The Florida Files

Florida – Day seven: Part one 🇺🇸

We arrived at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a non profitable organisation located in South-West Florida, at 8:15am. After an hours drive was required to reach our destination.

The Wildlife Refuge is located on Sanibel Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, Southwestern Florida and is compromised of 6400 acres.

We are a nonprofit that financially supports nature conservation, wildlife protection and education efforts for J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Southwest Florida.

The refuge gained its name after a local cartoonist (Jay Norwood Ding Darling) who prevented the land from being sold which was due to be used for other purposes. The conservationists remained well known for the creation of his duck stamps, essential stamps that have to be purchased in order to enter the refuge.

Jerry (a current volunteer at Ding Darling) presented a factual powerpoint presentation giving an indication into the past and present history of The Wildlife Refuge. The talk was both authentic and inspiring and allowed us to consider the activities we could engage in to better our planet, and to occupy conservation efforts. Jerry also, mercifully, introduced us to his wife – Belinda, who was also a current volunteer at the refuge.

Jay Norwood Darling blocked the sale of the environmentally valuable land on Sanibel Island. Darling also convinced the President at the time (President Truman) to sign an executive order to create the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge rewinding back to 1945. Moreover, the refuge changed the name to ‘JN Ding Darling’ in 1967.

Profits made at the refuge following visitor entrance fees and gift shop purchases, amongst generous public donations, is put towards conservation efforts that are carried out throughout the entirety of Ding Darling. Alas, the refuge alarmingly receives no Government funding, but works entirely to protect species and to encourage the next generations with their creditable efforts and high work ethics.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society pays for essentials that The US Government fails to prioritise. The money is raised through various fundraising activities, aswell as through the visitor centre.

Carolina Parakeet: This species is the only species of parakeet that lives in The US. However, the species went extinct back in 1939, and the last known species tragically passed away in captivity (Simpsonati Zoo).

Passenger Pigeon: This species passed away in the same cage as the late Carolina Parakeet, though during the sooner date of 1914. Passenger pigeons are reliant on forests to aid their survival, but the species struggled to adapt to changing environmental conditions due to market hunting which wiped out the forests.

Moran and aesthetic nature preservation: John Muir is the President of the Sierra Club, who composed that ‘Nature deserves to exist for its own sake regardless of the degree of usefulness to humans’. The preservation exists and helped to establish The National Park Service in 1916.

Modern environmentalism: The industrial explosion occurring as a result of WW2 added new environmental concerns, which therefore allowed the Environmental Agenda to be expanded in both 1960 and 1970 to begin to include: Atomic weapons testing, fossil fuel issues, air and water pollution and wilderness protection.

The first National Earth Day began in the 1970’s as a result of an establishment of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Global concerns have increased over time, due to an expansion of greater technology and communications alongside a better understanding surrounding different concepts and ideas, with previously little information available in relation to them. Environmental events and concerns are now reported Worldwide, therefore we gain an understanding into issues and improvements occurring around The World. The events also reported both locally and regionally.

Environmental issues include: Climate change, energy, biodiversity, human rights, agriculture/food, population, water and consumerism.

The refuge allows visitors to view a vast selection of animals in their natural environment, including 245 bird species which occupy a larger diversity throughout migratory seasons (January-April).

We walked around the refuge, witnessing charismatic red mangroves which gain their distinctive redness due to a lack of oxygen. The mangroves appeared to be home to bird species, including the white ibis perching upon a mangrove branch.

A normal, unharmed, manatee bone typically weighs roughly 2lbs, but with damage, the bone’s weight suffers an increase of a dangerous 6lbs.

We read the tragic story of a glorious manatee named J.Mullett, who became known during her first sighting on March 11th, 1996, whilst understanding the causes of her unfortunate mortality. Mullett first became sighted in Crystal River, FL and was easily identifiable because of the healing wound located behind her head, amongst significant propeller wounds from her mid-tail to tail base.

She also had a pit tag fitted beneath her skin to help locate and identify her.

The case of J.Mullett: Named J as she was found in the month of January, and Mullett, as the location she was found in had the name of ‘Mullett’s Gullett’.

The manatee was released back into the wild (Crystal River) on December 5th 2000, after 2 years of seeking rehabilitation (starting January 2nd 1999) at Lowry Park Zoo for her noted injuries.

Mullett suffered abnormal signs of breakage in her ribs, therefore developing an abnormal growth following an impact with a boat. (Air boats are popularly used throughout The Everglades, despite not being very environmentally or wildlife friendly, to encompass a range of species).

Manatees often appear in areas of human activity, which have big associations with the numbers of declining manatee in The World, often becoming injured from boat propellers, which can cause swelling in the muscles surrounding the tailbone, which negatively impacts the manatees abilities to swim efficiently, and without difficulties.

