American Alligators, the Florida State Reptile, are common in South Florida — and can even be spotted in some PBC Parks. In this episode of Animal Encounters, Daggerwing Nature Center Manager, Sean Mallee, shares some interesting facts about the American Alligator, including a number of useful adaptations the reptiles have! This episode features Nibbles, an Animal Ambassador at Daggerwing Nature Center.
Written by Autumn Horne, Asstistant Naturalist, Daggerwing Nature Center
Here at Daggerwing Nature Center, the bat houses are open for business! Our small homestead is accepting all qualified members of the Order Chiroptera with echolocation in good standing. Chiroptera, which is Greek for “hand wing,” is the order to which all bats belong, and we are excited to have collaborated with fellow hand-wing lovers Shari Blisset-Clark and John Clark of the Florida Bat Conservancy to erect a whole new bat housing development on the Nature Center’s grounds in Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park. As nocturnal species, native bats spend all day at home, and what a privilege it is to be able to provide our fellow airborne earthlings with a safe roost in which to rest their weary wings.
But bats aren’t the only beneficiaries of the arrangement, we humans win too! Bats play an essential role in keeping our ecosystem healthy and functioning, they’re great pest control, seed-dispersers, and pollinators. Plus bats are the only mammals capable of true flight, and it’s tough to beat an early evening sighting of bat-crobatics.
Here in Florida, we have 13 resident bat species (either found year-round or seasonally), two of which are listed as endangered: the Florida bonneted bat and the gray myotis. However bats can be found everywhere on the planet except in some extreme deserts, polar regions, and on certain isolated islands. Our Florida bats are all considered insectivores, and a single little brown bat can eat as many as 1,000 insects in just an hour! Told you it was a win-win situation. And after they eat all those bugs, what happens on the other end? Well, if you can make it past the ick factor, bat poop, also called guano, is some super sensational excrement. Guano is an amazing fertilizer, has little odor, is fungicidal, and is sometimes even sparkly…move over unicorn poop!
But why become a bat landlord? Can’t bats find their own houses? Currently nearly 40% of American bat species are in severe decline, or already listed as threatened or endangered. According to Bat Conservation International, “…bats are under unprecedented threat from widespread habitat destruction, hunting, accelerated climate change, invasive species, and other stresses. Without concerted international action, their populations will continue to fall, driving many species to extinction.” And as we know, bats fertilize, bats pollinate, bats disperse seeds, they keep the insect population in check, so by creating safe homes for bats, we are not only helping insure the survival of a fellow creature, but their survival ensures our survival as well! To quote John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
So here’s to all our chiropteran friends, and a huge thank you to Shari and John for the important work they do with Florida Bat Conservancy. If you’d like to learn more, stop by the nature center and have a chat with a naturalist, or visit floridabats.org.
Welcome to Power of Parks, a podcast produced by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, where we share inspiring stories from people who have benefited from nature, parks and recreation.
Episode 12 features Jana Cooper, an avid nature lover who manages the Instagram Page, @walkyourpathfl. On the page, she shares photos from her adventures in and around trails, parks, outdoor gardens, museums, and natural areas in mostly South Florida. In the podcast, she shares her passion for nature and explains why everyone should get out to a trail for their mental and physical wellness.
Did you know that the Bald Cypress Tree is a water-loving tree? Daggerwing Nature Center Naturalist Lila Capra takes us through some cool facts about the Bald Cypress Tree, including how it’s beneficial for both humans and wildlife!
Do you know how Kingsnakes find their food using their tongue? Daggerwing Nature Center Manager, Sean Mallee tells you how – as well as other interesting facts about the Kingsnake, an Animal Ambassador at Daggerwing Nature Center.
The Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department (PBC Parks) participated in the national Parks for Pollinators campaign, which was aimed at raising public awareness of the importance of pollinators and positioning parks as national leaders in advancing pollinator health. Organized by the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation, the Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz event was held during the month of September.
PBC Parks created a project – named Parks for Pollinators 2020: Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation – in the iNaturalist app, which was shared with NRPA and added to the national campaign. Participants used the iNaturalist app and website to record and identify observations of various plant and animal pollinators found in parks, natural areas, backyards, and other locations throughout the county.
