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The Natural Georgia Series: The Okefenokee Swamp

Design by Lenz Design, Decatur, Georgia.

Flora of the Okefenokee Swamp

By Richard J. Lenz

Flora of the Okefenokee SwampPond-cypress. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The swamp is relatively low in diversity of plants because of the acid water, low nutrient levels, and sandy soil. There are no known endemics (species found only in the Okefenokee Swamp), perhaps due to the young age of the swamp estimated at less than a million years. Because of the acid water, the swamp is dependent on physical processes to convert and release nutrients. Water depth and cycles of flood and drought, known as hydroperiod, are very important, as are UV light mediated decomposition, and fire. Some scientists are concerned about the upsetting of these physical processes due to man's control of the swamp's water level by the construction of a dam, and fire prevention. Approximately 600 species of plants are found in the Okefenokee swamp.

Pond-cypress and Bald-cypress

The dominant tree of the Okefenokee Swamp is the pond-cypress, Taxodium ascendens , a rot-resistant species recognized by its wide base which emerges out of the water then quickly tapers to a much narrower trunk. The cypress, with its branches draped with Spanish moss, creates the mysterious look that mostGolden Trumpet. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com associate with the swamp. Although most of the Okefenokee Swamp's cypress was harvested in the early 1900s, some giants are still found over 120 feet tall and older than 400 years.

A descendant of an early tree species that covered much of North America 70 million years ago, the pond-cypress is a conifer. But unlike pines, spruces and firs, it loses its needles in the fall. Known to hybridize with its close relative the bald-cypress, Taxodium distichum , both trees are members of the redwood family and are not true cypress like white-cedar, juniper, and redcedar. The two water-loving species are distinguished from each other by where they are found, the characteristics of their bark, and the shape of their needles. The pond-cypress is found in lakes and ponds, has thick, Hooded Pitcher. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.comdeeply furrowed bark and closed needles that lie flat, whereas the bald-cypress prefers the moving water ofstreams and rivers, has shallowly furrowed bark that sloughs off in thin, flaky scales, and has open needles that fan out from twigs in two rows. Both cypress have deep, laterally growing roots, adapted for the wet peaty soil, and a base of knees which give the treeadditional stability and may play a role in providing oxygen to the tree in the wet environment.

Because of its decay resistance, the cypress has many practical uses involving exposure to weather or contact with soil, and is a prized lumber for interior trim. More than 400 million board feet of Okefenokee cypress were cut from 1909 to 1927. A testament to cypress's durability is found in theswamp, where many old abandoned train pilings are found still standing in rows like silent soldiers marching into the swamp.

Other trees found in the swamp include slash pine, Pinus elliotii ; blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica ; Ogeche lime, Nyssa ogeche ; loblolly-bay, Gordonia lasianthus; Swamp-bay, Peresa palustris; sweet-bay, Magnolia virginiana ; water ash, Fraxinus caroliniana ; and others.

Carnivorous PlantsRound-leaved Sundew. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

Because of the swamp's phosphate-and-nitrogen poor soil, the Okefenokee is home to many fascinating "meat-eating" plants. Decay is slow in the acid soil, therefore little nitrogen is available for the roots of the plant. Carnivorous plants have adapted to these conditions by developing a variety of strategies for trapping and ingesting insects - an excellent source of protein in the swamp. One wonders what the swamp would be like if the carnivorous plants grew as large as the cypress trees.

The Pitcher Plants

Some of the most distinctive looking plants in the swamp are the pitcher plants, found growing in clumps around the swamp. The Sarracenia genus of plants has eight species, seven of which are found only in the southeastern U.S. The pitcher plants hold small pools of water inside their long stalks, or "pitchers." Insects are attracted inside the pitchers, sometimes by the odor of decay or sweetness, and are forced downward by pointing hairs inside thelining of the plant. Trapped inside the pitcher's small pool where a narcotic helps drown them, bacteria then decomposes the soft parts of the insect, and enzymes convert the protein into usable nitrogen. Slicing open the tube of the pitcher will reveal the black skeleton remains of many insects. Three varieties of pitcher plants are found in the swamp: the golden trumpet pitcher, Sarracenia flava ; the hooded pitcher plant, Sarracenia minor; and the parrot pitcher plant, Sarracenia psittacina. The golden trumpet pitcher is recognized by its more open top. Thehooded pitcher has a definite curving top, sometimes with small, transparent windows on the back of its hood which help trap insects inside the pitcher. Flying insects are attracted to the windows where they spend their last hours. The parrot pitcher has smaller, reclining pitchers. All havea remarkable drooping flower that helps attract insects.