A necropsy case file revealed the avoidable causes of Mullett’s death. She received multiple strikes from passing by boats in the area she was inhabiting, which caused abnormal bone growth in both her ribs and her skeleton. The findings also informed us that a discarded fishing line was found located in her small intestine and colon, again, highlighting the human impacts upon marine life. The fishing line caused multiple injuries, including internal damage and the blockage of her intestines, which fabricated eating, digesting and defecating difficulties.

Devastatingly, Mullett had given birth to her calf and was said to be nursing her just 6 days before she gruesomely died.

How did J.Mullett die?

  • Watercraft: Collision with hull and/or propeller or any type of watercraft.
  • Crushed/drowned in a floodgate or a canal lock.
  • Perinatal: Death of a newborn manatee less than 5 feet long.
  • Death due to cold weather exposure.
  • Other natural causes: Infection, disease, birth complications, natural accidents or natural events (such as red tide poisoning).
  • Unfortunately, the causes of death have had no success in being determined.

The Florida Files, University

Florida – Day Four 🇺🇸

Beginning the day at 7:45am, we embarked on a 45 minute drive to Corkscrew Swamp, listening to our new favourite American radio station (Bob.fm) along the way, excited to find a range of animal species and to gain a further insight into the work carried out throughout the popular attraction.

Arriving at the swamp, we were quickly divided into two groups, each touring with an experienced volunteer. My group had Sharon – who was approachable, very intelligent and knowledgable.

We were shown the drastic alterations in both human and bird populations over generations with looking at three large scaled maps. Evidently, with an increase in human population, meant the (unfortunate) reduction of bird species. It really was insightful to gain a view into just how negatively the Human population can have such drastic and negative implications on our stunning wildlife.

We walked across the boardwalk, witnessing cypress trees in the near distance and then going on to head on into the cypress trees, with the ability to view them from directly above. Listening to insightful talk of how some species of plants and trees at the swamp have adapted to withstand wildfires. And, additionally, some species can only grow with the assistance of fire – but will die three weeks after the fire has died down.

The walk lasted approximately 3-4 hours, with Sharon sharing her wide range of knowledge as our understanding of the swamp and it’s entailments increased. During the walk, we had the privilege of witnessing a wide diversity of animals in the swamp, which were all stunning and characteristic in their own ways. We noticed alligators, carrying out their camouflaging abilities extremely well as they remained immensely still whilst resembling a log.

The green anole – a Native species in Florida, with noticeably few than the Invasive brown anole. It was in Corkscrew we witnessed our first green anole, after days spent counting handfuls of brown ones.

The Great Egret.

Raccoon.

We then had the option of walking on the boardwalk again, or taking water and soil samples from a nearby location. My friends and I opted for the boardwalk, which seemed to be a refreshing decision as we witnessed more animal species we failed to see the first time around, whilst also viewing a feeding raccoon up close in the habitat of the stunning, tiny hummingbirds.

SPECIES LIST

  • Racoon
  • Great Egret
  • Alligator
  • Ruby throated hummingbird
  • American bittern
  • White ibis
  • Blue heron
  • Blue dragonfly
  • Red bellied tortoise
  • Lampkin
  • Green anole
  • Painted bunting
  • White spotted deer
  • Cardinal bird
Behaviour Ecology, University

Behavioural Ecology – Oystercatcher practical and measuring vigilance

A component of my second year Behavioural Ecology module (BSX-2018) was carrying out an Oystercatcher practical in order to learn more about, and measure, vigilance.

Vigilance: ‘The action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties’.

Prior to the practical experiment, we learned about vigilance during a lecture. And, evidently, vigilance can easily be measured in animals through assessing the number of times the animal raises their head, thereby scanning their environment in search of predators aswell as other potential threats.

Oystercatcher

Noticeably, animals in larger groups are known to be less vigilant following the ‘many eyes hypothesis’, since there are more eyes available to scan for predators, and more bodies to count for safety in numbers, it significantly reduces the need for individuals to scan on their own accord. In comparison to animals staying on their own, who need to scan more frequently in order to search and to keep themselves safe.

The experiment:

In order to successfully carry out the experiment, we were each assigned three videos of Oystercatchers to watch which had been previously recorded on Bangor Harbour.

We watched each video for a duration of three minutes, recording the number of times the Oystercatchers were vigilant (raising their heads) to measure the head-up rate with the use of a clicker, to provide accuracy to the experiment by ensuring we didn’t take our eyes away from the screen. Simply, whenever the animal raised their head, we were to press the clicker to count the head up rate.