The PBC Parks project recorded about 1,000 observations, more than 370 species, more than 100 identifiers, and nearly 150 observers on the iNaturalist app.
“Participating in the NRPA Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz was a really fun way to engage our community to support pollinators and to draw attention to the importance of our park system’s wildlife habitat,” said Jennifer Cirillo, PBC Parks’ Assistant Director.
Parks play a key role in protecting and preserving pollinators and their habitats, and BioBlitz events are designed to create a literal snapshot of plants, insects and animals to see what wildlife is present in local parks. The activity not only let participants safely explore their local parks and learn more about the species through the iNaturalist mobile app, the information gathered also provided specific data on the species located in the parks — which can help park and recreation professionals manage those spaces for biological diversity and build ecological resilience.
In addition to featuring the project and link on the PBC Parks website, additional BioBlitz activities were included, in order to provide the community with more ways to understand the importance of pollinators and their impact on the environment.
The PBC Parks project can be found here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/parks-for-pollinators-2020-palm-beach-county-parks-and-recreation
Do you know the differences between Native and Non-Native Apple Snails? Daggerwing Nature Center Manager, Sean Mallee tells you how to spot the differences between the two, as well as the benefits of Native Florida Apple Snails on the Florida ecosystem!
Volunteer Spotlight: Meghan and Taylor Morrison have been volunteers at Okeeheelee Nature Center (ONC) for 6 months, where they work as greeters, education docents and animal caretakers. Providing quality animal care is necessary at ONC for their animals to remain healthy, especially since they have 23 animals inside the nature center to manage. Volunteering requires extensive training, detailed reporting and teamwork. Volunteers spend their shifts cleaning enclosures and preparing food amongst other tasks like prepping for upcoming programs and events, including prepping their arts and craft activities. Ultimately, there isn’t much Taylor and Meghan haven’t done for the nature center and it’s even more amazing that they have learned it all so quickly and accomplished so much in the 6 months they have been with ONC. “Their position title should really be All-Around Volunteer!”
They have made an impact at ONC with the absolute love they both have for the nature center animals and willingness to drop everything in their personal lives to come in and volunteer. Before the pandemic caused facility closures, they helped the nature center staff run their school programs more smoothly and efficiently, ultimately improving ONC’s reputation with the schools. Meghan has also assisted on other special event programs, in particular, getting the arts and craft activities preset for ONC’s upcoming Gopher Tortoise Celebration Days! All in all, Taylor and Meghan are huge helps to have around and ONC staff are super appreciative of the time they have dedicated to ONC and their animals. In 6 months, they have already put in 170 hours of volunteer service, that is true dedication!
Even though they are twins, they are two unique individuals who together make an extraordinary volunteer team. The twins have this enthusiasm to help with just about anything, which is crucial at ONC, since their unofficial motto is “never a dull moment at ONC.” They come in eager to work and care for the animal ambassadors every day they are at the nature center! For Volunteer Coordinator Emilie Travis, it is always a joy to know they are scheduled, which makes her job easier and more fun!
The biggest personal benefit that Meghan receives as a volunteer at ONC is the opportunity to work with and learn from such amazing people and animals, and getting to learn about South Florida’s ecosystems first hand. For Taylor, it’s the relationships she has developed with the amazing people (and animals) of ONC that have helped her grow her confidence and passion for helping others, both of which will greatly help her as she begins her masters degree this fall.
Taylor received her Bachelors degree in Secondary Social Science Education from FAU, and participated in color guard/marching band while in college. Currently she is pursuing a Masters Degree in Student Affairs from FAU. She’s one minute older than Meghan. She loves painting and crafting. She previously worked at Disney World as a park greeter. She loves raccoons. Meghan is finishing her Bachelors degree in English with a minor in theater from FAU, and actively participated in various projects with the theater department and Office of Leadership and Service Learning. She also loves cats, baking, spending time with her family and helping others any way she can.
Do you know why these flightless Grasshoppers are called “Lubbers?” Watch this episode of Animal Encounters to learn this and other cool facts about the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper from Daggerwing Nature Center staff!
