When you live in Florida, you share your home, garden and yard with an array of animals, reptiles, birds, butterflies and bees. If you garden or build flower beds, you’re inviting many flying, chirping and stinging creatures into your world. If that’s the goal, then good for you if they show up. If that’s not the goal, you might want to rethink your outdoor plants.
My yard has played host to a lot of creatures over the years. We’ve had visiting foxes, peacocks, bobcats, hawks, eagles, buzzards and even a panther. We don’t have that big of a yard! Apparently, it’s just the right size for these wandering animals to stop and have look around for something to eat.
While most of the animals, insects and birds are common, we have our share of protected species, too. The panther for example is a protected species, and when I call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, they told me that there were no panthers in my area. I begged to differ, and I had plenty of witnesses, but FWC would not be moved to believe. As for me, my family, the neighbors and the dog, we believed.
Another protected species can be found in a pile of sand. Probably right in the middle of your yard. This is a good sign that a gopher tortoise has found your yard to be the most suitable place in the world to live regardless of what you think. The problem with these guys digging is that their holes are massive, and they leave this huge pile of sand in their wake. They are aggressive diggers and can dig faster than a kid can plow through a birthday cake with the same degree of wreckage in its wake.
Our yard has been home to a few of these huge creatures over the years, but lately, we’ve only had one that has been using our yard as a freeway between burrows and whatever the great delicacy is in the yard a few feet over. He’s been crawling under our fence to get to wherever it is that he goes. Sometimes, his freeway becomes the neighbor’s chickens escape route.
Because they are endangered, there is no remedy to the landscaping they do. You can’t fill the holes in because apparently, those holes are home to a host of other animals and birds like burrowing owls and rattlesnakes. And 350 other species of animals. Owls, yes. Rattlesnakes, no.
According to the FWC, we can apply for Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard recognition and get a sign. I don’t think I want his friends to bring more friends to the yard.
Since our tortoise passes through the yard, we enjoy his visits. Sometimes, he comes up on the front porch and noses around, but mostly, he’s headed somewhere else, so he’s less destructive than most.
I am fortunate to live in Florida. It wasn’t exactly by design, but I ended up here on the East Coast about 45 minutes’ drive south of Cape Canaveral, which was a bonus to being Oceanside. When I got here, the Challenger had just blown up and shuttle launches were scrubbed for the near future. I did get to see the next launch once the program started back up again. So, I have been lucky to watch all manner of rockets flung into space, as well as be amazed as the boosters returning to land on a postage stamp sized barge in the middle of the wide open Atlantic Ocean. I have seen the shuttle come home on a transporter that seemed to black out the sky when it flew over, and I grew up with a shuttle pilot as a friend. It’s safe to say that I love all things space. If you’re visiting the Space Coast for a Launch, you must love all things space, too.
Like the weather, the space program is unpredictable and while I am spoiled by the fact that I can look out my window and watch a launch, I know there are many people who come here just to see a launch. That was the case of the Artemis rocket test flight the other day. I happened to be on the road when it was supposed to launch, so I was constantly scanning the horizon while plugged into my rocket go-to site for more information. www.rocketlaunch.live gives you all the updates. That’s how I knew the flight had been scrubbed, which meant I could settle down and enjoy the road trip and wait for the next big thing.
Now, I am waiting for them to reschedule the flight and hope I don’t forget to write it down on my calendar.
The Space Coast is a focused on the space industry, but there are other things to do here that are not spacy for those days when scrubbed missions disappoint. If you’re heading down to Cape Canaveral (Kennedy Space Center), here are some other places to explore:
If you’re looking for a space thrill, then the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the place to spend a day. If you’re here for the launch, this is going to be a busy place, so you might need to put this at the end of your list of things to do.
It doesn’t matter what your level of space devotion is, there are exhibits that will excite and entertain you at the Center. You can take a day trip to the launch pad or explore for a couple of days. Just make sure you get into the visitor complex.
The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame showcases legends from the beginning of NASA to the present day. You will ‘meet’ space pioneers like John Glenn and other Mercury astronauts. You can spend time in Mission Control, and you might even be able to chat with a real astronaut. If you want to get up close and personal with real rockets, there are plenty to see in The Rocket Garden. The Countdown Clock is an icon of American history, and it is still used today.
You can climb into a training simulator or enjoy iconic photos from deep space from the Hubble telescope.
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop for a souvenir of your trip to the moon and back.
Just up the road from the assembly building is a barrier island that is home to many birds who come and go from the Florida peninsula. This national park consists of dunes, lagoons and hammocks that host a large selection of Florida native animals and plants. There are five turtle species at the seashore, and other mammals like the manatee and the right whale.