The Sundews

A variety of sundews use a sticky substance to catch smaller insects such as gnats. The round-leaved sundew, Drosera rotundifolia , has reddish leaves with long, stringy red hairs covered with glistening droplets of a sticky substance that makes the plant a type of natural flypaper. After the insect becomes stuck to the plant, the leaf slowly closes to enclose and digest the insect.

The Butterworts and BladderwortsBladderworts. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

Butterworts and bladderworts are classified in the bladderwort family, Lentibulariaceae , but use very different strategies for eating insects. The yellow butterwort, Pinguicula lutea , uses a sticky substance on its leaves to trap and digest insects. The small plant is recognized by its solitary yellowflower growing out of a basal rosette of yellow-green, sticky leaves. There are also purple flowering butterworts in the Okefenokee. The swollen bladderwort, Utricularia inflata , is an aquatic plant, that eats tiny aquatic creatures such as insect larvae, protozoa, and crustaceans. The plant is recognized by yellow flowers on a long stalk growing out of a center of feathery leaves which look like spokes on a wagon wheel. The leaves are made up of small air sacs or bladders. The bladders have a small opening and a trap-door device that is tripped by entering insects preventing their escape. There are five species of bladderworts in the swamp.

Golden Club

Golden club, Orontium aquaticum , is one of the more common aquatic plants of the Okefenokee prairie, and one of the more beautiful in the spring. An emergent perennial, it has minute yellow flowers clustered on a golden yellow club-like spadix. Below the yellow tip the plant is white then red. The 10-inch, dark green, oblong-pointed leaves have a waxy coating that easily repels water and earns the plant the swamp nickname of "neverwet." It is also considered the "Herald of Spring," because whenthey emerge, it is spring in the swamp.

Water LillyWater Lily. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

Probably the most dramatic and common flower found in the Okefenokee is the fragrant water lilly, Nymphaea odorata. Found floating on top of the reflective, black swamp water in large communities, the plant consists of white flowers with yellow stamens and round, flat, floating leaves that are shiny green on top and purplish-red underneath. The stomata or tiny openings on the leaf surface through which carbon dioxide and other gases pass into the plant are located on the upper leaf surface instead of underneath like most land plants.

The leaf stalk has four main channels for the movement of gases from the leaves to the large stems or rhizomes. The rhizomes scare tourists who believe them to resemble some undiscovered swamp snake and frequently foul the props of outboard boat motors. When the flower fades, the stalk retreats into the water submerging the hard-cased fruit while the seeds mature. When the case opens, the seeds float free until they become waterlogged, sink, and take root.

Green-briarGreen-briar. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The green-briar, Smilax walteri, is a vine with flowers with a putrid smell that put it in the Smilax or carrion flower genus. It's bad-smelling flowers attract carrion flies, which act as pollinators. The green-briar is the only cat-claw briar species that doesn't have thorns. It's red berries, which drop and float, are popular with waterfowl.

Climbing HeathClimbing Heath. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

Climbing heath, Pieris phillyreifolia, is one of 2,500 species in the heath family, Ericaceae , consisting of shrubs or woody perennial herbs, often with showy flowers. Many ornamentals, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, come from this family as do several edible fruits such as blueberries, huckleberries, and cranberries. Heaths thrive in acid soils in temperate regions. The climbing heath likes to grow under the bark of cypress trees and has tiny, tube-like white flowers.

Spanish Moss
Spanish Moss. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, is one of the distinctive plants of the Okefenokee, adding to the swamp's mysterious allure. Spanish moss is not a true moss, but an air plant or epiphyte. Not a parasite of the tree, it gets nourishment from the sun, airborne nutrients, and foliage of the host tree. Flowers on the plant are small, green, and rarely seen.

Virginia Chain FernVirginia Chain Fern. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The Virginia chain fern, Woodwardia virginica, is one the most primitive plants in the swamp. Growing two-to-four feet tall, straight out of the water, the spore cases form chains thus giving the plant its name.

The Peat Battery

The Okefenokee is a southern blackwater swamp which is defined by its tea-colored, acidic water. Helping to create this brew is a mix of decaying organic matter, called peat. Peat is easily found in floating peat batteries, which according to one study are 80 percent decaying water lillies and cypress. Standing on one of these floating islands is like standing on a waterbed, and is thought to be the origin of the Creek Indian name O-ke-fin-o-cau: "Land of the Trembling Earth."

