Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sea Turtle Hatching 01

Sea turtles can live long, a lifespan of 80 years is common. But the down side is, that it takes decades for sea turtles to reach sexual maturity. After mating at sea, adult female sea turtles return to land to nest mostly at night. females return to the very same beach where they hatched decades ago. This can take place every two to four years in maturity. The nesting female hauls herself onto the beach, some species prefer the night time other sea turtles will emerge from the ocean during day time. They search for suitable sand on which to create their nests. The sea turtle female uses her hind flippers to dig a circular hole 16 to 20 inches deep. 

She then starts filling the nest with 50 to 200 soft-shelled eggs, depending on the species. Some sea turtle species like the hawksbill have been reported to lay 250 eggs. After laying her eggs, she re-fills the nest with sand, re-sculpting and smoothing the surface until it is relatively undetectable. The whole process takes thirty to sixty minutes. She then returns to the ocean, leaving the eggs untended.

Incubation takes about two months. The eggs in one nest hatch together over a very short period of time. When ready, hatchlings tear their shells apart with their snout and dig through the sand. This usually takes place at night. Once they reach the surface, they instinctively head towards the sea. If, as happens on rare occasions, hatching takes place during daylight, only a very small proportion of each hatch succeed in reaching the ocean, because local predators, such as pelicans, seagulls and other large birds, gorge on sea turtles hatchlings.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baby Squirrel Feeding 01

Gray squirrels breed twice a year, December to February and May to June, though this is slightly delayed in more northern latitudes. The first litter is born in February to March, the second in June to July. There are normally two to six young in each litter, but this number can be as high as 8. The gestation period is about 44 days. The young are weaned at 7 weeks and leave the nest after 10 weeks. The eastern gray squirrels can start breeding as early as 5 and a half months old, but usually breed for the first time at the age one year old. These squirrels can live to be 20 years old in captivity, but in the wild usually only live up to 12 years.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Opossum Babies 01

Opossums are excellent tree climbers but these babies are not ready to fend for themselves. I found these three opossum babies struggling on a branch without their mother anywhere nearby. So, I filmed them for quite some time but the mother still wouldn’t show up hours later. After a few hours of filming I realized that the babies must be in danger of dehydration. Therefore, I took them to a wildlife rehabilitation center to be cared for. 

Adult opossums are usually solitary and nomadic, staying in one area as long as food and water are easily available. Some families will group together in ready-made burrows or even under houses. Though they will temporarily occupy abandoned burrows, they do not dig or put much effort into building their own. As nocturnal animals, they favor dark, secure areas. These areas may be below ground or above.

When threatened or harmed, they will "play possum” mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal. This physiological response is involuntary (like fainting), rather than a conscious act. In the case of baby opossums, however, their brain does not always react this way at the appropriate moment, and therefore they often fail to "play dead" when threatened. When "playing possum", the animal's lips are drawn back, the teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, the eyes close or half-close, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from the anal glands. Their stiff, curled form can be prodded, turned over, and even carried away without reaction. The animal will typically regain consciousness after a period of between 40 minutes and 4 hours, a process which begins with slight twitching of the ears.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Florida Panther 01

The florida panther is an endangered subspecies of cougar (Puma concolor) that lives in forests and swamps of southern Florida in the United States. This species is also known as the cougar, mountain lion, puma, and catamount; but in the Southeast, and particularly Florida, it is exclusively known as the panther. Florida Panthers are spotted at birth and typically have blue eyes. As the panther grows the spots fade and the coat becomes completely tan while the eyes typically become more of a yellow. The panther's underbelly is a creamy white, with black tips on the tail and ears. Florida panthers lack the ability to roar, and instead make many distinct sounds that include whistles, chirps, growls, hisses, and purrs. 

The Florida panthers diet contains many small animals like hares and other rodents, birds like ducks, gees and even storks as well as lager animals like wild boars and white tailed deers. An adult florida panther has very few natural predators, alligators, large pythons and humans. The biggest threat to their survival is human encroachment. Historical persecution (through poaching and wildlife control measures) reduced this wide-ranging, large carnivore to a small area of south Florida. This created a tiny isolated population that became inbred (revealed by kinked tails, heart and sperm problems). The two highest causes of mortality for Florida panthers are automobile collisions and territorial aggression between panthers but the primary threats to the population as a whole include habitat loss, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Aggressive Bobcat 01

This was my first time to film the elusive bobcat here in South Florida. Also, this beautiful male was growling, hissing and even mock attacking on few occasions but he never fully charged after me. Bobcats live throughout North America and are adaptable predators, which inhabits the wooded areas as well as the swampland here in Florida. They are smaller than the Canadian Lynx and twice as large as the domestic cat. It has distinctive black bars on its forelegs and a black-tipped, stubby tail, from which it derives its name. 