You can stop at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge that is also part of this park system, and see birds like spoonbills, kingfishers and the endangered scrub jay. There are also wild hogs in the area, so keep an eye out for them, too. It is also the home of bobcats, so you might even see a cat or two.
The name Canaveral is derived from the word that means ‘place of cane’. It is the oldest recorded geographical location on the North American continent. There are nature hikes to take, and the history includes tales of its settlement and the crops they planted. Timucuan mounds are preserved.
You might remember the name of this beach town because it was the fictitious home base for Captain Nelson of the 1960s I Dream of Jeannie tv show. Unfortunately, there is no television studio set to visit as the house never was on Cocoa Beach.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some great things to do on Cocoa Beach.
Cocoa Beach is home to annual surfing contests because its six miles of beach make it a great place to surf. Surfers gear up from iconic shops like the Ron Jon Surf Shop where you can buy surf gear, Florida souvenirs, t-shirts and other touristy things to buy that will remind you of the days of sun and sand. At Christmas, the Surfing Santas take to the waves and all you see is Santas on surfboards spreading holiday cheer.
Cocoa Village is on the mainland, and it is the quiet, more reserved partner of the Cocoa experience. You will find art shops, antique shops, breweries, restaurants and gardens. Take a walk along the streets and pop into any number of shops selling local arts and crafts. Or, stop into a café for a bite to eat and a local brew.
You can still find a hardware store that opened up in 1885 selling its wares. It’s a small village, so take a day and explore the quaintness of an old Florida village.
Just down the coast from the Space Coast lies the Treasure Coast, that is aptly named for its hidden ocean treasures. The coastline is where the shipwrecks occurred, and there are still doubloons that wash up on shore to this day after a particularly fierce storm
The Mel Fisher Treasure Museum and Gift shop is located in Sebastian, Florida on U.S. Highway 1 and is the home of some of the iconic treasures that Mel Fisher brought up from some very famous shipwrecks.
Mel Fisher started as a dive shop owner in California before he became interested in sunken treasure. From there he sought out shipwrecks. In the early 1970s, he found one and it started is life’s dream to seek treasure and lost history.
In his museum, you’ll find jewelry, artifacts and gold from Spanish fleets that sunk in a storm in 1715. He recovered treasure from Nuestra Senora de Atocha that was sunk during a hurricane in 1622 off the coast of the Florida Keys. You can buy a piece of treasure from the Atocha if you wish. They offer emeralds and silver coins for purchase. I almost bought my Dad a cannonball for Christmas one year until I realized that I had no way to ship it!
There are opportunities to join a team of treasure hunters, so you might find yourself bitten by the treasure hunting bug.
In addition to these fun stops, there are other places very close to the Cape to visit like the Brevard Zoo, the McKee Botanical Gardens in Vero Beach or drive north to St. Augustine or Daytona Beach. You will also find fresh fruit like oranges, grapefruits and even local strawberries and blueberries.
Since you never know when another launch will happen, make sure that you have a backup plan for those scrub days.
Here are some things that I found out about raising Monarchs from caterpillars to adults:
Our second go at this produced 17 caterpillars, which were about 10 more than I had anticipated. Apparently, if you just leave the plants in the open for a few days, there are many unseen eggs when you put the top back on! We released 11. A couple caterpillars were lost in the beginning (or I overcounted one or two), and two Monarchs were unable to open their wings, so they died. I found that heartbreaking.
A female Monarch and a male Monarch have different bottom wings. The males have a black spot in the center of the wing on each side. I know I released at least one male this first go round.
The caterpillars molt and drop bodies as they go. When they are close to getting ready to go into chrysalis, they go manic and eat everything and then some. I ran out of food from the plants in the planter, but I had back-up plants, so I was a planting fool. Along with cutting the tops off of my mature plants and sticking the tops in the ground, I picked up a couple plants at the local big box store. It worked in a pinch, but I was exhausted by the time they are went into chrysalis status.
If you buy back-up plants in a hurry, make sure that the plants are from a nursery and not a big box store. I think a bad plant may have contributed to the butterflies with the malformed wings.
Their little heads fall off and drop to the bottom of the cage when they become chrysalis. This is disturbing.
They poop a lot. A lot. I used a straw to gently blow the poop off the leaves as they went. The cage was big enough that I could remove it from the dirt and the sides.
They jump off of leaves on a strand of silk if they are scared when they are really little. I was pretty sure that it was being eaten by an invisible spider.
Keep them sheltered from the hot sun and storms, and don’t release them in the rain.
