Fulbright in Florida: Searching for cottonmouths on Seahorse Key

Two weeks ago I moved from Adelaide, South Australia to Gainesville, Florida. It's been a year since I received the news of my Fulbright Scholarship so I've had plenty of time to ramp up to it. Still, it feels pretty weird, I've dedicated the last couple of months to packing up my life in Adelaide only to suddenly reverse the gears and rebuild it all again in Gainesville. Takes a while to get oriented: house, transport, licence, bank account, supermarkets, university. But one thing that has helped is the deluge of animals that you can find in Florida.

Most of the animals you find are invasive species, but if you don't mind that - it's grand! As you walk along the sidewalk, tiny lizards jump out of your path, these cute little guys are invasive brown Anoles (Anolis segrei), but apparently native green Anoles (Anolis carolininsis) are still knocking about. The University of Florida campus also has various critters: there are giant oak trees that home twitchy squirrels and roosting osprey, and the lakes are teaming with alligators and turtles. Absolutely everything is strewn with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), which, incidentally, is neither Spanish nor a moss (wait, wat?!). Oh, and I also found this little leper scurrying around campus:

I went to Lubee Bat Conservatory, which is just outside of Gainesville, with the North Florida Fulbright Chapter, and I also went to a giant sinkhole, called Payne's Prairie, where I saw countless waterbirds, gators, monarch butterflies, a few horses, bison and bald eagles. Yep, bald eagles:

I also got a chance to go to Seahorse Key and look for cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus). After being separating from the mainland population, these island snakes needed to shift from a generalist diet of frogs, lizards, small mammals to a carrion diet - catching morsels of fish that rain down when sea birds come to feed their chicks. The relationship is mutually beneficial: with snakes getting a free meal and the birds gaining protection from ground predators. Abruptly, the birds up and left a few years ago, and haven't returned since, leaving the snakes to starve and scientists very confused. A PhD student from the University of Florida Mark Sandfoss has been recording the decline in cottonmouths and offered to take me out to the island. 

So, for your viewing pleasure, I've made a video of our trip to Seahorse Key. Enjoy! 

So, Florida is great!

Yep, everything is totally dandy here.

Nothing else to report.

America is great.

Again.