Endangered species due to loss of habitat

Next to bathroom building in a fenced enclosure.  Please respect its right to exist free from human harassment.

The word “tortoise” is applied only to exclusively terrestrial species and does not include the terrestrial box turtle.  Hence, the gopher tortoise is the only native tortoise found east of the Mississippi.  However, the African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata), purchased from pet stores and released, have been noted in Florida.   These feral tortoises grow to more than 200 pounds (males), 100 pounds (female).  It is illegal to release the African spurred tortoise.

Gopher tortoise’  trace their descent from a  species of land tortoise which inhabitated western North American 60 million years ago.

Averaging at maturity from 9 to 11 inches long,  they can live for 60 or more years in the wild.   Their burrows average 15 feet long and 6.5 feet deep and maintain a fairly consistent humidity and temperature.

They need habitats in which fire is not suppressed because their diet is mainly tender herbs which occur where is no heavy shrubbery and undergrowth.  They eat wiregrass, broadleaf grassses, legumes, prickly pear cactus, blackberries, paw-paws, saw palmetto berries and other seasonal fruit.  They will also feed on dead animals and excrement.  They prefer sandy soils in areas with sparse tree canopy and with lots of low growing vegetation.  Their deep burrows protect them from periodic forest fires, essential if they are to thrive.

Sexual maturity is from 9-21 years and they usually breed in early spring.  The nest is dug close to their burrow opening and a clutch of 4-7  ping-pong sized eggs are laid, hatching from 80-110 days.  The sex of the young are determined by the temperature of the sand or dirt in which they are laid, above 85 degrees,  female;  anything below, males.   The hatchlings are from 1-2 inches long and they grow about 3/4 inches a year.  The young may spend the first winter in the mother’s burrow.

An important animal in its ecosystem, its burrows are shared with over 350 other species, such as indigo snakes, burrowing owls, rabbits, gopher frogs, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, gopher crickets, Florida mice, opposums.  Gopher tortoises are a keystone specie:  its existence enables other species to survive.  As gopher tortoise populations shrink, so do the animals which rely upon the burrows of this reptile.

A good source of additional information for children and parents is


This is another gopher tortoise opening which may have been abandoned along road leading to Nick’s Road campsite.   Discovered on November 10, 2016.



May 25, 2014. This much larger owl (and mate across the creek) remained on the same perch as we went up the creek and down back again. It was much larger than the barred owl seen over a year ago.







Strix varia

18-22 inches long, common in woodlands.  Gray-brown, large liquid brown eyes, streaks (barring) on breast and belly, spotted white back.

Hoot:  hoohoo-hoohoo…hoohoo-hoohooaw, with the “aw” dropping at the close.

Range:  Newfoundland/Quebeck/Saskatchewan to Florida through Texas, in wet or swampy woodlands (also ranged of Red-shouldered hawk). (Peterson)

This photo on 4/13/2013 caught by a solo paddler on the creek.  Owl flapped loudly to a branch about 14 feet downriver from kayaker and while the paddler was fumbling to get to the camera flew over the paddler to a tree just upstream.   Paddler turned upstream and with a strong single stroke paddled under the tree.  The owl turned from facing downriver to upriver where it was caught on camera.   We hear these owls from late afternoon throughout the night while camping at the Womack Creek campground.


The above photo was taken on April 11, 2018 near the mouth of Womack creek before it joined the Ochlockonee River.

P1010815-001Papilio glaucus

Larval host plants:  wild cherry, white ash and Sweet bay

Nectar source:  Pinxster azalea and available flowers.

One of the state’s most familiar butterflies.


P1010509Aythya americana

Male:  mostly gray body with black chest and a round red-brown head, bill blue with black tip.   Female:  brownish with a broad grap wing-stripe and a suffused light patch about base of bill (Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds).

Winters from New York to Gulf.   Photo taken 3/13/2013.  It was alone.

Breeds in Saskatchewan and Manitoba south to Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan.

We had called this a canvas-back duck originally, but was corrected by someone who hunts in Nebraska. (Thanks to alert viewers!)



Nyctanassa violacea

Family:  herons, egrets, bitterns

Description:  22-27″, medium sized heron.  Adult: slate-gray, black head, white cheeks, yellow crown and plumes, black bill, yellow or orange legs. Immature: grayish brown, fineley speckled with white.

Locations:  wooded swamps and coastal thickets.

Nesting:  southern New England to Florida and west to Texas, mainly near coasts.  3-5 blue-green eggs in a nest of stocks in a tree or occasionally on the ground.

Saw a pair on 3/13/2013.   These herons are so well camouflaged they seem not to take to flight as quickly as others herons, but remain still on the branches, even when a photographer is under the tree, clicking away.


P1050569P1010344Bombus spp.

This bumble bee has a full pollen basket (corbicula).  It is the corbicula which differentiates the bumble bee from the carpenter bee.  The top photo was taken on October 10, 2013 on a climbing aster.   The lower photo, in March 2013, shows a parsley haw blossom.

All five species of bumble bees found in Florida can be found as far north as Canada.  They are less common in South Florida and absent in the Florida Keys.

They are social insects and live in colonies.  Fertile queens winter in the soil and appear in early spring to feed on flowers.  They seek nests in former rodent burrows to begin a new colony.

Bumble bees are important pollinators.  The sting can be painful and with sometimes severe reactions.

A sub genus which has lost their ability to colonize and to gather pollen are cleptoparasites on the pollen collecting Bombus species. The female bee lays her egg in the egg cells of pollen collecting bees, which larvae are subsequently fed by these bees.  Generally, most wasps and most bees, do not feed larvae which are not their own species.  They do not have corbicula and the most common of this type of bee is Bombus variabilis.

This bee was photographed on March 12, 2013.