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The Enchanted Forest

Sunday, February 27, 2011

One of the official activities for Liam and me at the Space Coast Birding and Nature Festival was to help the hugely capable and entertaining naturalist Joe Swingle lead a walk centered around gopher tortoises at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary near Titusville, Florida. Now, what I know about gopher tortoises you could put in an overturned thimble, but Joe took care of all that. Besides, the tortoises were all snoozin' in their digs, because it had been so cold.  I was just along to help people see some stuff they might not have noticed, and Liam was toting Joe's gear and generally adding to the personability of the event. Phoebe came along, too! and so, to our delight, did Bill Webb.

About the first thing I noticed was some really scuzzy looking sabal palm fronds, and I wondered what might have scraped all the chlorophyll bearing layers off of them. So I turned the frond over and found an amazing network of frass and then tiny silken cocoons which I was too excited to photograph, wanting instead just to show it to the kids on the trip. Kids tend to get much more excited about natural history stuff than do most adults. No wonder I get along well with kids.

See that nasty pale area near the rachis? Well, the cocoons and frass networks were under the leaf.

So in Chimp CSI mode I dig around and carefully opened one of the silken cocoons, a process which fascinated the kids, and found this little culprit

which I could tell was going to eclose into a very small but long-winged moth. Which species, as yet unknown, but butterflies make chrysalis capsules, not silken cocoons, so we knew it was a moth. Cool!

Photo by Machele White from

When I got home I Googled it and found our pupa to be a palm leaf skeletonizer, Homaledra sabalella.  Which is a pretty cool name for a tiny, unsurprisingly brown moth. I dunno. I just liked the idea that there was a moth whose caterpillars were out scrapin' sabal palms for all they were worth.

We did some other things like percolation tests which we all enjoyed, seeing visible evidence that organic matter in soils (leaves, sticks and the like) greatly slows percolation in Florida's sand.

Bill Webb's photo of me and Liam, which he titled Science Chimp and Cub.

There was mistletoe in the oaks

growing in green balls in the leafless trees, reminding me of seeing the old black men with their car trunks full of mistletoe they'd shot out of the oaks in Tidewater Virginia, selling it on the old highway to Williamsburg, when I was a kid. 

Looking down, there was Innocence, Houstonia procumbens   (Rubiaceae), which reminds me of its close cousin Honesty, or roundleaf bluet (Houstonia coerulea). Only in albino midget form. I also like the idea of plants with just one name. Innocence. Honesty. Chastity. Cher. 

Moving along the trail, we found fresh bobcat pugmarks, which about made my eyes roll back in my head. Bobcats are not nearly the huge deal in Florida that they are in Ohio. Oh gosh I love bobcats. I love the idea of bobcats. I have seen three wild bobcats in my life (first in Texas; second in North Dakota, and third about this time last year, 8  miles from our house!) So I could die now and still be happy.  Here's my hand for scale. That's a big ol' pussycat.

And even better, a fresh bobcat log!

At this point I'm down on hands and knees trying to figure out how the earth got piled up near this turd with no visible scratch marks from the cat. Derr....I'm mumbling to myself when a voice comes from behind me, surmising that this is the sign of dung beetles working from below. Oh, now, I'm loving that, because we are short on dung beetles in Ohio. Lots of dung, not many dung beetles. Gotta do something about that.

And the voice belonged to...

Floridacracker! (pictured here with his candy-apple red, nattily spotless JEEP, a vehicular extension of his personality if I have ever seen one)

who made the trip over to the festival to meet me and the kids!

I am not sure I will be able to adequately convey how much it meant to me to meet this man at last, having enjoyed his creative output for years via his blog, Pure Florida.

In  my next post, I will try.


Nice post and photos. I think it would be cool to see a bobcat.

Every kid should have a Julie Zickefoose in their lives. The world needs more science chimps.

I love how Jeep is now only written in block caps and candy apple red around parts of the nature blogosphere these days. As for the bobcat scat - what could be more awesome than some sign that a wild cat species is wandering the same patch of habitat as you? If ever there's a cause to get excited, that's it.

A man could live his pretty long (so far) life in Florida and never see a palm leaf skeletonizer ... apparently.
Unless an Ohioian naturalist chose to visit Florida that is.

"...nattily spotless JEEP ..."

Um, ... oh, yes of course, you didn't look inside did you?

I totally enjoyed that day.

Natty on the outside, gnarly on the inside, huh? In mud season now, my poor Subaru is gnarly in and out. I keep wanting to take it through the car wash and get the works done on it, and then it snows again. This is why I'm stretching the Florida posts out loooong.

I'm not sure I've mentioned it yet--but I really, really like the way you quit blogging.

Brought back memories of a wonderful day -- not that they've faded all that much! Shel sends hugs.

BTW: It's now Chazz.

Ha ha ha ha ha! I had to go back and re-read the whole durn post to figure out what you were referring to!

Dear Science Chimp,
Something I've been wondering about for a while: Does heart of palm come from sabal palms? Does harvesting it kill them?

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