The Oasis Critter Chronicles
Richard Mojena & Cynthia Mello
This web page shows videos and photos of the wild creatures running around our yard and neighborhood (and sometimes in the house and lanai/pool), which include panthers, bears, gators, snakes (both benign and not), wild boar, fox, bobcats, coyotes, scorpions, spiders (wolf, banana, black widow, …), eagles, hawks, owls, deer, raccoons, possums, armadillos, squirrels, fox squirrels, and the endangered gopher tortoise. Photos and videos were taken with phones and a critter cam that’s activated by motion.
merrily call our nearly five-acre main and adjacent properties The Oasis, as a subtropical refuge from
the city. It’s located inland about 25
miles from the Gulf of Mexico and downtown Naples, Florida, in an area called
Golden Gate Estates, which in the 1950s was carved out of the Big Cypress Swamp
with a series of canals that drain controllably into the Gulf. One mile to our east is the western edge of
the agricultural area centered on the town of
(Patience in downloading… videos 1-6, 10 on our property, 7-8 neighbor on our street, 9 short drive away)
7 Two juvenile male panthers (BIG file)
8 Great horned owl (BIG file)
This shot of the elusive
At left mamma and babies
cross the street during their morning lesson.
They had gone through our yard near where you see the panther photo,
entered our wooded undeveloped property next door, and came out where you see
them. It’s unusual for black bears to
have a litter as large as four cubs.
Richard was watering new plantings when he saw them crossing the yard…
and they him. Two of the small ones
immediately climbed a pine tree, as taught by mamma. Minutes later Cynthia captured the photo at
left. At right, the photo was taken about 2 1/2 years
ago. What we see here is
two bears in the back vegetable garden, with mother and two others just inside
the woods, out of view in the photo. The
four bears are actually grown cubs, probably about to leave the litter. They’re as big as the mother. A few minutes earlier one of the cubs had
grabbed a 40 lb bag of compost in its mouth and carried it across the
yard: “Look what I found mommy… can we
eat it?” This same “playful” family at
right entered an open garage down the street, raided the refrigerator, and
escaped with a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs, as the owner shooed them away.
We speculate that the female left is the same as the female right. Four cubs again! Mamma is a good teacher, provider, and
protector (males often kill cubs not sired by themselves).
Ok, now this is scary.
This six-foot gator that’s obviously well fed can do you in. The culvert is at the end of our
driveway. Cynthia was walking our
Chihuahua Eddy when she spotted this bad boy’s (or
girl’s) red, menacing eyes within the darkness of the concrete. She quickly grabbed Eddy (gators have
surprising land speed, maxing out at about 30 mph, or 2mph faster than the
fasted recorded human speed) and talked Richard (hmmm) into taking these
photos. Apparently it was on its way
from a canal about a mile east to a canal about a quarter mile west. It was mating season, after all. Large adult gators average 13 feet and grow
at the rate of about one foot per year.
If you live or visit
Here we have Big Pappi, drinking water from the fountain next to our front door, taken through a window screen. Look closely: see his rump in front of the grass; his snout is at the bottom of the light brown patch; his forelegs reach for the water. Satisfied, he lumbers off across the yard. Needless to say, we’re careful when we open the front door. He knows we’re there after taking the photo at right, as he stops and looks back. Our bears are somewhat, but not entirely, afraid of humans. Still, we don’t want to surprise them when up front and personal… especially mother and cubs. If we should, we would back down slowly (never run), keeping them in site, with arms raised to look bigger than we are. Cynthia did just that with the family crossing the street in above left photo, primarily because mother stopped and looked at her. Back to Big Pappi: he’s been our favorite bear, but sadly we haven’t seen him in a couple of years. Died from old age or a bear fight? Killed by a car or illegally by a homeowner? Guns are legal in the neighborhood, including their discharge within the homeowner’s property. Still, it is illegal to harm or even harass bears.
