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With the Wild Things
Weekdays @ 7:20 AM

With the Wild Things is hosted by wildlife biologist Dr. Jerry Jackson and produced by the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts & Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Funded by the Environmental Education Grant Program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, With the Wild Things is a one-minute look at a particular environmental theme.

Dr. Jackson takes you through your backyard, and Southwest Florida’s beaches, swamps and preserves to learn about “the wild things”.

Latest Episodes
  • The Hispid Cotton Rat is a native American rodent that can be up to a foot long from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail – but it is usually smaller in Florida. This rodent has dense, long fur that is light colored at the base, brown towards the tip, and the tip is often black – giving the rodent a rather grizzled appearance. Hispid Cotton Rats are prolific, capable of producing as many as nine broods in a year – but their average life expectancy is less than a year. This is a species native to open, sunny, tall grass areas throughout the state and is a very important component of Florida’s natural ecosystems because it is food for most of our hawks and owls, and many snakes, and mammalian predators. Hispid Cotton Rats are also occasionally a problem species – especially because of their fondness for sugar cane and other succulent crops.
  • Black Skimmers are distant relatives of gulls and terns. They have long wings, a two-toned bill that seems misshaped, garish, and with a lower bill that is much longer and narrower than the upper bill. Their plumage is primarily black above and white below --which seems strange for a bird that nests on sunny beaches and mud-flats.
  • The Bald Eagle is the national emblem of the United States. It was chosen to represent us shortly after we became a nation. It and the Golden Eagle are protected by law. During the 1960s and 1970s Bald Eagle numbers plummeted and the species disappeared from many areas as a result of pesticide poisoning. Recognition of the problems, banning of some pesticides, and effective conservation and reintroduction efforts brought Bald Eagles back from the brink of extinction. Many of those efforts made use of Bald Eagle eggs and chicks from Florida where numbers had remained high. As human populations have grown in Florida, old growth forest has continued to decline – especially in coastal areas – which are major Bald Eagle food resource areas. Protection of an eagle nest near large apartment complexes is only part of an answer for eagle conservation. They also need replacement nest trees, protection from disturbance, and healthy fish populations in clean coastal waters.
  • Hurricanes can be disastrous and Florida sticks out like a sore thumb directly in the path of many hurricanes. It’s the heat of the sun and curvature and spinning of the Earth on its axis that initiate the movement of air over ocean and land. And its summer heat that warms surface water that creates the humid air and water-laden clouds that come with a hurricane. The juxtaposition of Florida’s land mass and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico – the northern end of which is in a subtropical climate – makes us a target for hurricanes – many of which move north through the Gulf of Mexico, feeding on the warm waters there.
  • The Monarch butterfly is among our best-known insects – one usually learned in childhood along with details of its life such as its annual migrations and protection from predators that it gains as a result of the primary food of its caterpillars – milkweeds. In this week’s Wild Things I will point out some of the less well-known details of the Monarch’s migrations and values of its use of milkweeds. As human populations have grown and infringed on its natural breeding and wintering habitats, Monarch numbers have declined and conservation efforts to protect Monarchs have grown – in large part through childhood education.
  • Burrowing Owls are small owls of open grassy areas. They nest and roost in cavities that, in Florida, are often dug or enlarged by the owls. Their cavities can be several feet long and usually include at least one bend, thus limiting light in the burrow. Dirt and debris are left at the entrance, thus building up a low mound around the entrance. In addition Burrowing Owls often collect animal dung and deposit it in the burrow – perhaps as a deterrent to predators. Young chicks remain in the burrow, but older chicks often stand near the burrow entrance to wait for food. Both adults and chicks are camouflaged in shades of brown and white, blending into their environment. Adults are boldly marked with more distinct streaks and spots, and barring on the breast. Young chicks are down-covered in earth-tone colors. As adult feathers emerge, down is still evident and markings are dull and more diffuse, helping to lessen sunlight reflection. These owls are often quite tolerant of humans and in many areas nest in open areas around human homes. As a result, many are lost to dogs, cats, collision with cars, and human habitat alteration and Burrowing Owl numbers have declined.
  • The Virginia opossum is a mammal that most of us have heard about and seen. But there are many things about our opossum that are often misunderstood. For example, our opossum has a relative bare muscular tail that is prehensile – meaning it can use it to hang on or to pick things up and carry them. But, contrary to popular belief, the opossum usually does not hang by its tail – at least not for very long. But that tail has some important functions: it helps when an opossum is climbing; it can be used to carry things – such as nest material or its young; and it can be used to assist in swimming.
  • Defining “weed” is easy: It’s an “unloved” plant. Identifying weeds is a bit more difficult – and we have learned that way too easily – by bringing home what seem to be desirable plant seeds, cuttings, seedlings, or even full-grown potted plants after a trip to a foreign country or even a neighboring state. Federal and sometimes state laws forbid such actions. In addition, if you have been hiking elsewhere, check your clothes for seeds that have become attached. Plants such as Bidens are able to secure their own transportation. Check your clothes and remove attached seeds before heading home. Finally, the internet is rich with exotic-invasive plants such as Wedelia – also known as “Creeping Oxeye” -- available for sale to be shipped to your door. Beware of names like “creeping”! Many exotics are “good groundcover” or have beautiful blooms. But before purchasing, check elsewhere on the internet to learn if they are known invasive-exotics. Don’t introduce an exotic monster to your neighborhood.
  • The Eastern Meadowlark is, indeed, a bird of meadows, pastures, and even open pine forests, that can be found through much of eastern North America. But it is not a lark; nor is it closely related to the Common Starling – although its bill is much like a starling’s bill – slender, pointed, relatively long and only slightly curved. DNA and other characteristics clearly identify our meadowlark as a member of the all-American blackbird family. The brilliant yellow breast with a prominent black “V” extending down from its throat to its belly are merely adaptations that help this bird blend into its very open habitats by disrupting its outline, dissociating its head from its body.
  • Florida has a humid, subtropical environment, with lots of shallow wetlands – perfect for the lives of ferns. As a result, we have a richness of ferns – over 60 species -- including some, such as the Old World Climbing Fern and Water Spangles -- that are troublesome exotic invaders that have been deliberately or accidentally introduced from elsewhere. Some such as Resurrection Fern are small; and some are enormous, such as the Giant Leather Fern. In this week’s wild things I introduce some of the diversity of Florida ferns and their basic characteristics