Reader’s wildlife photos

November 6, 2019 • 11:30 am

by Greg Mayer

A corespondent from Florida sends the following photos from Fort Myers. First up, a giant or marine or cane toad (Bufo marinus) that is living under a beehive. In this first photo, you can see that the variegated coloring is fairly cryptic against the leaf litter background.

Bufo marinus, Fort Myers, Florida, 3 November 2019.

Getting a little closer, a few things are notable. First, from the body shape (which I am tempted to describe as “jowly”, despite the fact that it’s her abdomen that’s distended), I can tell this is a fairly large individual. My correspondent, unprompted, stated it was about 15 cm long, which sounds about right for a big one. The biggest ones are in the Guianas, where they get to about 25 cm.

Bufo marinus, Fort Myers, Florida, 3 November 2019.

Second, as the preceding sentence implies, she is a female. Females are larger, and retain the brown/black/tan blotching and spotting of the juveniles. This coloration is typical of many species of toads at all ages, and in both sexes. Adult males of marinus are distinctive in becoming uni-colored in some olive drab-like shade (see a male here). And finally, note the large parotoid gland extending from above the arm towards the eye. This gland can secrete a milky toxin, which is part of the toad’s defenses.

These toads, native from the lower Rio Grande down into South America, have been introduced into Florida, and to many other places, including islands in the West Indies and the Pacific, and Australia, where they picked up the moniker “cane toad”, which is rapidly becoming the vernacular name throughout the English-speaking world. I always called them “marine toads”, from their scientific name. They are not marine (although they can be found in brackish situations), and it’s just a coincidence that U.S. Marines have landed in so many of the places that the toads were introduced (e.g. Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, New Guinea, the Philippines, etc.).

Next up a brown anole (Anolis sagrei). This species and its close relatives are widespread in the West Indies, including Cuba and the Bahamas, and have, like the toad, been introduced in to Florida and many other places. The green anole, Anolis carolinensis, native to Florida, is now perhaps less abundant than prior to the arrival of sagrei, but the native is not threatened by the invader. In Cuba, the two species (or close relatives) live side by side, with the green anole higher in the vegetation, the brown anole lower, and this ecological situation has now been replicated in Florida; the two species were “preadapted” for coexistence by their long joint history in Cuba.

Anolis sagrei, Fort Myers, Florida, 31 October 2019.

Last but not least, something higher on the scala naturae, an anhinga, Anhinga anhinga, drying its feathers. These diving birds, which stab their piscine prey with their bills, do not have waterproof feathers.

Anhinga anhinga, Fort Myers, Florida, 31 October 2019.

The American Alligator

January 11, 2014 • 5:10 pm

by Greg Mayer

Another Florida correspondent sends this picture of several American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) in Oviedo, Florida.

American alligators
American alligators

They’re at a combination bar, gift shop, and wildlife refuge (the kind of place Florida specializes in, I gather!) on the shore of Lake Jesup. Alligators are said to be abundant in the lake, and a few are kept on display near the gift shop. You can still see on the alligators’ flanks some remnants of the yellow stripes typical of young alligators. These look to be somewhere in the vicinity of 7 feet (the one back right is smaller), but that’s just a guess. There are well authenticated records of alligators 19 feet long, but none that big has been seen in a long time.

Like the Brown Pelican, American alligators are also a conservation success story. Greatly depleted by both the draining of swamps and hunting for the leather trade (boots, handbags, etc.) through the 19th and 20th centuries, they received federal protection in the 1960s, and by 1987 they had recovered sufficiently so that alligators are now subject to endangered species regulation only because they can easily be confused with species that are endangered. (In federal jargon, that means they are “threatened by similarity of appearance”.) They are now common in many areas, and hunting/trapping them, and selling alligator products, is once again broadly legal. (Much commercially marketed alligator meat and other alligator products comes from alligator farms, not from wild alligators.) Live alligators, mostly through the pet trade, pop up all over the US.

The Brown Pelican

January 9, 2014 • 5:49 pm

by Greg Mayer

My Florida correspondent sends this picture of a Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) taken on January 9, 2014, along the Caloosahatchee River in Ft. Myers, Florida.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), Ft. Myers, Florida, 9 January 2014.
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), Ft. Myers, Florida, 9 January 2014.

The pelican above is an adult (note white neck with yellowish wash on head; both are brownish in juveniles) in non-breeding condition (when breeding, most of a pelican’s neck becomes chestnut red).

Brown Pelicans are a conservation success story. Persecuted for their feathers by the hat trade in the 19th and early 20th centuries, DDT in the mid 20th century nearly finished them off, as the thin egg shells caused by the pesticide accumulating in their primarily fish diet led to their near total disappearance from the Gulf Coast and southern California. They were listed as endangered in 1970. DDT was banned in 1972, other recovery actions were taken (including re-introductions), and by the mid 1980s the species was recovering, and some segments of the range were delisted in 1985; the remaining range was delisted in 2009. It is now considered a species of “least concern” by the IUCN.

I’m not sure if the Caribbean populations were ever considered endangered. They were fairly common in both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands during my field work there in the 80s and early 90s.

I mentioned that pelicans’ primary food is fish (which is how the pelicans ingested DDT), but thanks to Youtube, it is now widely known that pelicans also occasionally eat birds (have a look here). I’ve never seen, however, a Brown Pelican feeding this way; they always seem to be Great White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus). Perhaps this is because Brown Pelicans typically feed by plunge-diving, which would not work so well if your prey-pigeon is standing on land, while Great Whites do more rooting about and grabbing things.