Okeeheelee Nature Center, through the Friends of ONC, was recently honored to receive a grant from the Gopher Tortoise Council. The Donna J. Heinrich Environmental Education Grant was established to support organizations committed to developing educational projects about the gopher tortoise and the fascinating world in which it lives. Gopher tortoises are protected in Florida, and are considered a keystone species because the burrows they dig provide shelter to many other animals. Over 350 commensal species have been recorded in gopher tortoise burrows, especially during the periodic wildfires that are part of life in gopher tortoise habitats.
Protecting gopher tortoises, and teaching visitors about them, has always been an important part of ONC’s educational mission. Gopher tortoises have been living at Okeeheelee Nature Center since 1985, when 83 tortoises were relocated to the nature center’s pine flatwood forest from a retail construction site. Today, there are 90 to 100 gopher tortoises living in ONC’s preserve, including many of the original tortoises from the 1980s. They are commonly encountered by hikers and other nature center visitors, so education is key to ensuring that the tortoises and their habitat are respected.
Alex Melligon has been an Assistant Naturalist at Okeeheelee Nature Center since February of 2019. Her regular duties include animal care, teaching school and public programs, creating educational content, and interacting with visitors. When asked what she likes best about her job, Alex said, “I like that we can follow our curiosity. If we have an idea for a program or project, we are able to use our talents and creativity to explore, incorporate our interests and reach new audiences.” Since COVID-19 has put ONC’s in-person programming on hiatus and closed the nature center building, special project work has become the focus.
As luck would have it, the proposal for the Gopher Tortoise Council grant included two projects that were planned with Alex’s special talents in mind. You see, in addition to her skills as a naturalist, Alex is also a gifted artist! Since childhood, she has been interested in arts and crafts, including drawing, jewelry making, ceramics, and textiles. Alex explained, “To me, art is a fun way to express myself, and it’s a good feeling to create something with my hands, especially if it’s something useful.”
The first grant-funded project Alex took on was to design an educational gopher tortoise booklet for children. The ONC team helped brainstorm ideas for activities and content, and then Alex researched tortoise facts, wrote the text and drew all of the pages by hand. Through puzzles, games, reading, and coloring, the booklet helps children learn about the importance of gopher tortoises and how they can help protect them.
When asked what aspect of the project she was most proud of, Alex said, “I think the best part of the activity book is that it gives simple, concrete things for people to do to help tortoises, while also providing the whys behind it, and still being fun and engaging for kids.” The activity book will be available to children visiting the nature center and participating in any special programs that focus on gopher tortoises.
Alex’s second artistic endeavor took her a bit further out of her comfort zone. Another component of the grant was to create a 10 x 4.5 foot mural depicting life inside a gopher tortoise burrow. Alex said it was a challenge because, although she has always loved doing art, “I didn’t really consider myself a painter, and I had certainly never attempted a large mural.” However, she still remembers being fascinated by the beautiful ecosystem murals at her local nature center while growing up in New Jersey, so she was hopeful that she could create art that would have a similar lasting impact on Okeeheelee’s visitors.
Looking at how well the project turned out, no one would ever guess that this was her first attempt at a large scale painting! The mural features a tortoise at the entrance of a burrow that is opened in cross-section to show the burrow structure. It also highlights key features of tortoise habitat, including beneficial native plant species, and shows several commensal animal species that can be found inside tortoise burrows.
The mural provides a unique glimpse into the underground life of a gopher tortoise and the ecosystem it helps support. Since it is a visual education piece, it will spark curiosity and convey information to all ages and all types of learners. It will be displayed in ONC’s Children’s Discovery Zone, but it will also be mobile so it can be featured during programs and special events.
Alex explains that, “Teaching children about nature is important to me because I believe it is our best chance to keep our environment safe and maybe even make it better in the future.” She hopes these gopher tortoise projects inspire the next generation of young artists and conservationists in the same way she was inspired by the murals she saw as a child. Alex brings so much passion for the environment to Okeeheelee Nature Center, whether she is teaching, caring for animals, supporting operations, or contributing through her artistic talents.
All of her coworkers and volunteers feel very fortunate to have her as part of the ONC team!
Submitted by: Heather Moody, Okeeheelee Nature Center Manager