Photo Friday – 100,000 bats over the University of Florida

Bat houses UF Gainesville


 There exists, in one of the less-academic corners of the University of Florida, two tall structures overlooking a lake.  Like houses without walls or sheds on stilts, the exist not for the 50,000 students who attend the school, but for the 100,000 bats (roughly, I didn’t count) that call the field home.

Inside the bat houses, which stand among a lake, a community garden and several fraternity houses, a large colony of Brazilian free-tailed bats hang and squeak all day long.  When the sun sets (on days when the sunset temperature is over 70 degrees), the bats leave the houses in a swarm and head toward the lake, where they spend the night eating mosquitoes, moths and other small insects.

If you’re looking for a free show, head out to the bat houses shortly before sunset and join the crowd of onlookers – and there’s always a crowd of onlookers.  Arrive even earlier and watch the sun set over Lake Alice (right across the street).

These are the largest occupied bat houses in North America, according to UF.  And the bats eat 10-20 million insects every night, begging the question:  Why are there still so many bugs in Gainesville?

The bat houses were original built to lure the bats already on campus away from other buildings (like the football stadium and the journalism school) where they had set up camp.  The move was successful, although I’m not sure how you convince 100,000 bats to move across campus.  A question for another day, I suppose.

UF bat houses

The two bat houses are home to over 100,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats.


Photo Friday – Flowers on the campus of University of Florida


As I’ve said before, I know nothing about flowers at all.  But I sure like seeing interesting flowers in unexpected places.  This one was a lone ranger near a parking lot on the campus of the University of Florida.

Driving to campus Saturday morning, I expected little resistance in my quest to find a good parking spot.  Unbeknownst to me, though, a colossal UF graduation ceremony was taking place in the stadium directly next to, but completely unrelated to, my destination.  Frustrated that I had to park miles away on a Saturday morning, I opened my truck door and almost stepped on… this flower.  Which, of course, reminded me that, as frustrating as parking can be, at least I’m not a flower in a parking lot.

Can anyone ID?

Photo Friday – Weedon Island Preserve

Here’s a special Saturday edition of Photo Friday!

Weedon Island Preserve, on the Tampa Bay side of Pinellas County, offers one of the coolest mangrove trails in the state.  The channels, which were dug by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s to help reduce the mosquito population (didn’t work), are now maintained as a series of kayak trails.  In many places, the trails are so narrow that you need to use a half-paddle to get through.  Crabs, snakes, rays and wading birds fill the park, and there’s a nearby manatee viewing area.  I can’t recommend this place enough.

Photo Friday – Fanning Springs State Park

The sun peeks through cypress trees at Fanning Springs State Park.  The park has a short boardwalk through the cypress grove and out to the Suwannee River.  The shade offers a nice reprieve from the midday sun.

Photo Friday – Cicada shells at Fanning Spring State Park

Cicada shells line the trees and boardwalk at Fanning Springs State Park.  Cicadas molt their skins as the last step before they reach adulthood.  Just like human teenagers, they don’t bother to clean up after themselves.

Photo Friday – Camping in Long Key State Park

Long Key campground

One of the greatest tent camping destinations in Florida, Long Key (about halfway to Key West) offers campers beach-front camp sites with water and electric for less than $20 a night.  The park is quiet, small and rarely full.  Direct kayak access to the water and fishing piers, boat launches, Key West and Islamorada are all within minutes of the state park.

Photo Friday – Monarch butterfly in Paynes Prairie

Monarch butterfly
A monarch butterfly rests along La Chua trail in Paynes Prairie state park outside of Gainesville, Fla.

Photo Friday – The Florida Everglades

A storm rolls in over the Florida Everglades.  Boat ramps and fishing docks are located every 20 miles or so along Alligator Alley (the stretch of 1-75 that cuts through the park).  Stop at just about any of them, and you’ll surely spot Florida Alligators monitoring the water around the dock.