Monday, August 1, 2011

Snakes and Flying Squirrels

 FNPS Secretary Peg Lindsay reminds us that our native plants are providing some of the most basic needs of other inhabitants of an ecosystem...

Red touch yellow - Coral snake
Two extraordinary things happened at our Highland Lakes home.

The first was the appearance of a snake. A snake in Florida is not so unusual; we’ve found quite a few in many colors and sizes over the years here. Snakes are generally benign and benevolent creatures, whose diet is any creature smaller than they are. We’ve seen them in our garage, gardens and patio. Most of the time we let them be. Occasionally we relocate them where they can live peacefully without having to encounter any lawn mowers.

With the coming of the summer rainy season, my husband was cleaning out the gutters. I had the job of turning the water off and on while he was up the ladder removing the leaves. One obstruction in the downspout would not wash out. I told him he would have to take the downspout apart, and I went into the house to fix dinner. A few minutes later he came in. “Get your camera and come outside quick! Is it red-on-yellow or red-on-black?” He was telling me he had either a coral snake (venomous) or a king snake (harmless).

For those of you who haven’t heard the poem about the coral snake:

Red on yellow kill a fellow.
Red on black friend of Jack.

Outside, I photographed the largest coral snake I had ever seen. It was in the 30-to-36-inch size range. I really didn’t want to get close enough to measure it. My husband put on his leather gloves, picked up a small rake, and proceeded to put the snake in a bucket with a lid. He then relocated the snake to a place safe from any further human encounters.

Kissimmee prairie                               Shirley Denton
We looked up the Eastern Coral Snake in our field guide and learned the following facts. The record length is 47½ inches. They prefer a dry habitat, such as dry scrub or pine flatwoods. Their primary diet is small lizards and other small snakes. They have a very small (compared to other snakes) head and mouth, so although they are venomous, it would be extremely difficult for them to bite a human. They can bite the webbing between your fingers or toes. So, when cleaning your gutters, wear gloves!

Note the webbing stretching between front
and back legs.


The other extraordinary thing that happened at our home was some new tenants in our bird house. My husband put up a standard bluebird house in our back yard in hopes of attracting a family of bluebirds. Instead we have flying squirrels!

Away we go!
Again, we went to the field guide for more information. The Southern Flying Squirrel is strictly nocturnal. It feeds on a variety of seeds, nuts, insects and bird eggs. Nests are normally found in abandoned woodpecker holes but they will build nests of leaves, twigs and bark in the crotch of large trees. Our field guide notes they like to spend winters in your attic.

Until they moved into our bird house, I had never seen one. I’ve heard them at night, in the large oak trees near the clubhouse. If you have large oak trees in your yard, go outside at night and listen. If you hear what sounds like birds chirping, you are hearing flying squirrels.


Florida has over 21 species of oaks, and
all of them provide acorns. Oaks are
one of THE most important trees for wildlife
according to Doug Tallamy in "Bringing Nature Home."
 



 One of the threats to flying squirrels (and other cavity-nesting birds) is the absence of nest cavities. We humans tend to cut down and trim back any dead trees or dead limbs, thus eliminating many nest cavities which would otherwise make homes for the birds and squirrels.
Red cockaded woodpecker building nest in tree caity

The Environmental Committee has purchased a selection of bird houses which will be installed in the fall, when some of our handier members return to Florida and Highland Lakes. Consider adding a birdhouse to your back yard, and tell me what moves in. I would love to hear from you.

Editor's note: And we would love to hear from you, too! Peg wrote this article in her capacity as Chair of her HOA's  Environmental Committee, a job she does in addition to her work as our Society's secretary. Do write in and let us know what you are doing for the benefit of plants and wildlife! 
fnps.online@gmail.com

3 comments:

Loret said...

Great article! I'm all about the tree snags and have been rewarded in the past with Pileated Woodpecker babies. They were nosing around recently, so I am again hopeful that maybe next year they'll take up residence again. Also had a successful brood of Brown-headed nuthatches this past year. Gotta love dead wood ;-)

Ellen Vereen Rumble said...

I technically live in S. FL but spend alot of time at our property in the woods outside of Pelham, GA (S.W. GA). In two trees adorned with bird feeders, at night we watch the flying squirrels (up to 8 or so) run up and down the trees and "fly" back and forth between the trees. If you think you SEE a bird FLYING at night between the two, it's a flying squirrel!

The flying squirrels nest in blue bird houses, wood duck houses,as well as in the many holes in trees around us. I have noticed in the wood duck houses, they shred the bedding very fine like "angel hair".

We have several types of woodpeckers. A particular red-bellied woodpecker stops by my humming bird feeder to take a drink as he searches for bugs up and down the trunk of an old dogwood tree outside my kitchen window. I have some great photos of him/her doing this :)

My nieces and nephews love coming out here to fish and see the wildlife!

Ellen Rumble ellerumble@gmail.com

The Jolly Bloggers said...

Thanks for sharing, Ellen! The closest many children (and adults) will ever come to a flying squirrel is through Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, so I'm thrilled to hear that you've exposed your nieces and nephews to the wonderful world of wildlife.