Wild About Wildlife Month!
Happy summer! It’s a time of freedom and fun. Kids can be outside all day, exploring, playing, and learning. Trips to the zoo or nature reserve are a must. Except that it’s super hot. And nobody wants to be outside. Not even the animals.
As hot as it is, we persist! July is Wild About Wildlife Month. This month is the perfect opportunity to learn about and acknowledge local and exotic wildlife!
Here at Lubee, we know a lot about wildlife. First of all, we’re home to our 160+ exotic fruit bats. These bats we take care of every day, including feeding them, giving them toys, and cleaning up after them. Even though we do take care of these bats, they are still wild animals. They are not domesticated. They exhibit wild behaviors, like guarding food, fighting, and having territories. Our animals have sharp teeth and nails that they know how to use. They’ll swipe at us with their sharp thumbs when we get too close and bark and threaten us with their wings.
When we handle our bats for medical purposes, like annuals or nail trims, we have to wear welding gloves to protect ourselves from the nails and teeth. They will bite at our hands through the gloves and it HURTS. Even though they get fed in silver bowls every day, they still have those wild instincts that make them wild animals.
Along with our exotic fruit bats, Lubee is home to a lot of wild native bats. We have seven bat houses on our property that house several different species of Florida native bats. These native bats manage the bugs on Lubee property, as well as leaving property to eat bugs in the area. The species living in our bat houses can be found all over the Gainesville area, where they love to munch on bugs all night!
In Florida, there are 13 different species of bats. All of these bats eat insects, including moths, beetles, and mosquitos. These pests are damaging to both people and crops and we rely on bats to keep them under control. There are also 7 visiting species of bats: 3 found in the north that eat bugs and 4 that come from the Caribbean that eat fruit, pollen, and nectar. These bats can be found in Florida, but they don’t live in Florida for any amount of the year. Florida bats can be seen living in bat houses, like the UF Bat Houses, or living in caves, like the Florida Cavern State Park, which are places you can visit this summer!
But bats aren’t the only wildlife in Florida. At Lubee, we see birds, armadillos, deer, snakes, lizards, opossums, raccoons, rats, frogs and toads, and bugs and spiders. Most of these animals you can find in your backyard, especially if you live in rural areas. For the most part, these animals stay away from our bats and keepers, but occasionally we run into frogs or bugs in our pens. For the safety of our bats, and the sanity of some of our keepers, we do go through and clean out things like spider webs and wasp nests from our pens and hallways.
In Florida, we have some notable wildlife, like our Florida alligators and crocodiles. They can be found in marshes and swamps across the state, but really enjoy any body of water, including a nice backyard pool. An easy way to spot them is to go on hikes! They’re often chilling in the water, people watching. You should never approach gators or crocodiles. Give them plenty of space, at least 6 feet.
Florida is also home to our gentle giants, the manatees. They can be found throughout the coastal waters, rivers, and springs of Florida, especially during the winter months. They are protected by the state and federal governments as an endangered species. You can spot them floating through the waterways, but give them plenty of space!
Countless other animals call Florida home as well, including panthers, turtles and tortoises, black bears, armadillos, bald eagles, beavers, bobcats, coyotes, and varieties of fish, birds, insects, snakes, and marine mammals.
There are creatures that live in Florida that shouldn’t. Unfortunately, some people decide they don’t want to own an animal as a pet and instead of finding them a home, they just let them out into the Florida wilderness. Some animals are clever enough to escape someone’s home. In other cases, exotic species may be transported either purposely or unconsciously by ships or planes. Certain species of snakes, like pythons and anacondas, rodents like nutria and rats, lizards like nile monitors and green iguanas, fish like lionfish and piranhas, birds like ducks and parakeets, and species of snails, frogs, and toads have become invasive in Florida. These animals don’t have natural predators and are able to multiply without consequence, taking resources from native species. It is equally important to be aware of this kind of wildlife, to understand how it damages our native ecosystems and hurts our native animals and plants.
Plants, another form of wildlife, can also be invasive. These plants often grow uncontrollably. They can be poisonous to animals or deadly to other plants by growing on them and stealing sunlight or resources. Invasive plants are often brought into the US for landscaping and indoor and outdoor decoration. Sometimes they’re seen as a cheap alternative to native species, like the water plant hydrilla, which was introduced to Florida waterways in the 50s and 60s. Hydrilla now shades out native aquatic plants, damages boats, and removes food and habitat for native aquatic animals. The Florida government spends more than $30 million a year to manage it. Invasive plants are monitored and removed by the government and volunteers to make room for native plants, which are better for native pollinators like bees and bats!
So despite the heat of the summer, we hope that you take the time to celebrate some wildlife! Whether it’s visiting a zoo, aquarium, or national park or looking at your backyard from your air conditioned house, we hope that this July you get wild about wildlife. Use resources like libraries, computers, and documentaries to learn something new without leaving the AC. Check out Lubee’s live bat cams to see some wildlife in action.
To all our batty friends out there, stay cool and stay wild!