Swamp IrisSwamp Iris. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The southern blue-flag, Iris virginica, is a beautiful purple-blue flower found in the swamp. A showy native iris of southern wetlands, the extremely poisonous rhizome was dried and used in small amounts as a diuretic and cathartic by Indians.

Fauna of the Okefenokee Swamp

An estimated 425 species of vertebrate animals have been found in the Okefenokee, including 39 fishes, 37 amphibians, 64 reptiles, 235 birds, and 50 mammals. Eleven species are threatened or endangered. With more than 50 percent of the vertebrate species, the Okefenokee's birds are the easiest to see and experience. There is an especially high diversity of reptiles. The insect life is abundant, as a visitor during June will attest, and an important contributor to the cycling of nutrients. An estimated 12 to 40 percent of the forest canopy is consumed by insects, primarily butterflies and moths.

Florida Black BearBlack Bear. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The Okefenokee's largest mammal is the Florida black bear, Ursus americanus floridianus, and reportedly can grow to 400 pounds, though they generally average approximately 150 pounds, smaller than the average Appalachian bear. This subspecies or "hog bear" as locals call it, has a healthy population of approximately 500 animals, equivalent to the numbers found in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Populations have grown to this historic high level after the state began protecting the bear statewide in 1972. Today, there is a six-day bear hunting season and approximately 50 percent of all bears killed in Georgia are in Charlton County near the swamp. Okefenokee pioneers held black bears in low regard and tried to hunt them into extinction -- not because they found them threatening but because the bears threatened the swampers' survival by attacking and consuming the settlers' hogs, cows, chickens, honeybees, corn fields, fruit trees, and grape vines. Today, there's no swamper property to protect, so the bears have made a comeback and are found mainly around the Trail Ridge section of the swamp. There are concerns about poaching of bears for the bogus use of bear parts in exotic medicines in the Orient.

Black bears are opportunistic feeders, and will eat berries, reptile eggs, yellow jacket nests, insects, grasses, and palmettos, among other items. The bears are mainly nocturnal and have a home range of approximately 8-10 square miles. If you hear a big crashing sound in the woods you are probably hearing a bear.

BobcatBobcat. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The bobcat, Felis rufus, is widespread and plentiful in the Okefenokee, which has one of the best populations in the state. Bobcats range from the dry sandhill communities along the eastern boundaries of Trail Ridge near Folkston, to the low wetlands surrounding "the pocket" and Jones Island on the southwestern perimeter of the Okefenokee. Bobcats are illusive and retiring creatures and normally are only seen at night, but increasing populations in the swamp have made daytime observations more common. Floyds Island, in the Okefenokee interior, houses one of the greatest concentrations of wild bobcats in any wildlife refuge in the U.S. Here it is not uncommon to see one of these wild creatures creeping within a few meters of a campsite.

Bobcats, unique to North America, get their name from their stubby, or "bobbed" tail. The bobcat eats mice, shrews, rabbits, wild turkey, and other mammalian prey and mates in the spring, producing a litter of two to four kittens in late April early May.

Raccoon

The raccoon, Procyon lotor, is the masked bandit of the swamp. If any mammal deserves to wear a facial mask of a midnight thief, the raccoon is doubtlessly the prime candidate. These jolly creatures have earned their place in Okefenokee folklore by chewing on hunting dogs, invading corn fields, stealing meat from the smoke house, eating grapes from the arbor, killing chickens, and creating mischief every chance they get. Campers should be alert that raccoons are not only "cute" but are also intelligent, and can crack a camper's cooler in less than five minutes. The raccoon is the most abundant fur-bearing animal in the swamp, and it eats berries, frogs, fish, reptile eggs, and anything else it can get its dexterous hands on.

River OtterRiver Otter. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The river otter, Lutra canadensis, is found along the main waterways of the Okefenokee, in the open water of the prairies and in the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers. The otter is a marvelous, graceful swimmer that feeds mainly on fish, but will supplement its diet with just about anything including crustaceans, small mammals such as mice, and snakes. The Okefenokee settlers made household pets of the playful, sociable otter. Oldtimers tell stories about how otters would eat from their dinner table and play with the children and family housecat. Sought by trappers for their valuable fur, their numbers once dwindled but have made a comeback with a crash in the market for their fur. Today, the otter's main enemy is probably the alligator. You may find otters by looking for mud slides on river banks where otters have been amusing themselves.