Big Pappi again. Left he had just knocked down the bird feeder that was high up on the palm to his right (it’s the small white object on the ground) and was leaving after his feast. He climbed up the tree for his dirty deed, leaving huge gouges in the bark. The photo shows him leaving the scene of the crime. Just before this photo, when we first spotted him, he was flat on the ground, on his stomach, eating sunflower seeds one by one! In the semi-darkness, we thought that he was dead or injured. When we opened the front door to take the shot he got up and very slowly left his beloved seeds, periodically stopping to look back at us (or the remaining seeds). Subsequently, we hung the feeder on a high fishing line between two palms. Squirrels still get at it though, four feet over four feet upside down along the line from the palm to the feeder. It’s a struggle and our squirrels usually get the best of us. At right he’s at it again, trying to open our trash can. He gave up after a while, unsuccessful because the lid is bolted down and bungeed. We rigged the lid after numerous problems with bears getting the trash and scattering it either at the scene or in the nearby woods. Monday and Thursday nights are buffet nights, as trash on our street is collected the following mornings, very early. Trash delivers lots of food to the local bears, judging by the mess in the neighborhood on trash days… not healthful for them and makes them less fearful of humans. Waste Management doesn’t supply bear-proof cans. The problem turned dangerous in the nearby Ave Maria development, when a rogue bear ate trash, looked in shop windows within the commercial center, during business hours, and threatened people… a sheriff’s deputy fatally shot him as the bear came after the deputy. The association now provides bear-resistant cans and lectures that emphasize having pet food dishes outside is a bad idea… ya think?
Mad Max is one of our favorites, an endangered and very protected gopher tortoise that’s classified as a terrestrial turtle. Note the cracked shell, top left side. Cynthia found him in the front yard nearly four years ago, aiming toward the street. He apparently was run down by a car and obviously likes the street, so daughter Yara named him after the Mel Gibson character in the road warrior movie by the same name. We immediately called the local wildlife rehab center, who asked us to bring him in. We got him back two weeks later, with an epoxied shell, identified as a male, and instructions to place him exactly where we found him. And so we did; he picked up just where he left off, running onto the street, and into the woods. He is definitely a mature turtle, judging by the very large shell, about 18 inches. They live in deep burrows, up to 10ft deep and 40ft or more long, are vegetarian, and have life spans over 100 years. And get this: the burrows also provide shelter for many other creatures, some 360, such as snakes, mice, and frogs. For this reason, this tortoise is labeled a keystone species, as its demise has implications for the survival of many other species as well. We recently read a newspaper article stating that a gopher tortoise had dug its hole right in front of the front steps of a house. And guess what: it’s illegal to fill the hole, as long as it’s in use. Back to Mad Max, we didn’t see him for a year, until we saw him zoom past our garage on the way to our back property… and we mean zoom, for a turtle. Sadly, we have not seem him the last two years and hope he’s fine. Update May, 2013: He’s baaack! Spotted him in the front yard and followed him all the way through the back property until he disappeared in the woods, about an eighth-mile trek.
This nasty-looking creature
is one of our neighborhood wild pigs (boars).
We found him on the main street that leads to our side street. Looks like it fell off the hunter’s pickup
truck. The feral pig’s ancestors in
The predator to your left; the victim to your right. This snake is the southern black racer, very common around the house. It’s nonvenomous, thankfully, and territorially aggressive, a key reason it’s reputed to keep away our local rattlers. Several have stood up to us, ready to do battle. Before we found and plugged small holes in two corners of the pool cage, a couple had slipped into the house, one slithering around the pool deck and another in the closet of the guest bedroom. (The pool area is open to the house in the winter.) Speaking of rattlers, we have two types in the neighborhood: the eastern diamondback and the pigmy. The latter is especially dangerous, more potent, and it’s hard to hear its quiet rattle. We have yet to see either, but… a neighbor a mile away has seen plenty. A pigmy bit one of their dogs, the husband was also struck, after which he shot it with his gun, before driving off to hospitals, human and veterinarian. Both survived. We also have cottonmouths (water moccasins) and coral snakes, both highly venomous, not sighted by us, but truly by neighbors on the next street. And to our right we have our cute cricket frog, so named because its call resembles that of a cricket. They are all around the house, especially in the gutters, and in our pool deck area and lanai. We tolerate them, because they eat bugs and are too cute, and often rescue them from our salt pool, were they would otherwise drown. The lanai also harbors brown (Cuban) anole lizards, aggressive bug busters that entertain us with their hunting and romantic antics. They are amazingly fast and effective at capturing ants, beetles, and the occasional roach… but also are prey for the snakes. We recently saw a slightly venomous ringneck snake (about six inches long) pop out of the pool deck gutter to snare a hapless baby lizard.
And now for the arachnids, everyone’s favorites. To our left is the local scorpion, smaller and much less venomous than the western variety, and very dead in the bottom of our pool. Still, we’re told they hurt… and a neighborhood small dog was stung and ended up dying after several painful days. We haven’t seen one in a year now, but when we first moved in there was one in our silverware drawer, another in the pantry room, and two came in on Richard after he had finished cleaning up some palms (they live in the palm boots). And about a year ago Cynthia terminated one in the master bath. Center stage is the wolf spider, a frequent visitor to the house. These solitary ground spiders do bite and are slightly venomous, although not a medical threat to humans. Still, wolfies are menacing, rear up in defense, and are very fast. They haven’t been in the house much the past couple of years, an occasional one every couple of months or so. Cynthia abhors them with a passion, and mercilessly hunts them down. Occasionally we swat one with zillions of hatched babies on her back, followed by a mad scramble to crush the little @#^%#*$. To our right is a banana spider that we found in one of our jasmine plants (we have banana plants too). These consummate weavers are venomous as well, having a neurotoxic venom similar to the black widow (which we have as well), but not nearly as potent, with no threat to humans. They have beautiful markings and impressive webs, and do look intimidating given their size. An Australian specimen is reputed to have eaten a small finch!
