Fish and Wildlife to the Rescue

Florida panther kitten FWCFish and Wildlife personnel rescue wildlife all the time. Sometimes they rescue rare wildlife. But this week there were two rescues of critically endangered species in adjoining states. Actually, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staffers were involved in both rescues.

Off the coast of Georgia, a rescue team that included Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologists cut over 100 yards of heavy fishing rope from a 4-year-old male North Atlantic right whale, allowing it to swim more easily. The young whale one of only about 450 remaining North Atlantic right whales.

Read the Georgia Department of Natural Resources press release here.

In Florida, biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida discovered an approximately week-old Florida panther kitten while conducting research at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County in mid-January.

There are 100 to 160 Florida panthers in the wild today, but this kitten will no longer be among them. Because it is too young to have learned survival skills from its mother, it will have to live in captivity. But with a gene pool this small, even captive individuals help with diversity.

Read the Florida Wildlife Commission press release here.

Photo: When you look at this Florida panther kitten, make sure you are thinking, “populations, not individuals.” Photo by Carli Segelson, courtesy Florida Wildlife Commission.


Mapping Bears in Florida

bear tracksThe Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking citizens to report sightings of black bears or their tracks to a new mapping website. It is particularly interested in reports of females with cubs or of cubs alone, a press release states.

“Our bear range data is 11 years old, and we are excited about getting the public’s help in identifying all the places where bears now live in Florida,” said FWC bear research biologist Brian Scheick in the press release. “What we learn from the new bear sightings Web page will inform the FWC’s efforts to document bear distribution and help with future bear management decisions,” Scheick said.

The citizen science bear mapping project follows on the heels of a successful FWC effort to map fox squirrels. We covered it back in October 2011. And a more recent mink mapping effort, that we covered in July.

Read the FWC press release here.
Read an article in the Orlando Sentinel here.
Go to the FWC black bear sighting registry, here.

New Python Trap From APHIS

wp_c_python_trap_image006It’s got to be a really big snake to trip the trap recently patented by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC). But that’s the point. The idea is to live trap invasive pythons in Florida while leaving the native snakes alone. One difference between the native snakes and the non-native pythons is that the pythons tend to be a lot bigger.

“Though the trap is based on a standard live trap design, the Large Reptile Trap is the first to require two trip pans to be depressed at the same time in order to close the trap door. The pans are spaced such that non-target animals are unlikely to trigger the trap,” said NWRC wildlife biologist and trap inventor John Humphrey in a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) press release.

The big question now is: will it work?

Read more about the trap and the invasive python problem in Florida in the Christian Science Monitor, here.Or read the APHIS press release here.

Photo: New python trap. Courtesy USDA APHIS.

Got Mink?

mink-at-denThe Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) would like to learn more about Florida’s three subspecies of mink, and it is reaching out to the public for help.

“We know that mink are more likely to be found in and near salt-marsh habitat on both coasts of Florida but the reports people provide will help us pinpoint where we do research,” said Chris Winchester, wildlife biologist with the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in a press release issued by the commission this week.

For reasons unknown, mink appear to be absent from the freshwater streams, rivers and wetlands of central and northern Florida, the commission website says.

The effort includes an on-line mink sighting registry that includes a mapping tool. A similar Google Maps tool was used in a FWC public outreach effort to locate fox squirrels. That effort was quite successful. We covered it back in October 2011.

Read the FWC press release here.
Read the additional information on the study here.
Find the mink sighting registry with Google Maps tool, here.

Photo: Mink looking out of den. Photo credit: Patrick Leary, courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

USFWS Turns ESA Take Permits Over to Florida

Florida_Scrub_JayLast year the US Fish and Wildlife Service quietly handed over the responsibility for issuing incidental take permits for species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Now, two environmental groups, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservancy of Southwest Florida, have given the US Fish and Wildlife Service 60 days to settle with them, or they will sue.

The Tampa Bay Times article notes that Florida developers were pleased with the switch to state control over the federal endangered species law. That may be because, the article says, two members of the eight member Florida commission are developers and a third is a paving contractor.

The feds turned over EPA enforcement to the Florida state government as well, the article notes.

Read the whole Tampa Bay Times article here.

Photo: Florida scrub jay, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Is a Bad Diet Killing Manatees?

manateeFirst it was the manatees in southwestern Florida. A red tide is killing them. Then manatees started dying on Florida’s east coast too, although there the cause is a mystery.

An article in the Tampa Bay Times says that the manatees’ bellies are full of algae, and since manatees usually munch on sea grass, that may be the problem. With the sea grass killed off by previous toxic algae events, perhaps the manatees are eating algae, which is not giving them the nutrition they need.