White-tailed Deer, Red Wolf, PantherWhite-tailed Deer. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, are now common in Georgia, and are often observed in the Okefenokee. The deer frequent a wide variety of habitats in the swamp, and it is exciting to see onewading in the water while foraging on berry-producing plants. Another good time to see deer is early or late in the day as one travels the roads into the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area or Stephen C. Foster State Park. With the general demise of the red wolf, Canis rufus, and panther,Felis concolor, the white-tailed deer have no natural enemies other than man. This has led some to propose the return of red wolves and panthers to the wildlife refuge to control deer populations. The last wolves were reportedPanther. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com on Floyds Island in 1921, whereas observations of panthers occur fairly frequently with no corroborating evidence such as tracks, photos, or the animals themselves. In a study several years ago, mountain lions, Felis concolor, with radio collars were released in the park to see how they would adapt to the swamp environment. Researchers found that the animals had no trouble traveling through the refuge. One animal was shot by a poacher. When the study was completed, the animals were picked up.

Barred OwlBarred Owl. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The barred owl, strix variar, has a loud barking call that will startle you into looking for the shy bird. The owl is usually found sitting back in a tree's foliage in a thick grove of a lowland forest. The owl is recognized by feathered bars on its neck and an absence of feather tufts around the ears. A nocturnal bird, like most owls it rests during the day, coming out at night to hunt frogs, rodents and birds.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

Florida naturalist Archie Carr wrote that there are only three great animal voices remaining in the southeastern United States: the "jovial lunacy of the barred owl ... the roar of the alligator ... (and) the ethereal bugling of the sandhill crane." All three can be heard in the Okefenokee, and all three can stop you in your tracks. The inexperienced can probably imagine the hoot of the owl and the dinosaur rumble of the alligator, but the call of the sandhill crane is unlike anything you've ever heard. Once you've heard it, I guarantee that you will never forget the voice of the "watchmen of the swamp." Sandhills, Grus canadensis, are the largest birds in the swamp, standing nearly four feet tall, with a 7 foot wingspan, gray body and red forehead. You will usually hear them before you see them, as they blend into the landscape very well. The Okefenokee has populations of sandhills that spend their entire life in the swamp. The sandhill cranes mate for life and nest in open places where treesdon't block their keen vision. The are best viewed on the eastern side of the Okefenokee at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area.

Anhinga Anhinga. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The anhinga, anhinga anhinga, is also called the water turkey and snake bird, because of its turkey-like tail and snake-like neck. The anhinga feeds by swimming under the surface of the water and spearing fish with its sharp, yellow beak. Because the wings of this water bird do not contain oil glands to keep them sufficiently dry for flight, the anhinga is frequently seen perched on a branch or stump with its beautiful wings outstretched. On dark, cloudy days, anhingas instinctively avoid the water. Their unmistakable flight pattern is flap, flap, flap, flap, and glide.

White IbisWhite Ibis. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The white ibis, Eudocimus albus , with its orange curved bill and orange legs, is the most commonly observed white wading bird in the park. The ibis congregates in flocks and likes to perch at the very top of trees. Found in the shallow prairies, they move as they feed, using their curved bills to probe the mud for insects and crayfish. During flight, their black wing tips become obvious, and their wing beat is much more rapid than other white wading birds. According to Dr. Bill Cribbs, "this bird was one of the favorite game birds of early Okefenokee settlers, and it was as welcome on their table as a chicken."

Great Egret

The great egret or American white egret, Casmerodius albus , was almost pushed into extinction by turn-of-the-century market hunters and European fashion mavens, who prized the bird's beautiful white feathers for use in women's hats. Conservation efforts by groups such as the National Audubon Society (which was established specifically to save the great egret and snowy egret) helped protect the bird, one of America's finest herons. It is distinguished from other white wading birds by its yellow beak and black legs. Like the great blue heron, the great egret is a solitary feeder, seen standing motionless as it stalks fish, frogs, snakes, and crayfish. Locals call the great egret a "scoggin" or "plume bird."

Prothonotary Warbler

The Prothonotary warbler, Protonotaria citrea , is a characteristic bird of southern swamplands, where its bright, golden-orange plumage is conspicuous in the dark, cypress swamps. Called the "flame bird"of the swamp, the prothonotary has a loud, ringing "sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet" song. It is unusual among warblers in that it nests in cavities in trees, and has been found nesting on the refuge. The family of warblers has the highest number of bird species found in the swamp with 32.

