Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More on the Florida Worm Lizard

The Florida Worm Lizard

Rhineura floridana

By Carol Leffler Polk County Master Gardener

“Diggin’ up bones...”

These words almost describe the experience I had a week ago in my own front yard. I was digging a brand new planting area in a very dry section of the front lawn, when “lo and behold” I came upon a most mysterious creature. In fact, it was soooo mysterious—and I could only see the tail end of the critter—that I instantly decided not to lay a hand on it, not being able to see the head, whatever it may resemble!

Even after I had carefully unearthed it, I still had absolutely no idea what it could be. That is the wonder of life in Florida. New experiences, even after eight years, still occur. I put it in a container in my trusty Flexible Flyer wagon, and was off to the Internet to search for information.

Central Florida has many plants as well as animals that are endemic to the area, if one chooses to explore the possibilities. One of the most interesting and tenuous habitats in this area is the scrub habitat along what is known geologically as the Lake Wales Ridge. In fact, it is highly probable that many flora and fauna exist there which still are neither “discovered” nor “classified.” Many, which are known, are quite rarely encountered, and my find fell within a common but rarely seen species.

The Florida worm lizard (Rhineura floridana) was first described in the mid- nineteenth century. Like our native coontie, it is yet another

example of prehistoric life existing to modern times. Fossil evidence suggests that the closest relative of the worm lizard lived in the American Great Plains over 60 million years ago. Quite amazing. The search for

information revealed that the creature is

neither worm nor lizard!

I can say that it is, without any doubt, the strangest animal that I have ever found. Skin and scale plates cover the vestigial eyes, and the animal has no legs, yet is not a snake. The body is segmented, yet it is not a worm. It has no ears. This subterranean dweller, in fact, only emerges above ground when heavy rains force it from its burrows, which are formed by forcing its bony-scaled head through the soil in search of food or escape.

Most specimens are reported to be less than six inches in length, so my specimen was a mature adult. Cylindrical diameter measured 5/16”-3/8.” Females commonly lay three eggs at the end of summer.

The Florida Worm Lizard is the only member of the suborder Amphisbaenia (Order Squamata, Class Reptilia). The fabled creature Amphisbaena, in Greek mythology, was called Mother of Ants, and described an ant-eating serpent with a head at each end. This is an excellent description of the endemic Florida worm lizard. At first inspection, one would think that the tail is perhaps the head! The motion of the tail is very active, and perhaps a defense mechanism that allows the head to excavate an exit tunnel if a predator detects the animal.

Now, this whole experience has been interesting because the Florida worm lizard is described as a scrub habitat animal. This gives one an idea of just how dry my front lawn area is, even during periods of regular irrigation—I might say, that the turf is decidedly unhappy in this area of the lawn. This is a good indication that this portion of my landscape could benefit from an update to Florida Friendly LandscapingTM.

Sooooo...What’s this got to do with Master Gardening?? Well, it is just another consideration of any gardening

experience. Knowing what is at stake when you put shovel to earth can be a dicey experience, because beauty is more than about the greenery that is going into the planting hole. It is also about recognizing and appreciating what’s already there!

Further Reading: This site contains actual scans of the head structure; specimen collected from Lakeland, FL and viewed with High- Resolution X-ray CT (U.Texas) in 2005. http://www.digimorph.org/specimens/Rhineu ra_floridana/

http://www.wildflorida.com/wildlife/lizards/Fl orida_Worm_Lizard.php


Monday, April 25, 2011

Pipevine Swallowtail Larvae

Do you have a Dutchman's Pipevine? If you do, you will notice lots of Pipevine Swallowtail larvae chowing down on the leaves. I was surprised to see so many so early in the year! Check out my previous post on the Dutchman's Pipevine for more info on the plant.

Florida Worm Lizard

Have you ever stumbled across a Florida worm lizard while working in the yard? One of our Master Gardeners did recently, and was kind enough to share some photos with me. I had never seen (nor heard) of a worm lizard before, but apparently they are very common scrub creatures in Central Florida.