Though the bobcat prefers rabbits and hares, it will hunt anything from Insects and small rodents to deer. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. Like most cats, the bobcat is territorial and largely solitary, although there is some overlap in home ranges. It uses several methods to mark its territorial boundaries, including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces. The bobcat breeds from winter into spring and has a gestation period of about two months.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Alligator Attack 01

Aggressive Behavior of Alligators
American alligators will become aggressive during feeding, trying to chase competition away from the food source. Feeding in groups will most likely turn into a feeding frenzy, in which every alligator tries to rip meat chunks out of their prey, which is followed by wild splashing, trashing around and the infamous death roll. Aggressive behavior of american alligators is also common during mating behavior in which the strongest males fight of and even kill weaker competitors to secure their position in the ranking order.

I’ve filmed american alligator attacks on other animals on a few occasions over the last years but I  can’t say these apex predators targeting humans, except when driven by hunger or during their mating season. The mating season is a particular dangerous time to venture into alligator territory. Their behavior changes dramatically, they become highly aggressive and won’t hesitate charging after any intruder, including humans. I’ve been chased by alligators during such filming on several occasions but without any serious consequences. It’s always a good idea to keep your senses on constant alert when entering alligator habitat. Also, please don’t forget that alligators do not just live in the swamps or large water areas. Adult alligators can be found even in narrow road side channels, hiding in their “Gator Holes” but sensing any movements in its vicinity. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Monitors in Florida 01

Monitors in Florida
Not only Burmese Pythons are plentiful to find in Florida but many exotic lizards, such as iguanas, tegus and nile monitors roam freely through many urban areas and parks in South Florida. Iguanas are still popular pets today. They feed on fruits and vegetables and pose not much of a risk to our native species. Still, their ability to excavate large underground areas causes considerable financial damages each year. 

Monitor lizards, such as tegus and nile monitors, are predators and feed on small mammals, birds and even other reptiles. Their voracious appetite for all kinds of eggs poses a serious threat to Florida’s endangered birds and even to the american crocodile population. Many of these lizards have been released by their previous owners or escaped from exotic importers during natural disasters like Hurricane Andrew in 1992. These large lizards have established breeding populations in South Florida. Black throat monitors are not as common as nile monitors but they can becomes just as aggressive. I’ve only been mock attacked twice by monitor lizards during filming and in both instances I simply moved in to close for a better shot. Nevertheless, monitors have very sharp, needle like teeth and a bite can be painful and even cause secondary infection if not treated properly.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Alligator Hatchlings 01

Alligator Hatchlings:
Female Alligators guard their nests well and won’t hesitate to attack intruders. Hence, it is paramount to watch out for your own safety as well as not to disturb the process of hatching. Baby alligators hatch fast in comparison to pythons. It usually will take me a few hours “only” to film the hatching of an entire alligator nest. The tricky part is to keep the camera focused on one egg only. This is so difficult to do, cuz other eggs start wiggling like mad and ready to brake open. But the moment you readjust your camera, the former egg in focus starts hatching... Okay, there are still plenty of unhatched eggs left but as soon as you focus your camera on a specific egg, the very same situation repeats itself. This happens to me quite often and I’m sure it will happen again. Just remember to stay focus on one action at the moment and you’ll end up with some interesting footage.
Alligator hatchlings make use of their tinny but sharp egg tooth to cuts through the egg shell from inside. The bridle shell cracks and eventually brakes apart due to the alligator’s constant movements. This is truly an exhausting task for any baby alligator. Hence, the babies take periodically naps to regain new energy before shedding of the entire egg shell. Female alligators guard their nests well. They will hear when the babies start hatching, therefore they will start digging up their nests and carry the newborn to the safety of the near by water. The female alligator will protect her young from any predators for at least the next twelve months. Newborn alligators don’t need to feed right away, cuz they still have enough yolk from their egg to provide for the needed nutrition. Most hatchlings will start feeding within the next two weeks after birth and prey on insects, invertebrates, small fish, frogs, mice and anything else they can catch and swallow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pythons in Florida 01

