The Daily Trail

Features very short blog posts, including:

  • Individual photos
  • Short photo essays
  • Wildlife behavioral observations
  • New-to-me flora and fauna
  • Inspirational thoughts that occur while hiking

Read more like these on The Daily Trail sub-blog.

Alligator body language:
a short photo essay

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The Tiniest Grasshopper

I noticed movement along the trail and discovered a group of tiny black grasshoppers, all under a half-inch long. They had bright red markings and preferred crawling to hopping. A new-to-me species! Or so I thought.

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Two-minute Birdsong Meditation

Sometimes I like to stand on the trail and just listen. You’re invited to join me in a two-minute meditation.

GTM Wildlife Management Area, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, April 2021

Sesbania punicea, a deadly invasive plant

Sesbania punicea, also known as Chinese Rattlebox or Scarlet Wisteria

At Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville, FL, I noticed a pair of wispy trees along the boardwalk. They had orange-red blooms, but it was the draping compound leaves that caught my attention.

Other people have noticed the plant’s beauty as well, and Sesbania punicea has been widely imported from South America as an ornamental garden plant. Among gardeners it is known as Scarlet Wisteria or Chinese Rattlebox.

Mild winters across the southern United States have allowed this plant to spread. It grows in wetlands and along streams and rivers. Special cells in its bark allow it to exchange gases with the environment, and it thrives in poor soil.

In only a few years, Sesbania punicea reaches its adult height of 15 feet, and by this time is producing 100-1,000 seeds annually. The seed pods, which rattle when shaken, float in the water. This allows them to be carried to distant locations, where they embed along rivers and streams. Growing profusely, the trees form dense thickets that block water passage and choke out the native plants that prevent erosion. When conditions are unfavorable for Sesbania, the seeds can remain dormant for years.

Every part of this decorative plant is toxic. The bitter seeds are particularly dangerous, and even a small dose can be lethal to wildlife, livestock, and humans. Sesbania is sometimes unknowingly fed to horses. When the plant infiltrates hayfields, it is mown and bundled with the grasses. Symptoms of Sesbania poisoning in mammals include loss of appetite, vomiting, respiratory failure, rapid pulse, diarrhea, weakness, jaundice, ataxia (unstable gait), head pressing (the animal pushes its head against something hard), and lameness.

UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Species
The University of Texas at Austin
California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Visit this site to see excellent photos of the seeds and blossoms.)
University of California, Davis. Book excerpt:  Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States.
NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox
Photo © Carol Fullerton-Samsel 2021

Leaffooted Bug

Leaffooted Bug (Leptoglossus phyllopus)

I mistook this insect for a type of Assassin Bug, which has a potent sting. For this reason, I used a telephoto setting to photograph this penny-sized insect, and then enlarged the photo using photo-editing software.

It is actually a Leaffooted Bug, which gets its name from its flattened back legs. The males use their widened legs to wrestle one another.

I noticed it crawling on a thistle, which is its preferred food. In gardens, this sap-sucker is considered a minor pest. However, large infestations can devastate a citrus or pecan crop.

Leaffooted Bugs are found across the southern United States, as well as Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

They don’t bite or sting, but be forewarned. They give off a strong, noxious odor when threatened.

UF/IFAS University of Florida, Featured Creatures, Entomology and Nematology,,
Photograph (c) Carol Fullerton-Samsel 2021

Read more like these on The Daily Trail sub-blog.

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