If you upset them by just being there as they are eating, they will all start to shiver and shake like they’re scared. It might be a warning mechanism, but it is weird. Even if you talk while you’re taking care of them, they huddle or shiver.
If they get into a fight, expect a lot of head butting. They fight over leaves, and it’s everyone for themselves.
They are caterpillars for about 14 days, and then they are chrysalis for 7 days, so it takes almost a month to go from worm to butterfly. There are a few moltings between tiny and huge.
If you see an egg on a leaf, if it is grey, it is because they are getting ready to hatch. They will eat their own egg. I read that black eggs were bad eggs, but I didn’t do a lot of research on this.
These butterflies have a host of pests and diseases, so if you do this, be prepared to watch them for problems. I have been lucky, but I’ve read some stories about serious problems. When in doubt, check the internet for references.
They live 2 to 6 weeks unless they are the super generation that migrates from the United States to Mexico, and then they can live months. My Florida Monarchs do not migrate far, so they don’t live long.
They lay about 200 or so eggs, and the female can lay eggs within a few days of becoming a butterfly.
Florida offers year-round butterflies.
Only buy milkweed that belongs to your region or the butterflies get a bit confused.
Plant other flowers like lantana and butterfly bushes to encourage the butterflies to stay, eat and breed.
Check out other host plants for the other butterflies in your yard and help them propagate.
I hate that they are endangered, and I know that I can never raise enough to make a big difference, but I hope to help some butterflies live on.
Since kids love bugs, why not help them understand how important the pollinators are to the world?
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Map CoordinatesAs you can tell, the map is broken up into degrees from east to west and north to south. Since the majority of the hurricanes and action start off the coast of Africa, the 50-degree mark west is too close to home to see the activity.The NOAA map is bigger and takes us to the edge of Africa and north to Newfoundland, Canada. This is my preferred map because I am a geek that likes to draw little lines on a piece of paper. The map coordinates are tiny, so if it’s an active season, it will get all squiggled up quickly.While the local newspapers and television will let you know when there is a storm headed your way, if you take the time to check with NOAA during the season, you can start planning a lot further into the future. I have been surprised by a hurricane or two – mostly because I was still without power from the first one that hit me to know there was another one –, so I prefer to watch them as they develop.As you can see from this NOAA map, there is a small disturbance by Belize that has less than a 40% chance of development. The map has the legend at the bottom, so you can interpret the symbols. The maps are updated, along with 2-day outlooks regularly, so if you’re watching the storms, you first choice should be the NOAA site at
Let’s talk about the so-called Cone of Uncertainty, as the media likes to call it. When there is a storm that is predicted to develop, meteorologists begin to use modeling services that can help them predict where the storm is headed.
If you stay in Florida long enough, you’ll understand that they are wrong way more times than they are right. In their wrongness people freak out and do all kinds of dumb things like hoard peanut butter because apparently that is the only food source known to man that can keep us safe. Or buy 50 cents worth of gas at a time to keep their tanks ‘topped off’ in case they have to drive to Alaska to escape. They will wait in line for 4 hours to put in a quarter of a gallon. Panic does no one any good. But, you have a map, so you are not panicking.
When they show the path of the hurricane, the cone represents the extreme paths on either side that the storm could take. It doesn’t mean that the storm will stay in the center and that is the maximum width the storm will have. Anytime within the storm’s development stage, that center can move.
The other thing to remember is that when the center moves, so does the outer bands of the storm. Just because the center is in one place doesn’t mean that you won’t be affected. Storms are wide and carry a lot of wind and rain with them. As they spin, that wind and rain peels off and affects areas far from their center. So, if you see the Cone of Uncertainty and you’re on the outside of the furthest edge of the cone, you’re going to need to protect yourself from the outer bands of the storm. A hurricane is shaped like a buzz saw, and like buzz saws, there are a lot of sharp edges that will cut through the atmosphere.
This graphic from NOAA shows how the cone can be as narrow as going up the center of Florida to as wide as missing Florida altogether on either side.
Tropical Wave – It all starts with the wave. It is an area of low pressure that is moving off of the coast of Africa and into the Atlantic Ocean. This wave can form a tropical cyclone.
– An organized and rotating system of thunderstorms that form over warm, tropical and subtropical waters. In the Norther Hemisphere they spin counterclockwise. If they form at the 5 to 30 degree mark in the North latitude, then they usually move westerly. If they form or reach the 30 degree mark, they usually turn northeast. Wind shifts within the storm can alter the latitude, so watch for changes.
Tropical Depression – Once a cyclone has reached top sustained winds of 38 MPH or less, it is considered a depression. You will see surfers watching this because it will create swells that are great for surfing. Check out the Cocoa Beach surf report on Surfguru.com if you need more surf information.
