In the first full month of summer, we can peer back at some of the animal highlights of the Southwest Florida spring.
Spring 2012 around Gasparilla Island was a time of wonderful sights and sounds as critters went through an accelerated process of feeding and breeding.
Reptiles are ectotherms and must bask in the sun to elevate body temperatures, increase digestion and become more active metabolically.
Beach-nesting species such as the snowy plover are disturbed greatly by human activities.
It is common to see the iguanid anole lizards basking but a rare male southeastern five-lined skink was found sunning itself on a palm tree in my yard. Typically these skinks burrow in shallow litter but this adult male with red jaws and cheeks was raising its body temperature to protect its territory and court females.
These lizards, whose young have bright blue tails, have long been considered dangerous in folklore tales they may be toxic to predators. Little is known about this relatively common lizard.
Another reptile, which becomes remains active in summer's hot weather, is the coachwhip snake. Unfortunately, found dead on road is often the only evidence of its presence. This is an impressive snake with a strange color pattern - black head and neck are quite distinctive. This is a predator on young birds or lizards or virtually any animal small enough for it to swallow.
William Dunson, Ph.d., professor emeritus of biology at Penn State University, splits time between Southwest Florida and his farm in Galax, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Another reptile that loves the heat is the gopher tortoise, which is especially common on Palm, Gasparilla and Don Pedro islands where they have special protection. This female has a flat lower shell or plastron and short tail. She uses the small anterior protrusion of the shell to flip over rivals.
One gopher tortoise dug a new burrow in the side of our septic tank mound. This is an example of how some human activities can benefit animals, in this case by providing soils elevated above the ground water table and thus more suitable for burrow construction.
Spring-time activities in the avian world are legion on Gasparilla Island. Birders were rewarded this spring during migrants and breeding seasons.
No migrants - except warblers - are more avidly awaited than the tanagers and orioles, which were late arriving this year. We were excited April 12 to see a male summer tanager in a black mulberry tree having a snack.
Strangler fig trees loaded with fruit drew hundreds of cedar waxwings to gorge this spring. Waxwings sit after quickly eating their fill of large fruit and then allowing it to digest. No tree is more attractive to them than these native fig trees.
Ospreys love Gasparilla Island and their antics and calls are continuous. Some human activities have benefited this species such as the poles they often use to nest.
Beach-nesting species such as the snowy plover are not so fortunate since they are disturbed greatly by human activities. Breeding adults look for a nest site free from the pervasive presence of humans on beaches.
Some birds actively seek food from humans such as the great egret that will even walk into a house if allowed. It will accept food of all types although I discourage this type of un-natural feeding. But this species is more successful than many wading birds because of flexible foraging behavior.