Looking out my Florida room window into my backyard, I was pleasantly surprised to see North America’s only marsupial in my garden – the opossum. Normally, nocturnal, it must have been hungry to be out during the daylight scavenging for a bite to eat. There is plenty to munch on – frogs, lizards, snakes, large insects and… ticks.
Opossums do not specifically seek ticks to eat, but they are prolific groomers and that is when they devour any ticks they have come into contact with. As I watched this magnificent mammal, it stopped frequently brushing its white hairs with its paws and licking its fur as if preparing for a hot date.
A recent study discovered that each opossum eats over 5,000 ticks annually. That might not seem like a lot, but the female ticks would have laid thousands of eggs hatching thousands of ticks. Stay as long as you want my furry friend!
Stepping out of my Florida home one morning, I hear the scream-like call of the red-shouldered hawk, a species known for its loud raucous cries and sharp whistles that can be heard from a mile away. I watch it fly over our homes and into a laurel oak tree where it rests briefly then flies to a rooftop of a nearby home.
There is plenty for it to eat – snakes, lizards, rabbits and the large lubber grasshoppers. I have even seen it eyeing up the small birds that come to people’s feeders. I watch it for a while when it suddenly drops down into the concrete driveway and grabs an unsuspecting anole for breakfast and flies off into a nearby tree. This is the way it hunts most of the time – perched on a low branch of a tree waiting for prey to walk within striking distance.
Normally a forest and wetland dwelling species, it has adapted well to the semi-urban landscape here in our community. This is probably why this is one species that has fared well despite the destruction of forest habitat for urban sprawl.
Mosses are primitive plants that come in many forms and grow in a variety of habitats. These plants produce spores, not seeds and the spores are so light that they are carried into the atmosphere and around the world. The haircap moss grows on nearly every continent on earth. Up close, it looks like a miniature forest. Although it grows year-round, the winter is a good time to easily find this evergreen plant in a leafless landscape.
As I have indicated in the last few posts, winter woodlands are at first look, devoid of color. Yet if you take the time to look closely, you can find colorful treasures dangling from shrubs, and growing on the forest floor.
One bit of light green that grows amongst mosses on logs and exposed nutrient poor soils is a lichen called pyxie cup lichen. This ¾” tall lichen looks similar to a chalice in King Arthur’s Court. Like a wine glass, there is a cup on top of a stem. It often grows alongside other lichens including the British soldier lichen.
Although you may notice it more during the winter, it grows throughout the year, but is often overlooked when the plants around it are leafed out. Various species of this plant can be found around the world.
I love finding a bit of color in the drab winter landscape. The eye-catching British soldier lichen pops out in the winter woodlands. It grows on fallen decaying logs and tree stumps.
Lichens are two organisms that live together for the benefit of each other. Microscopically, you would see a fungus with algae growing on it. The fungus provides minerals and a place for alga to grow and alga provides a source of sugar for the fungus. The specific lichen depends on which two combinations of fungis and alga live together.
Not only is the British soldier lichen green, it has red caps which are fruiting bodies that produce spores that break off and grow new lichens. It gets its name from the red hats the British soldiers wore during the American Revolutionary War.
You are likely to come across them in eastern U.S. woodlands from Maine to Florida and in several pockets in the western U.S.