Blood Pythons Hatching in Florida
Filming pythons hatching can be very time consuming. The python hatchlings will poke their heads through the leathery egg shell repeatedly, tasting the air and than disappear back into the safety of the egg. It took me “only” halve a day of filming the hatching of the entire clutch of python eggs. But on other occasions I had to be on stand by for over three days and nights until the hatching process of an entire clutch of eggs was completed. Blood pythons lay an average clutch of 18 to 30 eggs. The female remains coiled around the eggs during the incubation period. When the hatchlings emerge after 2.5 to 3 months, they are about 30 cm (12 inches) in length. Newborn pythons can be aggressive and will not hesitate to strike. They are independent and will start hunting for small frogs, insects and newborn rodents after their first shedding.
Blood pythons are from southeast asia and live in the rainforest, swamps and along river banks and streams. Their habitat stretches from the Peninsular (Western) Malaysia to Sumatra east of the central dividing range of mountains, Bangka Island and other islands in the Strait of Malacca, including the Lingga islands, Riau islands, and Pinang. Most blood pythons in US collection are from central Sumatra. The Sumatra Blood Python can be found in the vast rice fields and plains of Sumatra, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. They are quite common snakes and can be easily found in the wild if one knows where to look. They are good hunters, feeding on small mammals like mice, rats and rabbits in the rice fields and grasslands of Sumatra. The locals hunt these constrictors (as well as many other pythons) for their skin and meat.
Adult pythons grow between five and eight feet in length and are heavily built. The tail is extremely short relative to the overall length. The color pattern consists of a beige, tan or grayish-brown ground color overlaid with blotches of reddish to blood-red in color. The life span of blood pythons is over 20 years but they can live longer in captivity.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tegu Invasion

Tagus in Florida
Tagu lizards from South America appear to be the next invasive species on the list of unwanted exotics in South Florida after burmese pythons and nile monitors steered repeatedly  for “bad” publicity throughout the national media over the last two decades. These large lizards are not as shy like other monitors. They will try to stand their ground on some occasions with their body erected and mouth wide open. I encountered once a large male tagu digging up an alligator nest and feeding on its eggs. I must have placed my camera a little to close and the next thing I knew was an angry lizard dashing towards me on its back legs and jabbing its sharp teeth into my lens’s plastic cover. It is quite a thrill to watch this lizards chasing angrily after intruders, which reminded me somewhat of a mini T-Rex version from the Jurassic Park movie.
Black-and white tagus, also know as the giant argentine tegus, are native to South America and reached Florida, like the infamous burmese pythons, through the pet traded. Tagus have been and still are popular pets with many reptile owners. They can become docile and are easy to handle. But they also grow fast and can reach up to five foot in length within a few years. Many unwanted tagu lizards have been released back into the wild. They adopted well to their new environment and established quick a breeding population throughout Florida. 
Like nile monitors, tegus love to feed on eggs and do so frequently. They also prey on young animals like rodents, ground-nesting birds and turtles, which could impact threatened and endangered species, including the American Crocodiles and the Gopher Tortoises. Tagus are opportunistic predators and consume a variety of small prey, carrion (dead animals), fruits and other plant matter. They inhabit dry, upland areas with sandy soils, including natural, urbanized, and agricultural areas. These lizards dig burrows, but also frequently invade the burrows of native Gopher Tortoises. They remain underground during late fall and winter months. Females lay approximately 5 eggs per clutch up to twice per year. Lifespan of these lizards is 15 to 20 years.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Python vs Alligator 01

