Florida Wildlife Encyclopedia: An Illustrated Guide to Birds, Fish, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians
Wildlife has always played an important role in the history of human beings inhabiting the state of Florida. Native Americans depended on birds, mammals, and fish for sustenance and used body parts for tools and clothing. The state’s first European explorers encountered new and intimidating species like the American Alligator and the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. In later years, “plume hunters” ventured into the Florida wilderness in search of enormous rookeries of herons and egrets, killing an abominable number of birds for feathers that were used to adorn the hats of fashionable ladies. Meanwhile, the American Alligator was hunted to near extinction for its tough, scaly hide that made durable leather for luggage and boots. Although the state’s wildlife is still an important resource for human consumption, wildlife is also increasingly important in today’s culture for its intrinsic, aesthetic value. For many Floridians, the age-old traditions of hunting and fishing have been replaced by a desire to simply observe wildlife and experience nature. The range of wildlife-related interests and activities has broadened so considerably that the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in its most recent assessment of the economic impact of wildlife in America, lists a broad catagory labeled “Wildlife Watching.” In this assessment, the Fish and Wildlife Service further states that the economic impact of wildlife watching in America today far exceeds the impact that hunters and fishermen have on the America economy.
Despite this increased interest in nature and wildlife, most Floridians remain largely unaware of the diversity of species inhabiting their state. This volume is intended to provide an introduction to the state’s freshwater fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
While a number of excellent books about Florida’s birds, reptiles, and fishes exist, there are none that combine all the state’s wildlife into a comprehensive, encyclopedic reference. This volume is intended to fill that niche. It is hoped that this book will find favor with school librarians, life science teachers, students in field biology classes, and professional naturalists as well as with the general populace.
As might be expected with such a broad-spectrum publication, intimate details about the natural history of individual species is omitted in favor of a format that provides more basic information. In this sense, this volume is not intended for use as a professional reference, but instead as a handy, usable, layman’s guide to the state’s wildlife. For those who wish to explore the information regarding the state’s wildlife more deeply, a list of references for each chapter appears in the back of the book and includes both print and reliable Internet references.
Embracing the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, color photographs are used to depict and identify each species. Below each photograph is a table that provides basic information about the biology of each animal. This table includes a state map with a shaded area showing the species’ presumed range in the state, as well as general information such as size, habitat, abundance, etc. The taxonomic classification of each species is also provided, with the animal’s Class, Order, and Family appearing as a heading at the top of the page.
The range maps shown in this book are not intended to be regarded as a strictly accurate representation of the range of any given species. Indeed, the phrase “Presumed range in Florida,” which accompanies each species range map, should be literally interpreted. The ranges of many species in the state are often not well-documented. The range maps for some species in this book may be regarded as at best an “educated guess.” Furthermore, many wide-ranging species are restricted to regions of suitable habitat. Thus an aquatic species like the large, eel-like salamander known as the Two-toed Amphiuma, while found statewide, would not be expected to occur in dry, sandy, upland woods. Additionally, other species that may have once been found throughout a large geographic area may now have disappeared from much of their former range. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is an example of a species that was once common statewide but has declined significantly in recent decades.
Further complicating the issue of species distribution is the fact that animals like birds and bats, possessed with the ability of flight are capable of traveling great distances. Many species of both birds and bats are migratory and regularly travel hundreds or even thousands of miles annually. It is not uncommon for these migratory species to sometimes appear in areas where they are not typically found.
The mechanisms of migration and dispersal of many animals is still a bit of a mystery and the exact reason why a bird from another portion of the country (or even from another continent) should suddenly appear where it doesn’t belong is often speculation. Sometimes these appearances may represent individuals that are simply wandering. Other times it can be a single bird or an entire flock that has been blown off course by a powerful storm or has become otherwise lost and disoriented. Whatever the cause, there are many bird species that have been recorded in the state that are not really a part of Florida’s native fauna, and their occasional sightings are regarded as “accidental.”
On the other hand, some species may appear somewhere in the state once every few years dependent upon weather conditions or availability of prey in its normal habitat. Although these types of “casual species” could be regarded as belonging among Florida’s native bird fauna, their occurrence in the state is so sporadic and unpredictable that deciding which species should be included as a native becomes very subjective. The point is that the reader should be advised that while all the bird species depicted in this volume can be considered to be members of the state’s indigenous fauna, not every bird species that has been seen or recorded in in the state is depicted in this book.
Finally, because Florida’s warm, humid, and subtropical to tropical climates are condusive to the survival of many vertebrate species from around the world, Florida is plagued today with scores of “alien” species that have become established as breeding populations in the state. Although the main thrust of this volume is to depict the state’s native species, many introduced species are included in this book. Alien species that have become common are included, but each is noted in the Natural History section of the species accounts as being a non-native, introduced species.
For readers who wish to delve into more professional and detailed information about the vertebrate zoology of Florida, the list of references in the back of this book (shown for each chapter) should adequately provide that opportunity.
Scott Shupe, 2019
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|Epub||August 31, 2021|
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