During the experiment, we also had to assess which diet the Oystercatcher had to understand whether this did or did not affect vigilance in the individuals. This was done by monitoring how deep the animals searched for food. Noting that the animals engaged in a range of different searching methods, including:

  • Pecking
  • Boring
  • Sewing
  • Ploughing

And the prey handling methods for Bivalves consisted of:

  • Stabbing
  • Hammering (Dorsal)
  • Hammering (Ventral)

The information gathered was then recorded in the class datasheet for each of the Oystercatchers we observed, to which we could compare with the results of other students. Though, this wasn’t a component required for the completion of the practical experiment.

During the next part of the experiment, we were informed on how to use R statistics for the first time. Admittedly, I’ve always been nervous around stats, but I loved grasping the concept of using a new software and stepping aside from SPSS, and I quickly felt confident with using the software. The practical handout was a blessing and our knowledgeable, and kind, lecturers were around and keen to issue support and guidance if and when we required it.

We made our way through the practical handout, each of us working at our own pace and facing our own individual (but expected) hurdles along the way. The experiment took approximately four hours to complete as we were issued with codes we had to transfer into the software in order to create a graph, which could simply be done by running the code.

Following on from this, we made our own codes and plotted different categories on the X and Y axis, thereby allowing us to formulate our own graphs which could then be used to gain an insight and a further understanding into different relationships between Oystercatchers and vigilance. For example, how the diet affects the head up rate, or how group size affects head up rate.

And then we simply had to perform a stats test for each of the 6 plots we had previously created in earlier steps. Which, again, could be done by simply creating a code, running it and noting down the important parts of the test, such as the p-value to determine whether each of the relationships were significant or insignificant.

Behaviour Ecology, University

Behavioural Ecology – Habituation and morphology in the green shore crab

In a component of my Behavioural Ecology module (BSX-2018) we began learning about habituation, one of my favourite subject areas, which we were then able to study through a practical experiment using green shore crabs obtained from The Menai Straits, North Wales.

Habituation: ‘Diminishing of an innate response to a frequently repeated stimulus’.

The experiment:

In order to successfully carry out the habituation and morphology experiment, we paired up and collected a crab from the bucket sitting at the front of the lab after carefully reading the practical handout and stating our practical hypothesis.

We placed the crab in a large tray of salt water, setting the timer for thirty minutes for each individual crab, and the experiment was carried out on three crabs in total, per group. Though, Rosie and I opted to use a forth crab following our enjoyment of the experiment, and because we were keen to experiment using a Female after already using three Males. And that way, it would be interesting to distinguish differences in results between the two sexes.

Asked to label each of our chosen crabs, my friend and I excitedly named each of ours (appropriately, of course…)

Fred, Leo, Barney and Penny. 

Fred, our first crab and the largest we experimented with, was noticeably aggressive nearing the beginning of the experiment and would raise his claws as an indication of a warning signal to fend off predators. And our third crab (Barney) was unfortunately missing his right claws, which could’ve given him a disadvantage throughout the experiment in comparison to the fully-clawed crabs, since he had less limbs to assist him in turning himself back around.

The task was to gently flip the crabs over on their backs, distinguishing whether the individual was a Male or a Female. So we could time how long each of the crabs took to get themselves back over to an upright position. We carried this out for thirty minutes for each of the crabs, noting down in a table the duration of time the crab took to turn back over (without assistance!)

Hint: The Male’s abdomens are more triangular in shape whereas the abdomens of Females are more rounded, as pictured below.

Crab

We then measured the crabs carapace height and width alongside their left and right minor and major claws – also referred to as cutters and crushers – described which crabs were small (< 45mm) and which were larger (> 45mm) and recorded the information into a table.

The hypothesis being: When an animal is exposed to a stimulus, they’ll react differently to it over time and will no longer become affected, or stressed, by it. Similar to if a Human was constantly exposed to the ringing of a car alarm. At first, the alarm would be annoying and would cause distress, but over time and following more exposure to the stimulus, it would become more tolerable and significantly easier to deal with. The more times we flipped the crab over, the longer they’d take to flip themselves back over, since they learned that the situation wasn’t threatening and therefore didn’t invest as much energy into manoeuvring themselves.

We noted that different crabs had different reactions. Therefore, some were quicker at flipping themselves in comparison to others. For example, one of our crabs (who we named Leo) took approximately one second to turn back around to begin with, and a crab monitored by our friend took several minutes to obtain an upright position. Though, a series of factors could contribute to this, including: size, sex, exposure to the stimulus and possibly whether or not the animal has experienced a similar situation in their natural environment.

Additionally, one of the crabs we experimented with (Penny) appeared to be pregnant! As were many of the crabs used throughout the practical since it was mating season; we had permission from our lecturer to flip them over. So this may have also had implications on the results gathered. Ie: Her reaction rate could’ve been quicker due to predation risk and her maternal instinct to protect herself and her offspring.