Tropical Storm – Once the depression hits a sustained wind of 39 to 73 MPH, it is considered a storm. If this strengthens, it will become a hurricane. Wind and rain can be expected if you are in the path of a tropical storm. The damage is usually minor, but limbs and loose objects in the yard can go flying. There may be flooding.
Hurricanes are rated based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale that is used to estimate property damage. No matter the category or strength, there are always risks to life and property due to storm surges, blowing objects, power lines and flooding.
Hurricane: Category 1 – 74-95 MPH sustained winds can cause property damage. Most Florida structures are built to the Miami-Dade Hurricane Code that ensures the structures are strapped down. This code was updated after Hurricane Andrew. Roof damage is possible with shingles being the first to go. There can be power outages.
Hurricane: Category 2 – 96-110 MPH sustained winds that are dangerous to property and people. Frame homes can have major roof damage. Trees can be uprooted and roads can be blocked. Power may be out for a few days to weeks.
Hurricane: Category 3 – 111-129 MPH sustained winds are devastating to an area. There can be major damage even to the most well-constructed house. Roof damage is probable, as is damage to decks, siding and windows that are not covered. Expect power to be out for weeks after a storm like this.
Hurricane: Category 4 – 130-156 MPH sustained winds cause catastrophic damage to even the best built buildings and homes. Trees will be snapped and uprooted, and there will be no power. Areas hit by a Cat 4 will not have power for possibly months, and there is a good chance it will be uninhabitable.
Hurricane: Category 5 – 157-higher MPH sustained winds will flatten the area and completely destroy all structures. The trees will be gone, and the power may not be restored for months. It will be uninhabitable indefinitely.
I apologize for the length of this post, but since the hurricane season is ramping up, I thought I should get this out now.
Season runs from June 1 – December 1, but the tropics never to seem to get that memo, so it’s not unusual to see storms in May or late December. I have been in Cat 2 and low Cat 3 storms, so if you are told to evacuate, get on the road as soon as they tell you to go.
Roads in Florida are limited. You do not want to be stuck on I-95 with a storm bearing down, so make your plans early – like long before there is a storm – like now as to where you will go and how you will get there.
Shelters fill up, and sometimes you cannot take your pets. DO NOT leave your pets to ride the storm out, so figure out how to save yourself and your family.
Chances are you’ll never have to leave, but if you do, be prepared to evacuate.
Here are some things you might want to buy ahead of time:
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It took a few weeks before my stumpy plants started to flourish and grow. During that time, I was a hawk when it came to invading aphids and marauding milkwood bugs. If I saw them, I physically removed them from the plant and destroyed them. I read where if you spray the plants with soapy water, which is my ‘go to’ method of pest removal, I would also be killing any eggs or caterpillars that may appear on the plant.
To be honest, I walked away from the plants for awhile because I had other things I was doing. Since the big pot sat outside my back door, I saw the plants every day, but didn’t spend a lot of time on it.
My neglect was exactly what was needed to ensure that I would have some caterpillars.
I watched a couple of eggs hatch, and realized that if I was going to save any of these beauties, I needed to enclose them to protect them from whatever was munching on them. My woodworking husband took up the challenge and built a screened in 3’x2’x2’ cage to go over the plants. He built is as a rectangle because I only needed to cover the plants, but gave no thought to any open areas on the so-called “cage”. That would become a problem later when caterpillars got frisky.
This was my first shot at this, so everything was a new experience, and we learned as we went along. Like herding cats, literally, cats, these guys would go everywhere when they got towards their chrysalis time, and open spaces around the pot were fair game. I thought that because there were tall walls on the pot that they would not climb out. That was dumb. They have a million legs and jet propulsion when they’re hungry.
By the time we had them corralled, we had three out of six left in the container.
While I was trying to do everything the natural way, as part of that natural way, those milkweed bugs were munching on more than my milkweed; they were adding protein to their diet and eating monarch caterpillars. Once I figured out what was happening, I decided that natural wasn’t working for me.
In all fairness to the milkweed bugs, if your property is being overrun with milkweed, the bugs do work to keep everything trimmed back to a manageable size. The aphids brought in ladybugs that were not in as much abundance as was needed to curb the aphids, and for a while, I thought the little baby milkweed bugs were ladybug babies that I did not want to destroy.
I had every intention of dumping the plants onto a vacant lot next door and giving up on the whole thing, but at the last minute, I trimmed the plants back to the root and removed all of the bugs. If nothing else, I thought I would have some beautiful flowers.
All in all, my start to 2022 milkweed garden was a huge loss. I was afraid that I had missed the season because of the pests.