Python vs Alligator 01
Burmese pythons have an established permanent breeding population in South Florida and belong to the “new” apex predators of the Everglades today. Top predators like the american crocodiles and american alligators prey regularly on all kinds of reptiles, including pythons. An adult alligator will have little trouble to overpower, kill and eat any juvenile and in some cases even an adult constrictor. Nevertheless, a fully grown Burmese Python can reach over twenty feet in lengths and becomes extremely dangerous prey item for most crocodilians. These large constrictors have not much to fear and will feed on most animals they come across (including alligators) when hungry. 
Pythons are non venomous snakes and kill by constricting their prey, wrapping its body around in a thigh coil until the animals dies of suffocation within a few minuets. The prey will be swallowed mostly head first and whole. This process can take considerable time  during which the snake is vulnerable to attacks from other predators. Confrontations between pythons and alligator have been recorded during the last years but still, very little is know on the outcome of such “fights”. The fact is that invasive species like the burmese pythons are a part of the Everglades today and it is up to everyone to find out as much as possible and use the newly gain knowledge to keep the python population in check.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Raccoons & Alligators 02

Feeding on Alligator Eggs
Raccoons are very fond of eggs, including alligator eggs. They won’t hesitate to plunder a gator nest, feed on its eggs and even kill and devour the new born hatchlings if the alligator mother is not near by guarding the nest. Nevertheless, even new born alligator hatchlings are already equipped with tinny but very sharp teeth to defend themselves. Their jaw muscles are well developed to perform a powerful bite and not to let go once the prey is caught. If an alligator hatchling gets hold of a raccoon, it might not cause any serious injury but it will be difficult for the raccoon to free itself.

It must be noted thought that adult female alligators have not many difficulties of overpowering and killing any raccoon that ventured too close to their nest. In fact, alligators prey frequently on raccoons when they come too close to the water. Like any crocodilian, the submerged alligator will approach  potential prey from beneath the water surface and stalking it. Raccoons not just visit lakes, rivers or water holes not just to drink but to “wash” their food as well. This habit makes any raccoon an easy and welcome target for alligator attacks. The gator will leap out of the water, grabbing the prey with its powerful jaw and dragging it under water to drown the animal. Alligators will not consume their prey under water but rather emerge to the surface and swallow it whole. If the kill is to large, it will be ripped into smaller peaces, by slapping it heavily against the water surface or other alligators might join into a feeding frenzy, ripping the prey to shreds.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Everglades Pythons 01

Burmese Pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) live in Southeast Asia and are the largest subspecies of the Indian Python, reaching up to 20 feet in length. These large constrictors became very popular reptiles in the US pet trade during the late eighties but the mass importation has led to serious ecological problem in South Florida. The small python hatchlings out grow fast their initial setup cage and reaching eight foot in length within three years. Many pet owners no longer wish to care for their snake(s) and some people even decided to release their pythons back into the wild. During Hurricane Andrew, a mass escape of reptiles, including thousands of burmese pythons, from their exotic importers took place in 1992.

Many pythons escaped into the swamps of the Everglades with its perfect subtropical climate and vast food sources. These snakes began to thrive, resulting in a permanent breeding population of Burmese Pythons in South Florida. Burmese Pythons spend the majority of their time hidden in the underbrush. They are nocturnal, ambush predators, feeding meanly on mammals, birds and other reptiles, including alligators and crocodiles. It has been observed that these constrictors turn into opportunistic feeders as well and do not hesitate to devour road kill or other dead animals they come across. In fact, some pythons have learned that road are not just a place to warm their body during the night but a perfect location for catching an easy meal. 

A hungry adult python stalks its prey with fast forward movements, its head slightly elevated and  tongue flickering, picking up the sent particles of possible prey near by. When a possible prey animal is detected the attack is swift with a strike and a bite to the neck, coiling around the prey’s body, tighter and tighter until it eventually dies of asphyxiation. The python starts feeding on the dead animal head first mostly. These procedure can take from a few minutes up to an hour depending on the size of the prey. Burmese pythons feed frequently on alligators and crocodiles but attacking such an apex predator can turn out fatal for even a fully grown python. Alligators and crocodiles are capable of lowering their heart rate down to one or two beats per minutes. This might sometimes “trick” a python into feeding on a “dead” alligator, which might soon revive and putting up a “fight” from inside the python.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Black Mamba 01

The Black Mamba (Dendroapsis Polylepis) is by far Africa’s most feared snake. Attacks on humans are surprisingly rare, more people die each year due to bites from the Puff Adder (Bitis Arietans). Nevertheless, the black mamba’s neurotoxic venom is powerful enough to even kill an adult male lion within a few minutes. This raises the question if there are predators powerful enough to kill a full grown black mamba. Indeed there are a few, such as large birds of prey like eagles and secretary birds. In fact, some people keep secretary birds on their properties to “protect” them from encounters with venomous snakes like cobras, mambas and many others. Monitors and crocodiles will also prey on black mamba and it should be mentioned, that this predators even have a certain degree of immunity against many venomous snake bites, including the bite of mambas. I’ve never found any scientific studies on the subject but there certainly are evidences. A few years back, I filmed a scene in which a nine foot black mamba was basking in the morning sun near a nile crocodile invested waterhole. As soon as the crocodiles discovered the snake, they left the water in an attempt to attack (see video link). 