Black VultureBlack Vulture. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

When cartoonists draw caricatures of swamps, they inevitably perch a vulture in a mossy snag of a dead cypress tree. Vultures are common and nest in the Okefenokee swamp, including the turkey vulture, cathartes aura , and the black vulture, Coragyps atratus . These birds have a famous preference for dead meat, and where they are seen circling is evidence of a fresh, dead animal. The turkey vulture is the largest of the two, with black wings. The smaller black vulture, with white patches near its wing tips, is more aggressive than the turkey vulture and will drive it away from a carcass. Turkey vultures locate carrion by smell, and black vultures by sight. Both birds are found perching, or soaring high overhead on thermals.

Green AnoleGreen Anole. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

Called the "swamp chameleon," the green anole, Anolis carolinensis , can change color between greenand brown. It has a pink throat fan and grows from five to eight inches long. A member of the iguana family, the adults prefer shaded perches and the young prefer sunny locations close to the ground. The most abundant lizard of the south, they mate from March to September, and females can lay a single egg every 14 days, with incubation five to seven weeks. Anoles slowly stalk their prey of flies, beetles, spiders, moths and other insects. Anoles are the largest group of reptiles in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 200 known species, but only the green anole is native to North America.

Southern Five-lined SkinkFive-lined Skink. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The southern five-lined skink, Eumeces inexpectatus , and its close relative, the five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciantus , are both commonly observed sunning themselves on the boardwalks of the refuge. Skinks are lizards, not salamanders as many mistake them. The two species are recognized by their five, beautiful yellow stripes and bright blue tales in the juveniles. Adults lose much of the coloration of their stripes and their tales are not as blue. The two species are distinguished from each other by the scales on the underside of their tales. The five-lined has one row of broader scales, whereas the southern's scales are all the same size. The tail of the skink has fracture planes, allowing it to break off easily when grasped by a predator. The tail is vividly colored to draw the attack away from thebody. There are five species of skinks in the refuge and to identify them, you have to capture them. Don't grab a skink by the tail because first, you won't capture the skink, and second, the escaping skink's survival chances are greatly reduced because it won't have its decoy tail when it needs it for a predator. Cats that eat the southern five-lined have been known to lose their sense of balance or develop paralysis requiring veterinary attention.

Southern Spring Peeper, Florida Cricket Frog, BullfrogSouthern Spring Peeper. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

What would a trip to a swamp be without seeing a frog on a lilly pad or hearing the grunt of the bullfrog? Frequently heard and less often seen, the more than 20 species of frogs and toads in the Okefenokee make their presence known by their loud chorus of voices. Like their name suggests, the voice of the Southern spring peeper, Hyla crucifer bartramiana , is an early announcement of spring in the South. Usually a brownish or tan color, the inch-long, nocturnal spring peeper is recognized by a dark X on its back Bullfrog. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com(hence crucifer - - cross). The Florida cricket frog, Acris gryllus dorsalis , is a tiny frog that many mistake as a juvenile version of other species. It has a dark triangle between the eyes, a rapid, cricketlike voice, and is a good jumper. Active during the day, the "swamp" cricket frog prefers the margins of swamps, roadside ditches, and lakes, and is many times the creature jumping into the water just before you as you walk along the water's edge. The bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana , is the largest frog in the Okefenokee, and the largest frog in North America, growing to eight inches. The bullfrog's legs are so large that they are raised commercially and sold as meat in the restaurant trade. A nocturnal amphibian, the bullfrog has been known to eat small birds and young snakes, but it usually preys on insects, small fish, crayfish, and other frogs. The bullfrog's coloring varies, but it is one of the more beautiful animals with its dark green mottling on top and lighter coloring underneath. It's voice is usually described as "jug-o'-rum."

Eastern Hognosed SnakeHognose Snake. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

Found in the drier, sandier parts of the refuge is the Easternhognosed snake, Heterodon platyrhinos . Sufficient to identify the hognosed snake is its unforgettable and unique behavior. The hognose will puff out its neck like a cobra, hiss, and strike without biting. When further molested, the hognose will roll over on its back, open its mouth, convulse a few times and play dead. Turn the snake right side up, the snake will twist again to belly up position. The snake has many nicknames, such as "hissing sand snake," "puff adder," and "blow viper," but goes by hognosed snake because of its upturned snout. The Eastern species' skin pattern is spotted, and the coloration is widely variable (unlike the Southern hognose, also found in the refuge, which is fairly constant), with dark patches on a yellow, brown, olive, gray, orange, or red snake. The Eastern grows to more than three feet in length, whereas the Southern species is a smaller, foot- to two-foot-long snake.