Information on the worm lizard can be found here, here and here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

City of Winter Haven Rain Garden Installation

The City of Winter Haven has installed a rain garden at the Utilities Administration Building at 401 6th Street, SW. A rain garden is a landscaped area that is designed to capture and filter rainwater. It catches potential runoff before it flows to the street and into the nearest waterbody where it contributes to pollution. This type of pollution is called stormwater runoff, and it is a major cause of pollution in Florida's waterbodies. The low area of the rain garden, when combined with plants, allows about 30% more water to soak into the ground than a traditional lawn.
If you are interested in creating a rain garden in your yard, go and visit he Utilities Administration Building for some great ideas. You can also download this manual to help you design and create a rain garden in your yard.

Of course, it is important to choose the right plants and follow the right plant, right place principle when you are installing a rain garden. For more information on right plant, right place, contact the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service.

What do you have planned for Earth Day?

What do you plan to do to celebrate Earth Day this Friday? I would suggest making a pledge to adopt one environmentally-friendly change. Here are a few ideas:

1. Change your shower head to a low-flow shower head.

2. Install and use a rain barrel to water your landscape plants.

3. Install and use a compost bin to recycle yard and household waste.

4. Work with neighbors to beautify your neighborhood with Florida-Friendly plants.

5. Convert your overhead irrigation to micro-irrigation in your planting beds.

6. Switch to reusable grocery bags..and remember to bring them into the store with you!

7. Take a short shower.

8. Take your bike instead of a car whenever you can.

9. Reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides and herbicides in your landscape.

10. Share one (or more) of these tips with your friends or family members.

No change is too small-do what you can! If you would like more information on making Florida-Friendly Landscaping changes, contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service and request a Florida-Friendly Landscaping handbook. Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Create Your Own Rain Barrel

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This time of year is traditionally quite dry, so with the recent heavy rains you may wish you had a rain barrel (or two) to collect some of that precious water. Collecting rain water in a rain barrel is a great way to keep your plants alive without further increasing your water bill. The savings can be substantial over a period of time, so now is a great time to get started!

Harvested water can be used to water your plants, wash your garden tools, keep your compost moist and wash your car. Rain barrel water is more beneficial to plants than potable water. The additional minerals help keep your plants healthy and green.

To construct a rain barrel at home, start with a food grade drum. Rinse out the drum and clean the outside of the barrel well if you wish to paint it. Next, drill a hole for the spigot. Using a 15/16-inch drill bit, drill a hole about 4 to 6 inches from the bottom of the barrel. Insert a ¾-inch male thread spigot into the hole, applying PVC cement on the threads of the spigot. Your barrel will now have to either be retrofitted to your downspouts or placed at a spot under the roof that sheds water.

To insert your downspout into the barrel, trace the outline of the downspout onto the top of the barrel. Cut out that portion of the barrel so you can snugly insert the downspout into the top. There is no need to cement or caulk into place. If you do not have downspouts, simply attach window screening to the top of the barrel to keep mosquitoes and small frogs out.

Finally, you will need to create an overflow outlet. This can be done with PVC pipe or a garden hose. The overflow outlet will ensure that excess rain water will be directed to a lawn or planting bed. Drill a hole in the side of the rain barrel and insert your PVC pipe. You will need to use an elbow and a small piece of piping in the inside of the barrel since you will need to drill the outlet on the flat side of the barrel. You can make barrel to barrel attachments the same way. This makes it easy to connect multiple barrels together and does not require any glue or caulk.

You are now ready to collect rainwater in your own yard!

There are many different ways to create a water harvesting system. For more information on making a rain barrel, attend the rain barrel workshop. The next rain barrel workshop will be Saturday, June 11, 10:00 a.m. at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service. You will be able to purchase rain barrels at the workshop for $30. To register for the workshop, please go to: http://rainbarrelworkshop2.eventbrite.com

Monday, April 4, 2011

How do you grow your veggies?

There are so many ways to grow your vegetables. From hydroponic stackers to raised wooden beds, there is something that will work for every backyard gardener. If you are getting ready to plant vegetables in your yard make sure you read through the information that your UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service has to offer.
Vegetable Gardening Guide Organic Gardening Hydroponic Gardening Preserving Vegetables