Black mambas are the fastest snake on land, capable of moving at 10 to 12 mph, leaving not a chance for the nile crocodiles to snatch an easy meal. Filming such wildlife scene can be tricky and even become dangerous at times. The tricky part is not to scare the black mamba away. These reclusive snakes are on the constant watch out and detect the slightest movement in their proximity. It is self explanatory that staying undetected is the main priority. But if detected, the snake will most likely disappear and not attack as long as I stay out of its escape route. Nile crocodiles on the other hand are an entirely different story to deal with. These aggressive reptiles will see any intruder as their next possible meal and subsequently attack.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nile Crocodiles 01

I’ve mostly filmed american alligators but on few occasions I had the chance to document the behavior of their more aggressive cousins, the nile crocodiles. On one occasion, the crocodiles ran immediately into the water as soon as I approached to set up my camera. It took approximately twenty minutes until the first crocodiles re emerged from the water to continue basking in the sun. I didn’t realized that I must have stepped to close to the water, when in a flash of a second a crocodile leaped out of the water with a loud snap before disappearing again. Fortunately, its jaws missed my leg by a few feet and I learned a valuable lesson that day. Nile crocodiles are the largest crocodiles after the saltwater crocodiles, reaching between 11 and 16 feet in lengths. Their average weight is about 500 lb but larger specimens can weight up to 1600 lb. The largest measured crocodile was shot near Mwanza, Tanzania, measuring 21.2 ft and weighting ca. 2400 lb. Such large crocodiles have to face not many threats, except from large crocodiles, hippos and humans. 
Nile crocodiles are apex predator with the unique ability of prey in water as well as on land. Most hunting on land is done at night by lying in ambush near forest trail or roadsides near water. Attacks are unpredicted and swift on any other animal equal or smaller size. Outside water crocodiles can meet competition from other dominate predators such as lions, leopards, hyaenas and will even feed on such predators if giving a chance.
Nevertheless, nile crocodiles do not only feed on large prey such as antelopes, zebras and other hoof stock, but they snatch up smaller prey like birds and rodents, that venture to close to the water. All crocodiles prey frequently on reptiles like lizards, snakes and even on their own kind. Crocodiles are immune to venomous snake bites and won't hesitate to prey on a fully grown Black Mamba.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Raccoons & Alligators 01

Raccoons are omnivorous, feeding not only on fruits, vegetables and other plants but they also hunt and feed small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. Raccoons love to eat eggs and they do not hesitate to dig up an abandoned alligator nest and devour its eggs as well as any hatchling found. These medium size predators are know to be opportunistic feeders, feeding frequently on road kill and garbage. It is argued that raccoons are the world’s most omnivorous animals. Their diet consists of about 40% invertebrates, 33% plant material and 27% vertebras. Raccoons feed meanly on insects, worms and other small animals, including all kind of eggs and any new born or young animals they encounter during their feeding sprees. Filming raccoons is not very difficult, cuz most of them have lost their fears for humans in their immediate environment and subsequently these animals are more preoccupied of getting their next meal, even if it means to harass a near by cameraman. 
Female raccoons are more aware and reclusive while having to care for their young. Still, it’s not so difficult to find out a raccoon nest in a tree and wait for the raccoon family to emerge shortly before sunset. Raccoon kits are extremely cute, playful and fun to film. They will venture through the branches with its mother resting near by, always keeping an eye on her young and the surrounding area. I was spotted many times by raccoon mothers during the filming, but I’ve never seen that they panic as long as I remained calm and remained within a save distance. But the mother would feel uneasy and eventually disappear with her kits back into their nest (hollow tree trunk). If one ventures to close to the nest, the mother will viciously defend her young and attack any intruders, including humans.