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Posts from the ‘The Animal Kingdom’ Category

It’s World Turtle Day!

The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders. ―Edward Abbey

Gaaa! Today — May 23, 2013 — is the 13 annual World Turtle Day! This special day was created to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.

I love our turtles and tortoises…. I grew up with the giant South Pacific sea turtles (MAGNIFICENT), and now, I always have towels in my car for the sole purpose of transporting wayward turtles on our Florida roads (especially during nesting season, poor babies). If you encounter and relocate one, remember to *always* move them to safety in the direction he / she’s heading. Wildlife needs every tiny bit of help we can offer. More from the Mother Nature Network, in honor of this day celebrating these wonderful guys:

“The earliest turtles evolved up to 300 million years ago, branching off from a group of reptiles more closely related to crocodiles and birds than to lizards and snakes. Lots of turtle species have come and gone since then, including some spectacular ones like the car-sized “coal turtle” or the Koopa-like Meiolania damelipi. But today’s turtles face an unusually widespread danger, with about half of Earth’s 328 known species listed as threatened or endangered with extinction. They’re largely under siege from humans, yet unlike King Koopa, they didn’t bring this on themselves….”

Red-bellied Turtle, Flamingo Gardens, Florida

A Red-bellied turtle finds sanctuary at Flamingo Gardens

Florida Cooter (Turtle) in the Florida Wetlands

A Florida Cooter safely surveys his domain in the wetlands

Visiting with an Ancient Tortoise at Flamingo Gardens, Florida

Visiting with an ancient tortoise at the Flamingo Gardens wildlife rehabilitation center and sanctuary, last year… I would have climbed in for cuddles, if possible.

Sea Turtle, Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Juno Beach, Florida

A rescued sea turtle in rehabilitation at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach

And finally, one of my favorite guys: The always gentle and shy Gopher tortoise! I’m always trying to catch a glimpse of these sweethearts, and have written a few times in this blog about their essential role to our ecology, and the need for their continued protection.

Gopher (Burrowing) Tortoise, Savannas Preserve State Park

Trying my best not to frighten a Gopher (Burrowing) tortoise in the Savannas Preserve State Park

Read more about World Turtle Day, and protecting turtles and tortoises here
and here:

at Mother Nature Network, and at the

Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida, and at

World Wildlife Foundation, and at

Nature artist / writer Denise Dahn’s blog, learn about Gopher tortoises, and finally at


The Butterfly of Doom

Or so it was named by the late 19th-century Russians — leave it to them to label a butterfly as such. It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever heard Butterfly and Doom used in the same phrase; there has to be heavy-metal band with this name out there somewhere.

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Florida Everglades

A Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) rests in the Florida Everglades

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius)

Florida’s abundant all-year blooms provide enough butterfly chasing, even for me. The most common encounter is the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), found throughout the hardwood hammocks, swamps, and Everglades — and designated the official state butterfly of Florida.

Found in North America, Asia, and Europe, territorial male Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) can be found in the same location day-to-day — and as a testament, the images below were shot on separate days, in the same clump of foliage. Red Admirals are dark brown, with brick-red bars and white markings on the tips of the forewings. Although known to be quick fliers, they’re considered a perfect companion for gardens, being very people-friendly, and known to perch on humans.

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Florida Wetlands

The Butterfly of Doom terrifies all

The Red Admiral is considered the favorite butterfly of author and amateur lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977); it’s mentioned throughout his writings, taking a prominent role in the 1962 novel Pale Fire. When scholar Alfred Appel, Jr. asked why he was so fond of Vanessa atalanta, Nabokov replied: “Its coloring is quite splendid and I liked it very much in my youth. Great numbers of them migrated from Africa to Northern Russia, where it was called ‘The Butterfly of Doom’ because it first appeared in 1881, the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, and the markings on the underside of its two hind wings seem to read ‘1881’. There is something interesting in the Red Admirable’s ability to travel so far” (Strong Opinions, p. 170).

According to Pale Fire‘s character — poet John Shade — the original Old English name for the butterfly was actually Red Admirable, which was later degraded to The Red Admiral. In the novel, Vanessa atalanta appears as Shade’s heraldic butterfly, as seen in the verses:

Come and be worshiped, come and be caressed,
My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest
My Admirable butterfly… (lines 269–271, p. 42–43)

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Florida Wetlands

Nabokov’s favorite in the Florida wetlands

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Florida Wetlands

A Red Admirable kindly displaying for the butterfly-chaser

For More Information:

Helping the Monarchs, and Florida’s Monarch Mimics

 Monarch Watch Conservation Campaign Poster

Monarch Watch Conservation Campaign Poster, courtesy of Monarch Watch

In mid-March, news of the severe decline in Monarch colonies was released — a record low. Their population has dropped 59% this year alone. That’s outstandingly sad. Although insect populations fluctuate, experts are concerned about the monarchs’ consistent downward trend. Their wintering colonies in Mexico, which once spanned 44 acres, now encompasses less than THREE mind-boggling acres. It was the topic of an NPR piece recently as well: Majestic Monarch Butterflies Under Threat.

