Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Monday, April 29, 2013

Torreya Seedlings - 2012 Seed Crop

The twenty Torreya taxifolia seeds I received last year were all so light in weight that one Torreya Guardian called them “floaters.” They seemed to be too lightweight to be viable, but over the last 48 hours, three have sprouted in one pot and a fourth sprouted in another. This photo shows two of the four as green little seedlings and the third as a greenish-brown little nubbin:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dangerous Dog Relief

I have had run-ins with dangerous dogs twice in the last year, and am so pleased with the results that I feel compelled to spread the word. If any of you are threatened by a neighbor’s dangerous dog, you do not have to stand meekly by and let your neighbor’s dog control any part of your life. There is a quick, cheap, legal, humane remedy, so read on…

Last summer at my North Carolina home, my neighbor’s Rottweiler threatened me on three occasions. The dog was a large unneutered male about two years old, just coming into its prime. Fortunately, it was a little unsure of itself like a human teenager, so it never bit me. But the owner’s failure to maintain control over the dog, resulting in a serious threat to my life and limb, caused me to call the county animal control department. An officer came out the next day to investigate, after which the Rottweiler was given “dangerous dog” status. The dog disappeared a day or so later and has not been seen since. Problem solved.

Then a couple of weeks ago, in Florida, while walking on the commons to the laundromat, I was attacked by an unneutered juvenile male pit bull dog. When the owner came to the door, the first thing out of his mouth was, “I can’t keep him in the fence!” I phoned the county animal control agency, and the officer came out a day or two later and agreed to designate the animal a dangerous dog. He explained the meaning of the dangerous dog designation to the owner, and the next day the pit bull and its noisy companion small dog were gone. I am so glad that noisy dog and that dangerous dog are gone.

Although dangerous dog statute wording varies from community to community, in general they have all or most of the following (and more) violations and penalties. A dog can be designated a dangerous dog after only a first threat or mild bite. In my cases, both were threats, neither involved bites. An officially-designated dangerous dog is required to (a) be licensed and vaccinated, (b) be properly confined so that it is almost impossible to escape, (c) have permanent identification such as a microchip, (d) be surgically sterilized, and (e) the property housing the dangerous dog must be identified by signs stating “Warning: Dangerous Dog.” BTW, item (b) includes the dog wearing a muzzle whenever it is taken off-property for a walk. Coming into compliance with a dangerous dog designation can cost the owner several hundred dollars, although it is not considered a penalty fine. Follow-on violations resulting in additional penalties can include huge payment for actual damages (i.e., medical), civil fines of up to $500 (big deal), and jail for up to five years.

The important thing to remember is that the dog does not have to bite anyone; it merely has to threaten to do so and then get reported in order for serious consequences to befall the dog and its owner. Those consequences are so serious and expensive that at least two fellows I know of have gotten rid of their dangerous dogs. So, for those of you who eschew owning a large dog, especially a large, unneutered male, take heed, your relief is at hand. Call your county animal control department whenever a neighbor’s dog threatens anyone, regardless of whether it is on its owner’s property or elsewhere. Both of my neighborhoods are quieter and less dangerous now as a result of these wonderful DD laws.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Feral Hog Control: The Whole-Sounder Approach

I developed a project to eliminate feral hogs from a large acreage in north Florida. Since February of this year, I have been working 20+ hours a week to keep project momentum up. I have given numerous slide presentations to gather support and funding for the project. We estimate there are perhaps 15 sounders, extended family groups each consisting of an alpha female and progeny of several generations, and at least that many mature boars, for a total of about 200 to 250 feral hogs. These numbers are estimates based on literature averages multiplied by project acreage, whereas Florida may have a sufficiently shorter winter and be richer in wild foods to raise feral hog populations above that. How much greater? I don’t know, as I have yet to run across such data in the technical literature, and it would be unimportant anyway if carrying capacity is significantly larger.

The project team was already assembled when I came along. It consists of several major stakeholders, each with different rules and different real estate. My contributions to the project have been to bring to their attention the new whole-sounder approach, inspire the goal of complete extermination of this essentially isolated feral hog population, and find private funding for some equipment that other stakeholders cannot provide. All the stakeholders quickly realized that the whole-sounder approach is the best thing to come down the pike for feral hog control, so it was an easy sell. All the conservation and government groups I have presented my “hog and pony” show to have approved the project.

The whole-sounder approach was developed by Auburn University wildlife scientists conducting research at Ft. Benning GA. The breakthrough came with the advent of inexpensive game cameras and a relatively inexpensive corral trap gate that is remotely controlled via ATT Wireless technology. Using game cameras, they discovered that sounders are extremely faithful to their territories, new sounders being formed only occasionally, resulting in very low recolonization rates once a sounder’s territory has been trapped out. Remote control of the corral trap gate allows the trapper to go about his business at home or office until the wireless digital camera sends him a photo depicting hogs in the trap. The photos arrive every 2 minutes or so, and when the photos show all the sounder’s individuals in the trap, the trapper dials an 800 number and the trap door shuts. Waiting until ALL the sounder’s hogs are in the trap is crucial to the approach.