Cottonmouth Snake and Eastern Diamondback RattlesnakeCottonmouth. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.comCottonmouth. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The Okefenokee has 37 species of snakes, but the cottonmouth snake, Agkistrodon piscivorus , and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus , are the most feared by man. The cottonmouth has a venomous bite and tends to hold its ground more readily than a water snake. When aroused, the cottonmouth will threaten an intruder by exposing the light "cotton" lining of its mouth and mimic a rattlesnake by shaking its tail. Its bite is more serious than the copperhead's, and can be fatal. It is distinguished from other water snakes by its vertical pupil and pit below its eye, and its method of swimming with its head out of the water. You do not want to disturb or handle this snake. The Eastern diamondback, the largest rattlesnake in the world, is also best left alone because of itspoisonous and possibly fatal bite. The Eastern diamondback, known to grow to eight feet, prefers dry pinelands and palmetto flatwoods that surround the swamp. The snake is recognized by, of course, its rattles, its distinct colored diamond shapes on its skin, its large head and heavy body. Some diamondbacks will wait until the intruder is nearly upon it before it rattles. Others will rattle when an intruder is 30 feet away. The diamondback has been persecuted by man for "round-ups" and fear, and is becoming less common throughout its range.

Florida CooterFlorida Cooter. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The Florida cooter, Pseudemys floridana floridana, is a very shy turtle that is difficult to catch in the refuge. Usually about a foot long,Box Turtle. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com the Florida cooter has yellow stripes on its head, an unmarked plastron, and donut-shaped marks on the underside of its marginals. It is frequently seen basking, butthis turtle is extremely wary and will slide into the water before you get too close. The Florida cooter has an unusual habit during nesting which it shares with only two other species of turtles in the world. Most turtles dig one nest in the ground, lay eggs in the the hole, and cover it with dirt. The Florida cooter digs one main nest, lays most of its eggs in this nest, pauses, and digs two side nests and places a few eggs in each of these. The reason for this behavior is unclear to scientists. This turtle lives in the coastal plain of the U.S.

BowfinBowfin. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The bowfin, Amia calva , is a fascinating fish that is a legend among fishermen. So much so, locals have given it many names such as mudfish, dogfish, black fish, shoepick, cotton fish, grinnel, scaly cat, spottail, Florida trout, Cypress trout and others. The bowfin is like a swimming fossil: it is the last remaining survivor of an ancient family of highly predaceous fishes. Relatives of the bowfin were abundant in marine environments during Jurassic and Cretaceous times approximately 150 million years ago, and are found represented in fossils from those times. The bowfin has a gular bone, a flat plate on the floor of the mouth between the lower jaws, not found in any ofNorth America's freshwater fishes but found in some marine fishes such as the tarpon. The bowfin spawns in spring in shallow waters where the male clears vegetation and excavates a shallow nest. After spawning, the male protects the nest and guards the young for several weeks after they've hatched. Bowfins are considered transitional fishes, developed somewhere between gars and bony fishes. With partially developed air breathing devices, the bowfin can survive a long time out of water. They will gulp air into their swim bladders, which are equipped with blood vessels and can serve as a primite lung. Fishermen should beware of the fish's sharp teeth. Bowfins are common around the sill and below the sill in the Suwannee River.

Chain PickerelChain Pickerel. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

The chain pickerel, Esox niger , also called a jackfish, black pike, green pickerel, green pike, and justjack by swampers, is an exciting fish that loves to jump, and more than one fisherman has beensurprised by a slap in the face by a flying jackfish. A solitary fish, it prefers quiet waters with heavy vegetation, where it stalks its prey. The chain pickerel is a popular gamefish in the northeast and is caught by ice fishermen during the winter, but the world angling record for the chain pickerel was set in Georgia in 1961 at nine pounds, six ounces.

Golden-silk SpiderGolden-silk Spider. Photo by Richard T. Bryant. Email richard_t_bryant@mindspring.com

A beautiful orb-weaving spider, the golden-silk spider, Nephila clavipes , is found in the refuge. The female golden-silk spider has a one-inch long golden body, and golden legs with conspicuous tufts of black hair on the first and last pairs of legs. The male, sometimes located nearby on the web, is much smaller - only an eighth of an inch and drab colored. Also known as the calico spider, during the day the female is found perched head downward near the mesh-like center of the two- to three-foot web. Some orb-weavers replace their web every day, but the golden-silk spider redoes only one side a day and never the whole web. Sometimes, the spider can be found in large groups in shaded woodlands near water and swamps.


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