Scientists suspect many factors contribute to the decline, including fluctuations in weather, habitat loss, pesticides on milkweed, and Round-up resistant crops — genetically engineered crops. Basically, the fault lies with us.

Monarchs NEED milkweed. During their long and arduous migration spanning several generations, the female lays her eggs on milkweed plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae in turn feed on the plant. Without this basic necessity, the beautiful monarchs will continue to disappear. This year’s numbers are beyond troubling — but hopefully another eye-opening alert for the GMO industry using the herbicides.

Plant milkweed — it’s pretty! So are the butterflies that will visit…. I’ve planted lots of native butterfly plants, but I’ll be doing more for sure, especially since I don’t see many Monarchs down here in Southern Florida.

Monarch Fall and Spring Migrations Map, Monarch Watch

Monarch Fall and Spring Migrations Map, Courtesy of Monarch Watch

But below are some mimics of the Monarch — the Viceroy and Queen butterflies. The Viceroy, a black-and-orange poisonous butterfly very similar in appearance, doesn’t feed on milkweed like the Monarch, but remains safe because of its similarity to the more noxious-tasting Monarch. Interestingly, the Viceroy has evolved from a tasty butterfly to predators — one that survived on mimicry alone — to one that has adapted further by eating toxic vegetation as well (including willows and poplars).

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

The Queen butterflies also eat milkweed, and the toxins from the plants make them distasteful to predators. Scientists have noted that a bird eating a Monarch will learn and remember that the bright orange coloration and pattern is a signal of unpleasantness — and so a Queen butterfly, with its similar appearance, will be safe. Mimicry! Fascinating stuff.

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus), Hyplouxo Scrub Natural Area

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus), Riverbend Park

Be sure to also check out:

Monarch Watch Shop — Learn how to create a habitat for monarchs

Monarch Watch — LOTS of resources

Flight of the Butterflies in 3D — And how to plant a butterfly garden

Click here to look at the maps and other population graphs of the monarchs, and learn how you can help in their plight

Denise Dahn, artist/writer: An amazing nature artist and writer, here highlighting the history of milkweed and its importance to the Monarch

Happy Birthday, Mr. Audubon!

A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

As I grew up I was fervently desirous of becoming acquainted with Nature.

But hopes are Shy Birds flying at a great distance seldom reached by the best of Guns. —John James Audubon

Happy birthday to one of the most intriguing figures of history, the French-American ornithologist, conservationist, naturalist, and painter. John James Audubon — a man whose influence is keenly felt to this day — documented countless American birds in his gorgeous and brilliant drawings. His masterpiece — the enormous (-sized) color-plate book, The Birds of America (1827–1839), is widely considered to be the finest ornithological and artistic works ever created.

Thank you, sir, and happy birthday!

Audubon, Great Egret, 1821

Audubon, Great Egret, 1821

Great Egret in Breeding Plumage, Florida Wetlands

Great Egret in Breeding Plumage, Florida Wetlands

Audubon, Louisiana Heron (Tricolored Heron)

Audubon, Louisiana Heron (Tricolored Heron)

Tricolored (Louisiana) Heron, Florida Wetlands

Tricolored (Louisiana) Heron, Florida Wetlands

Visit Florida Rambler to learn about his beautiful Key West home, where he stayed in 1832… Discovering 18 new species (well, to the Western world at least).

National Audubon Society Logo — The Great Egret in Flight (Courtesy of The National Audubon Society)

National Audubon Society Logo — The Great Egret in Flight (Courtesy of The National Audubon Society)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

There’s so much color in the depths of South Florida, but this little one’s not native to the area. It’s native to a region where I was raised (roundabout, anyways). When I think of COLOR, my brain always returns to the petite endangered Gouldian Finch — also known as the Rainbow Finch, appropriately.

This spectacularly-colored little bird is native to Australia, where their numbers have decreased dramatically throughout the 20th century due to habitat loss. They remain an endangered species in their natural habitat, with less than 2,500 remaining. While attempts at their reintroduction have proved unsuccessful, thankfully these lovely finches are the subject of a conservation program in Australia. There are currently plans to recover and conserve their natural habitats, with management guidelines in place to educate landholders about land management, promoting the recovery program, and Gouldian Finch conservation. They’re also popular birds in captivity and among breeders, which keeps their general populations higher.

Gouldian Finch (Rainbow Finch), Butterfly World, Florida

Gouldian (Rainbow) Finch posing at his sanctuary in Butterfly World

In 1992, the species was classified as endangered in the wild. That same year, Catwoman stuffed a poor Gouldian into her mouth in Batman Returns — some say, to raise awareness for their plight.

Here’s to wishing all the best for this beautiful and bright little bird!


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