Spinning tales about Florida’s predators


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The Florida alligator tops the predator list. This photo was shot by Shaw Frederick, 14, an eighth-grader at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Suntree, with a Nikon D90 using a 70-200 mm zoom at 130 mm, f/8 at 1/40 sec, ISO 400.

Shaw Frederick

What animals are predators or prey? These roles are determined by dominance on the food chain. For example, in Florida, the white-tailed deer survives on vegetation, rather than prey. However, the alligator, the Burmese python, and the Florida panther periodically feast on this vulnerable animal. Moreover, the Florida black bear, bobcat, coyote, and wild pig eat the fawns.

The alligator, an apex predator, can overcome the panther and the wild pig. Presently, the alligator confronts its equal in the Everglades — the Burmese python. Both prey on each other.

The Burmese python is an invasive imported species and is not welcome. It is suspected of causing a decline in mammals. For example, a 16-foot python crushed and swallowed a fully-intact, 76-pound deer.  Alarmingly, this reptile is merging north — a 12-foot python recently was captured in Port St. Lucie where local cats disappeared.

The panther (cougar) helps to limit the number of pigs and raccoons. Invariably, the panther is misidentified with the bobcat, but the long tail of the panther and the short tail of the bobcat differentiate these species. Furthermore, the panther is massive.

The black bear may include small mammals, carrion, and seasonal berries in its diet. If the need arises, it is cannibalistic. Its sense of smell spans one mile; therefore, garbage cans should be secured.  

Beware!  This creature can run and climb a tree. It is the only bear species found in Florida.

The bobcat ambushes with a chase or pounce. It may target small mammals, livestock, and domesticated cats and dogs. Occasionally, the adult bobcat male consumes kittens of its species. This feline dauntlessly strolls in backyards or on sidewalks, yet it is uncommon for it to stalk humans.

The coyote often hunts in pairs. It is relentless and may persevere for hours to conquer its game, such as small mammals, livestock and pets. When food is scarce, a coyote may pursue a jogger or a child. It is a member of the dog family and is capable of mating with a dog. This canine releases a distinctive howl which signals the gathering of the pack or delivers a territorial warning.

The wild pig is bold in large herds. Often, stray dogs are at risk. It destroys crops and seemingly harrows manicured lawns. In 1540, this pig was introduced to Florida (near present-day Tampa) by Hernando de Soto. Today, the immense number of wild pigs in Florida is second to Texas.

Indeed, predation is not automatically detrimental. When it controls population in the wild, it is convenient. However, because of ongoing land development, some apex predators are coerced to live near humans. Will the fittest survive?