Christmas in Florida
An Anole Lizard (Carolina anole) sunning on a sunflower tree bloom.
I've rescued several of these little guys in past days that have found their way into the house, perhaps seeking a place to hibernate for winter. I have found that they can and do bite and while the bite doesn't generally break the skin it is strong enough to sting, especially the bite from the larger and more aggressive Brown anole (Anolis sagrei)
Record Heat for Florida Christmas
It has been an absurdly mild December over most of the United States. Florida is no exception. It has remained mostly hot and mostly dry through November and December. Most of Central Florida has received less than ½-inch of rain this December with little additional rain forecast through New Years.
An extremely strong and large high pressure ridge extends from Bermuda to the Yucatan Channel and remains the dominant weather feature for Florida pumping another slug of unseasonably mild, humid air across the state north from the tropics this week.
Records high temperatures that will likely be broken on Christmas Day include Daytona Beach (82° set in 1988), Orlando (85° set in 1924) and Vero Beach (85° set in 1997). The forecast high for the Orlando area is a remarkable 87° for Christmas Day.
The sunflower trees (Tithonia diversifolia) pictured here are on their 4th set of blooms this year, another highly unusual occurrence. Typically frost would have stopped the trees from blooming by Christmas. The end of Central Florida's frost season is generally around mid-February so if the weather were behaving reliably we would only expect to have about 6 more weeks for potentially cool weather this season. Obviously there is no predicting what might happen next as our weather patterns have drastically changed in recent years.
Most of the sunflower trees are suffering from the extreme heat and dry but the stand pictured here is close enough to the house to receive daily watering from sprinklers so it has continued to thrive. These trees are also protected from the wind by large oak trees on all sides. They currently stand about 20-feet tall (6+ meters). The trees that are more exposed have lost many of their flowers and leaves to the wind and dry.
Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) on Sunflower Tree
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Sunflower Tree
The secretary-general of the World Meteorological Center warned recently that this naturally occurring El Niño event coupled with human induced climate change may be interacting and modifying each other in ways which we have never before experienced. 87° F (30½° C) on Christmas Day may be a wake up call.
Gulf Fritillary Butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) on Sunflower Tree
The Gulf Fritillary is a longwing butterfly. Like other longwings this species does have long, rather narrow wings in comparison with other butterflies. The butterfly takes its common name from its migration over the Gulf of Mexico. Black and orange stripes warn predators of the toxicity of the caterpillar which protects it from predation.
Monarch Butterfly (sideview) on Sunflower Tree
The zebra longwings are the most abundant butterflies in the sunflower trees this season as they are nesting nearby in the oaks. This is one of the only butterflies known to nest in colonies.
I have discovered two colonies of zebra longwings in the oaks surrounding the sunflower trees. The butterflies prefer the most scraggly, dead–looking, low-hanging branches of the live oak for their nests. They return, nightly, to the same spot and cluster together in a large family group.
For more information on why these butterflies are thought to live in colonies and for more images go this this link where I discuss the scientific explanations of zebra longwing colonization: Butterfly Colony Evolution
Even the honeybees are still active, as evidenced by these images. One real downside to the very warm weather are the clouds of biting flies and mosquitoes that ride in on the hot, dry winds every afternoon.
Rare Full Moon on Christmas Day
Not since 1977 has a full moon dawned in the skies on Christmas. But this year, a bright full moon will be an added gift for the holidays, where visible. The extreme heat blanketing the eastern USA will cause nighttime skies to be at best foggy-hazy as seen in these photos taken on December 23, 2015 with a long exposure.
December's full moon, the last of the year, is called the Full Cold Moon because it occurs during the beginning of winter. The moon's peak this year will occur at 6:11 am EST on Christmas.
This rare event won't happen again until 2034. That's a long time to wait, so make sure to look to the skies on Christmas Day.
When looking at the moon remember that the geologic history of the moon and Earth are intimately tied together such that the Earth would be a dramatically different planet without the moon.
Papaya Worms Return
Feeding exclusively on papaya these Erinnyis alope (Alope Sphinx Moth) worms have returned in large numbers with the extremely warm weather. One worm can eat several papaya leaves over the course of its short larval life.
The bonus is that in a few months you'll be able to enjoy the spectacular Sphinx Moths that emerge in the next life cycle of Erinnyis alope.