Despite all the development and urbanization that has occurred in Florida over the past century — beginning with the 1920s land boom and especially during and since World War II — the Sunshine State still has a wild side.
Newcomers may not realize it, but much of Florida has an awesome array of American wildlife. On land, in the waters and in the air, there are species that are friendly, and some that are not so friendly.
There are species common in other states, including states with colder climates, and there are some critters that are found in Florida and very few other places.
Many of the animals are harmless, while others are deadly.
“Florida is blessed with having good weather all year long, and the wildlife adjusted to that,” said Sandy Falcon, manager of Lyonia Environmental Center at the Deltona Regional Library.
Stories abound from the paving over of former wilderness, bringing more settlers to the Florida frontier. The new arrivals in their suburban neighborhoods may be shocked when they discover black bears rifling through their trash cans in search of dinner.
Or they may wonder why an alligator has the unmitigated gall to trespass in their swimming pool.
They may be quite frightened — and rightfully so, especially if they have young children — if rattlesnakes or water moccasins decide to sun themselves in their well-kept lawnscapes.
What about the coming of the Florida fall?
“The reptiles are going to be a little less active,” Falcon said. “The majority of the snakes want to move around or away from you if they can. We’re tall, and we look like a predator to them. How tall is a snake? Maybe an inch, and we’re taller.”
“Pygmy rattlers are really very timid,” she added. “When you come across them, they’re so small and so well camouflaged that you may walk around them and never know it.”
One type of nuisance wildlife people should be aware of is coyotes.
“A lady came and said she saw a wolf. I told her we have no wolves here, and she said it was a wolf. It was a coyote,” Falcon said.
Once found primarily in the Western deserts and badlands, the nuisance species has migrated practically all over the U.S. and now shows up in urban settings.
“They’re vampires. They love to hunt. They will take advantage of it. They’re predators, and they hunt to eat. They kill dogs and cats,” Falcon said.
Not all is negative, however. Falcon loves to tell about one of her favorite species.
“The scrub jay is just the friendliest little bird. They’re so cute,” she said. “If you see a scrub jay, it will tilt its head, just like a dog, and listen to you. They’re so cute. They will try to talk to you.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies the Florida scrub jay as a threatened species, and thus it has a protected status. It’s the only bird that lives only in Florida.
Many of the species on display at Lyonia Environmental Center — notably the preserved examples, as well as a few live ones — are in a protected category.
Anyone wanting or needing a quick and enriching opportunity to learn about the local wildlife would do well to visit the center adjacent to the Deltona Regional Library at 2150 Eustace Ave.
Falcon often hosts school groups, including home-schoolers, Scout troops and others interested in learning about the area’s ecology.
It is worth the time, and maybe you will gain an insight into why, in your next golf game, you may think twice before retrieving your lost ball from the water hazard — guarded by a 6-foot gator.
Examples of wild Florida in our midst:
Eastern indigo snakes
Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes
Southern bald eagles