The historic approach was one of control only, using several methods like opportunistic shooting, hunting with dogs, and corral and box traps that had trip wires to trigger the gates. The problem with such traps is that they are triggered not by the trapper but by the hogs pushing against the trip wire while eating the bait, so capturing the entire sounder at once is almost impossible. The remote-controlled gate has changed all that. It gets the vast majority of the area’s feral hogs quickly and relatively inexpensively. Boars and trap-shy sounder hogs are culled by the other, older methods.

Recently, I spoke to a rural group consisting of mostly agricultural interests. Every week, farmers see the damage done to crops by feral hogs. One remarked that he loses more crop value annually than a remote-controlled corral costs. Another chimed in and the two of them, talking across the board, decided to chip in together and buy one for their combined use. I told them about a million-dollar pilot program now ongoing in New Mexico using the whole-sounder approach, and one board member decided to look into getting funds for a similar program for our state. He is well-connected. This is grass-roots stuff.

Until now, everyone thought the feral hog was invincible. Now, for the first time in my life, when I talk to wildlife professionals doing pilot projects in other states with the whole-sounder approach, I hear over and over that feral hogs can indeed be beaten. Wow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Oklawaha River & Hopkins Prairie

The Oklawaha River and Hopkins Prairie in the Ocala National Forest were our destinations the weekend of March 29 – 31. Marcie and I met at the county boat ramp at SR 40 on the Oklawaha at 0830hrs and did a kayak shuttle upstream to the county park on the river at SR 40 where we put our kayaks in the water. It was a briskly cold morn, but by the time we started paddling the air had warmed up enough that red-bellied turtles and Peninsular cooters (Pseudemys nelsoni and P. peninsularis) were out sunning themselves. This is a red-bellied turtle:

By the way, it is herpetological dogma that turtles will not sun themselves unless the air temperature is warmer than the water’s. We also lucked onto a brown water snake (Nerodia taxispilota) sunning itself on a clump of Bartram’s bromeliad (Tillandsia bartramii) that was unlucky enough to hitch its wagon to a doomed riverside tree:

Only a few alligators were seen, but fortunately, this five-footer sat still for a photo-op:

Most of the wildlife on the river that day did not escape into the water as we passed by, evidently being relatively accustomed to human traffic. There were numerous butterflies on the river and adjacent uplands and wetlands, including the cloudless sulphur, yellow sulphur, giant swallowtail, Eastern tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, palamedes swallowtail, red admiral, Carolina satyr, and a skipper of some kind. Here is a palamedes swallowtail (Papilio palamedes), the commonest swallowtail we saw, on a pickerelweed bloom (Pontedaria cordata):

A troupe of about ten rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) came down to the river’s edge to beg for handouts. Or, should I say demanded handouts? When they realized we weren’t going to subsidize them, one became very angry and screamed and snarled at me. Boy was I glad it wasn’t in my boat!

Why, oh why doesn’t the state exterminate them? Hasn’t the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) heard of the mesopredator effect? Have you heard of the mesopredator effect? In the olden days, when there were still plenty of large carnivores, the panthers, wolves, black bears, and bobcats would keep medium-sized predators in check. Europeans, Africans, and Asians then invaded the country and killed off most of Florida's panthers, all of its wolves, and extirpated the black bear from most of the state. This released medium-sized terrestrial predators from their natural population controls, allowing them to greatly increase their populations. These include the gray fox, raccoon, opossum, weasel, striped skunk, and spotted skunk. To that list, we must add the red fox, domestic dog, domestic cat, and feral hog, all of which are introduced species. The latter three now exist in enormous numbers. The absence of the wolf and the replacement of Eastern North American forests with agricultural and suburban habitats also created ideal habitat for the coyote, which promptly invaded and now is abundant in the East. Mesopredators are now far more numerous than they ever were before, so now they have a far greater impact than before on prey species like ground-nesting birds, rodents, shrews, moles, snakes, frogs, and lizards. Rhesus monkeys are quite pernicious, as they prey on tree-nesting birds, lizards, frogs, bats, gray squirrels, flying squirrels, and rat snakes that are almost immune to ground-dwelling mesopredators. I wonder what it is going to take to convince the FWC to extirpate the rhesus monkey from Florida. After all, there aren’t many of them yet, so it would be far easier and cheaper to cull them now rather than wait until they are as populous as, say, the feral hog. Write that agency’s Commissioners and let them know what a huge mistake they are making by letting the monkeys flourish.

Ok, back to the river. The occasional string lily (Crinum americanum) was blooming:

This Florida elm (Ulmus americana var. floridana) evidently got its start on a stump that later rotted completely away, leaving the elm to look like a tropical tree with prop roots that aren't quite strong enough to keep the tree upright:

Marcie is a happy paddler after lunch:

After two days of kayaking, we were ready to get off our butts and hike a little on the Florida Trail, so we headed over to Hopkins Prairie for a birding stroll through the scrub:

We spotted a clan of my favorite birds, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. They come readily to psh-psh-psh calls. We also hiked around a portion of the prairie, which was almost entirely dry with only a few deep spots, doubtless sinkholes, containing water. Its herbaceous vegetation is still brown from winter dormancy as you can see from this shot past a bat house:

Looking up into the bat house, all I could see were mud dauber nests. Perhaps the bats are there only in the warm months?

Note: Thanks go to Marcie and Bruce for some corrections on butterflies and the snake.