Read the Tampa Bay Times article here.
Mother Jones also covered the manatee insanity, here.
The Florida Today report includes video.

And it’s not just manatees that are dropping dead in Florida. According to Florida Today, over 100 pelicans have been found dead in Brevard County in the past two months.

“The pelicans are emaciated and have heavy parasite counts, and, to our knowledge, other bird species have not been affected,” said Dan Wolf, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission researcher in a commission press release.

Read the Florida Today pelican article,here.
Read the FWC press release, here.

Photo: courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Butterfly Heads and Tails

Great_purple_hairstreak_on_Common_dogbaneRecently published research from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity provides experimental confirmation that the thing that looks like a second head on the back wings of some hairstreak butterflies does indeed protect the butterflies from predators, as has long been guessed.

The surprise was what predator it provided protection from. The conventional wisdom has said that adaptive coloration protects butterflies from birds, the researcher, Andrei Sourakov, says in a University of Florida press release. But this research showed that  the fake heads were very successful at deterring jumping spiders — which easily took down other butterflies without fake heads on their hind-wings.

This may not be much help in day-to-day wildlife management, but it is a cool piece of research, and with several hairstreaks endangered or threatened at the state level, you never know when you’ll be writing up a hairstreak management plan.

The University of Florida press release.
The open access Journal of Natural History paper.

Photo: Great purple hairstreak by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes/University of Kentucky, used courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

How Vertebrates Invade

lizardrainbow_500x328If Junior decides that his cool new pet isn’t all that cool, and his parents decide that the best way to get rid of it is to let it go in the backyard, what are the chances that it will become an invasive species?

In a recent paper in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, researchers from the University of Nebraska studied both successful and unsuccessful introductions of non-indigenous vertebrate species in Florida.

For reptiles and amphibians, the biggest predictors of establishment were a small body size and a wide range in their homelands. For fish, the biggest factor was if there were other members of the fish’s genus present. Mammals became established when there were other non-native species already in the habitat. No clear pattern was detected for birds.

This research certainly doesn’t explain Florida’s python invasion, but it can provide valuable ideas for analyzing the risk of known releases or in creating importation white lists and black lists.

Read the Global Ecology and Biogeography abstract here. (Full article requires a fee or subscription.)

Photo: Rainbow lizard. Small(ish). Check. Wide range in its native land. Check. Established population in Florida. Check. Photo by Kevin M. Enge, used courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Razorbills Take A Florida Vacation


Razorbills are typically birds of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Some winters they’ll show up in New Jersey or as far south as Virginia, giving bird-watchers a thrill. This black-and-white auk is not quite like anything else seen on the East Coast.

So imagine the surprise when razorbills started showing up in Florida. Not just one or two, but well over a hundred of them.

eBird had the story on their blog two weeks ago. The photo of razorbills flying over palm trees is worth a look.

The Florida media is catching on as well. Florida Today ran a story the day after Christmas. It says the birds are “penguin-like.” Well, the razorbills are black and white, and are bowling-pin shaped, but they fly. (And are from a different hemisphere, but that’s a mere detail.)

EBird says that the razorbills probably did not head south for warmth, mojitos or a vacation, but in search of food. That’s not good news.

Read the eBird blog, here.
Read the Florida Today story, here.

Photo: Razorbill, somewhere in the north Atlantic, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Florida Announces Python Contest

python challenge logoNon-native Burmese pythons are disrupting the south Florida ecosystem by devouring native wildlife. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and its partners have used just about every tool in the box to try to control Burmese pythons in the state. Now it is trying one of the oldest wildlife control methods out there: competitive harvesting.

The FWC says, in a press release that the goal of the 2013 Python Challenge is to increase public awareness of this ecological threat. The contest will last a month, beginning January 12, 2013, and will award $1,500 dollars for the most Burmese pythons collected and $1,000 for the longest Burmese pythons in two categories of contestant, the general public and state python permit holders.

Contestants must complete on-line training to identify Burmese pythons and pay a $25 registration fee. The prize money, a Miami Herald article reports, will come from the entry fee and commission partners.

Now for a bit of editorializing: if it works, it will be the best $5,000 the commission never spent. But the risks are alarming. The on-line training appears insufficient (find it here). The better of the many possible poor outcomes is that the prize money won’t inspire enough people to scour south Florida’s public wetlands for what can be a dangerous snake. Part of the contest rules require that you own a GPS device or a smart phone to track your own movements during the python hunt, which is yet another barrier to participation.

At worst, greed and inexperience will mean people are hurt and native snakes slaughtered. Let’s hope FWC got it exactly right. If they did, it could provide a valuable model for other invasive species efforts.

Read the FWC press release here.
Read the Miami Herald article here.
Find the Python Challenge website here.