Florida Critters 1

Little Florida Critters

When we moved from Maryland to the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1996, we were surprised to find that we sometimes go for months without rain. So, the mosquitoes aren’t too bad most of the year. But a day or two of showers provide the conditions for an explosion of the critters. Camping near a swampy area after a rain can be a real no-no, especially in the summer. Rainy season (usually thunderstorms) is June through early October. The sign below could be us at Paynes Prairie State Park a few summers ago.

Mosquito

Other annoying insects are the “no see ‘ums” that you don’t see until they bite you. Dawn and dusk are the worst times. I’ve also been dive-bombed by some deer flies. Larger than a house fly, their bite feels like it’s taking a chunk of flesh. I feel bad for the deer! Luckily, they move slowly enough for your to swat them to death in retaliation.

Some of the worst pests have migrated up from Central America and, apparently, are still marching northwards. (Tomorrow could be your lucky day!) One of my first mistakes in Florida was absent-mindedly stepping on a fire ant hill. These little red-colored critters seem to have organized armies. Just touch a fire ant hill and watch them go crazy! And do they sting!!! Believe me, there is a reason they are called “fire” ants.

Fire ant

Medium Florida Critters

While the insects are bothersome, there are some Florida critters that can kill you.

Binski and I were taking a walk through the campground at Alafia River State Park, a beautiful state park slightly off the beaten track and a favorite for trail biking. I was admiring one of the RVs, not paying much attention because we were in a well mowed area of the park. Then, I felt a tug on the leash. Something had caught Binski’s interest and he was on his way over to take a look.

Rattler

As you can see, what caught his attention was a 6 to 7 foot diamondback that was moving from a pond and across the campsite where a camper had tethered his dog just a few hours before. The snake slowly slithered under the RV and into an open field beyond.

Prior to that day I usually walked two dogs at a time, each pulling in a different direction. Since then I almost never take more than one so I can keep a close eye. Luckily, this rattlesnake was in the open where it could be easily seen. But it was an important lesson about becoming complacent.

If yours are like mine, when you’re walking on trails, they like to go to the edge near the brush, a potentially dangerous place. I’m now wary now of letting them do that. And, although I love retractible leashes, I keep the leash short when I take them on trails.

I saw a bobcat a few weeks ago at Oscar Scherer State Park, just moseying through the campsites looking for chihuahuas. (Hopefully just kidding.) Anyway, it was the first one I’ve seen in the wild.

There are lots of armadillos and big turtles, squirrels and rabbits. And, for those unfamiliar with Florida, we have zillions of little lizards. But they are cute.

Big Florida Critters

Florida is beautiful but it can be a wild place. And developments are often located right next to the habitats of some of the big critters. Shamrock Park in Venice, Florida borders a community where many of my students lived. It’s located on the aptly-named Alligator Creek. When some neighborhood dogs went missing recently, animal control was called, and this is the big boy they found. From the looks of that gator’s belly, he has sure been chowing down on something. There are tales of finding dog collars in the stomachs of nuisance gators.

Venice Gator

There is a community just north of Venice where residents living along the ponds divide their back yards with a chainlink fence. They give the gators a setback of 10 feet or so along the bank of the pond for lounging in the sun, which they seem to like to do in the winter when the water is cool and the sun is warm. The fences offer some barrier of protection for their pets. I’ve heard, however, that if a gator wants to get beyond a chain link fence, he’ll find a way. Kinda gives you chills, thinking about it. We owned one home here on a pond, but it’s not really a priority for us anymore…

The Moral of the Story

Most of the time, camping in Florida is calm and cozy. But, as you can see, it’s wise to keep your eyes open and anticipate dangers for your pets.

After reading through today’s blog, if you’re still interested in Florida camping, stay tuned to Doggystylerv.com. Have a great day!

George and the Kids