That wasn’t the end of the grand milkweed plans, though. Apparently, monarchs lay eggs all year round in Florida. There was hope after all.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved the look of a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), and as much as these orange, black and white butterflies with their white-spotted black bodies are used in motifs throughout the ages, I’m not alone in my fascination with them.
The monarch was an important cultural symbol of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, and Tula warriors wore the monarch on their breastplates. The butterfly was added to stamps, frescos and ceramics of the Teotihuacan people.
This stands to reason considering that Mexico is the migratory destination of these colorful creatures. They can cover thousands of miles to get to Mexico.
The International Space Station even raised a few monarchs in space. Since we try to include as many native species of plants, trees and flowers in our yard, we see a large assortment of butterflies as they migrate through, as well as our native butterflies like the zebra butterfly. I have tried to plant only Florida milkweed, to not disrupt the natural cycle of the monarch. Every year, I have planted or tried to raise from seed a selection of milkweed that invites the monarch to lay eggs. Every year, I see a few caterpillars, and then they are gone.
This year, I decided to move my annual milkweed purchase into a large pot on the back porch where I could monitor it. I bought a pink and an orange flower from reputable nurseries and set up my monarch watching station.
It did not take long before I started to see aphids show up. I try not to upset the natural order of things (see the movie The Biggest Little Farm for information on why you should not upset things), to keep nature in balance. I decided to leave the aphids and let nature take its course.
(If you purchase something after clicking this link, I might earn a few pennies from the purchase. Thank you!) That might have been a great idea for the aphids and then the invading milkweed bugs, but it didn’t do my prospective monarchs any favors. While I resisted doing anything about the invading bugs, beetles and other creatures, I monitored the plants for monarch eggs. I was very happy to see that I had both eggs and a few quarter-inch caterpillars moving about my milkweed.
After 30+ years in the Sunshine State, I’ve seen a few changes. Not all for the good, but some very wonderful and surprising changes. For instance, the 10-year-old I brought here in the 1980s made me a Grandma in 2020. The state changes not so good. Too many people and not enough backroads.
The life I’ve led here has been the life many women my age from my home town now talk about wanting to live. They long to leave the snow and bask in the sun of Florida.
Okay, but just know that everything in Florida wants to eat you. Flying, crawling, slithering. All the same.
If it doesn’t want to eat you, it will chase you. Sometimes it will run over you. Ever see the running of the bulls? Picture it with wild hogs. When I got to Florida, it was part Wild West and part drunken stupor. Sometimes the two met under the thatch of a tiki hut and bamboo bar. This was even before Jimmy made that kind of living something to envy.
We’ve got car races, boat races, rocket launches, sunken treasures and cockroaches the size of VW Beetles. For added fun and an aerobic workout, they fly! Erratically.
The weather is so nice, the running of the wild hogs – the HD kind – is often the rumble you hear on an otherwise still summer afternoon.
The other rumble is from the Space Coast as the rockets fling themselves out of Cape Canaveral towards destinations unknown at a million miles per hour. The aftermath is a slow building rumble that travels down the Indian River and convinces the dog that we’re all going to die.
If that is not convincing enough, a double sonic boom rattles the garage door and vibrates the hurricane proof windows. You gotta admire the fact that those rockets can now be set down on a barge in the ocean rather than thrown into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Season
Hurricanes, I’ve had my share. I’ve run from them. I’ve boarded up. I’ve ignored them, and I’ve defied them. Mostly, I’ve slept through them.
There are two types of hurricanes: Those that annoy and those that destroy. I’ve been in both over the years.
Word to the new resident. Putting duct tape Xs on your windows is the Midwestern equivalent to a snipe hunt. I’ll wait while you look that up.
The most annoying part of the hurricane season is prepping for something that doesn’t happen. Yes, you’re lucky not to be in one, but what are you gonna do with those 40 cans of Dinty Moore Stew that you scarfed off the shelves in a self-preservation mode of FOMO? Church pantry will take your overstock.
Every year, I put up a tracking map and inventory my canned goods. If the seasons have been quiet for a few years, your Hormel chili might be expired. Throw it out. No one wants expired chili beans.
I’m coming up on the start of hurricane season 2022 – starts on June 1 and ends on Dec 1 and hurricanes are sure to adhere to the calendar -, and since I’m never going to eat the Sue Bee Chicken and Dumplings in the pantry, it’s time to regift it to the pantry. It’s still got a few years to go until it expires. Someone will say ‘Yum’. It just won’t be in this house.
Newbies – make your list from the local Publix and get prepared to stock your pantries. It’ll be here before you know it.