A biological crossroads where temperate gives way to tropical and east blends into west, Florida has over twenty-five primary habitat types, several of which are unique to the state. Within these richly varied natural communities lives an astonishing abundance of animals and plants, making Florida one of the United States' most biologically diverse regions. At the same time, sadly, Florida is also one of the country's most ecologically imperiled regions, second only to California in the number of its animals and plants that have been federally designated as endangered or threatened.
This fully illustrated book is a comprehensive, yet convenient and easy-to-understand guide to Florida's endangered and threatened animals and the habitats that support them. Chris Scott covers all 71 species, subspecies, or populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, insects, corals, and mollusks. His species accounts describe each animal's listed status, identifying characteristics, historical and current distribution, biology, current threats, and conservation efforts. To make the crucial link between animals and their habitats, Scott also includes extensive discussions of Florida's natural regions; human impacts on the environment, including habitat destruction, pollution, and the introduction of invasive, nonnative species; and ongoing efforts to conserve and restore native plant and animal communities. With this wealth of information available in no other single volume, everyone who cares about the natural environment can help preserve one of America's biological treasurehouses.
This book is intended to provide the reader with detailed, current, factual information on each of Florida's 67 animal species, subspecies, or populations designated as endangered or threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Descriptions of Florida's ecosystems (which these and every other native animal and plant depend on) and their current state are also included. Wherever possible, I have tried to accentuate the correlation between protection of habitats and protection of wildlife; it cannot be overemphasized.
Construction of the book entailed two distinct duties. The first was research and the actual writing of the text, which required hundreds of hours in front of the computer trying to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome while still trying to complete my self-imposed quota for the week. The second was photographing the fascinating assemblage of creatures discussed in the text, which often required trips of two or three days to some of the country's most unusual and beautiful locations. I much preferred the photography to the writing. The field trips were always exciting, whether or not the species sought was found, and provided a number of unusual and sometimes comical experiences. One such experience involved an attempt by myself and my son Matthew to photograph the threatened Atlantic salt marsh snake in the wild. Locating this species at any time other than low tide is extremely unlikely; however, after arriving at the site just after dark and discovering the tide to be just as high as it could possibly get, we decided to give it a shot. After several hours of wading and sinking chest-high in muddy water, or watery mud, we were still a quarter-mile and several hundred mosquito bites away from dry land, and then our flashlight died. If the Guinness Book of World Records had a category for the world's muddiest father and son, we would have won hands down. The beautiful photograph of the Atlantic salt marsh snake that appears in this book was taken by Barry Mansell, and it serves as testimony to the failure of our exhaustive search for the animal that October night.
Then there was the caterpillar incident. Over the years I have been bitten, stung, and envenomated by a variety of America's critters including rattlesnakes, scorpions, and even small alligators, and it has generally been my fault. While I was searching for scrub-jays and sand skinks in Ocala National Forest, again with my son, one cute, fuzzy little puss caterpillar somehow managed to fall down my shirt. Reacting to a sudden itching sensation on my chest, I rubbed the venomous quills of this unseen aggressor into my epidermis, which is exactly what you don't want to do. For the next several hours I felt as if someone had inflated the glands under my arm with about 200 psi of air.
The last incident I'll mention is one I now consider humorous but a bit embarrassing. On one of my many trips to the Florida Keys to photograph species for this book, I happened on an amazingly tolerant peregrine falcon who permitted my very close approach. When I first spotted the bird--the fastest of all God's creatures, perched above a mangrove forest and keenly scanning its surroundings for an unsuspecting blue-winged teal or other feathered quarry, I quickly grabbed my camera and began my approach on foot. That euphoria stole over me, the feeling experienced by nature photographers when the rare opportunity for the perfect photograph of a prized animal presents itself in the wild. Stealthily approaching the falcon, I clicked off shots every few feet. The sun was at my back, increasing the probability of a once-in-alifetime peregrine shot. As this trusting, adult peregrine permitted me to approach within 20 feet with my 300-millimeter lens, I visualized, with certainty, the slides of the bird gracing the cover of Audubon or Wild Bird magazines. After 30 frames or so, I was more than satisfied when the stately falcon took flight toward a flock of descending willets on an adjacent mudflat. Only then did I realize that I had no film in my camera.
If you are considering writing an article or book about the outdoors, and you're considering doing your own photography for the piece, I can offer the following advice: First, you'll probably save a lot of money and time by simply buying the needed photographs and rights from established nature photographers, and you'll have much more time to devote to your manuscript. Second, disregard the previous statement and get out there yourself, get muddy, beware of the savage puss caterpillar, and experience or reexperience the subject matter you are writing about firsthand. Your finished product will be enhanced as a result. Just remember to put film in your camera.