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 – Sideways trees at Ft. De Soto

The effects of the Gulf breeze on young trees.

The effects of the Gulf breeze on young trees.

Last week, I reviewed Fort De Soto park in Pinellas County.  This picture didn’t make it into that review, but I wanted to share it anyway.

Many of the trees on the Gulf side of the island have grown sideways – a result of the gusty winds that blow in off the water.  Many of the trees, like this one, are growing parallel to the ground, giving the sensation of windy-ness, even on the calmest days.

If you’re in St. Pete this week, head out to Fort De Soto after you wrap up your holiday shopping and take in the views and the arboreal anomalies.  I promise it’ll be worth it!

Photo Friday – Roadside fishing break in the Everglades

Believe it or not, there are things swimming in these waters besides Alligators and giant, alligator-eating pythons.  Unfortunately, all we could find were the gators.

Photo Friday – Madeira Beach

A calm, quiet day on Madeira Beach in Pinellas County.  Madeira is less popular than many of the beaches that surround it, but it’s not because it’s an ugly beach.  Madeira has a subdued hotel and restaurant scene, and because of that, it tends to be frequented more by locals and less by tourists.  It also has a McDonald’s with a dock, so you can arrive by boat (or kayak).

OK, a bonus photo, to make a point:

If that’s not a uniquely Florida idea, I don’t know what is.

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 – Fishing in the Florida Keys

Keys fishing pier

Fishing pier along the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys.  Fishing is great, but watching the massive Tarpon and Manta Rays swim through the channel is even more fun.  The best views are from the elevated piers (this one is just north of Long Key).

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.