Many loose “pets” wander around our semi-rural neighborhood: dogs, cats, chickens, roosters, guinea hens, peacocks, goats, cattle, horses, emu. Mother and kid gave us a visit in these photos. They live in a pen at the end of our street, about a quarter mile away. Kid was shy but mom loved butting and petting, following us around like we were family. The photo at right shows them tailing Cynthia down our driveway, as she returns them to their home. The critter cam video above captures them as they “help” Cynthia with her yard work in back. The owner was unaware they were gone and that we have a panther roaming our neighborhood. Yet he was blasé about the danger and apparently has no plans to better secure and protect them. Unfortunately, it’s probably only a matter of time before they disappear. Emu story: Cynthia was driving down a nearby street when an emu, the second largest bird in the world after the ostrich, limped across the street in front of her. She stopped as it was standing by the side of the road, holding one leg up, apparently injured. She got out, threw it some dry dog food that we always carry (to collect strays), and called the local domestic animal services folks. She had to leave for an appointment, but later we hear from a neighbor that the dirty and sweaty “dog catcher” and owner thundered through the woods for a couple of hours while chasing and finally catching the big bird. Cow story: Several cows wandered off an owner’s property about 7 miles away (we have a big neighborhood, the largest development of its kind in the country). A nearby neighbor shot one of the cows on the main drag around midnight and laboriously dragged it, with the help of a friend, to their back yard, presumably to butcher it. The next morning the sheriff followed the obvious bloody trail, found the unfortunate and very dead cow, and arrested the criminal genius. Nothing like covering your trail. Did you hear the one about the drunk driver speeding down our dead-end street doing maybe 70 in his beemer and trying an Evel Knievel leap across the canal? Made it about three-quarters of the way, the car settling in water up to its windshield. No injuries and lucky for him our gator friend above apparently didn’t show. Ok, so we live in an idiosyncratic neighborhood… part of the entertainment in these parts. Our neighborhood gossip is usually about animal sightings and encounters.
This handsome gray fox was caught by the critter cam in the morning, although most hunt at night, which is when we saw another sighting last year, running in front of us down the driveway as we returned home one evening. What’s that about the fox and hen house? The rooster two properties over disappeared. These neighbors eat their chickens and only one is left, free-ranging around the yard pecking insects and seeds. Its cage is not secured at night, so it’s a race as to who gets the poor surviving chicken first: the human or the fox. The goat house down the street also had many, many chickens… in real hen houses, yet many have vanished. Gee… let me think… Their owner says that he has seen a bobcat carry one away, a rare confirmation as these felines are not predisposed to sightings. Our immediate neighbor saw a young bobcat well behind his house and opposite our pool cage. We’re dying to catch a bobcat on camera, a beautiful animal from the photos we’ve seen. Needless to say, we’re very aware of the danger these critters pose to our Chihuahua, our daughter Yara’s visiting mini Dachshund, and our son Joshuah’s and wife Susan’s visiting Boston Terrier. They’re never out alone and always on leash at night.
look at the other photo. A squirrel, right? Yes, but a very special squirrel: the
elusive fox squirrel, the largest squirrel in the western hemisphere. This would be a Big Cypress Fox Squirrel, as
our neighborhood was carved out of the
The young buck is eyeing the vegetable garden. So far it looks like the numerous deer that
visit us have stayed out, flummoxed by either our scarecrow or the “crime” tape
el cheapo “fence” or both. Didn’t stop the bears, though, nor the rabbits and raccoons. One of our young olive trees is not as lucky
with deer. They like to strip the bark,
killing that particular branch. They
also like young avocado leaves; we had partial success with those by
positioning “Boo” at the tree, a Halloween scarecrow. Deer, by the way, are a favorite prey of the
Florida Panther, and we know we have at least one. The acrobatic raccoon is after our bird
feeder, which we have since removed from that location. Not because of him (them), but because one of
our bear “neighbors” bent it 90 degrees.
Wrought iron, ninety degrees! Our
local raccoons are smaller and less aggressive than those we encountered in
RI. A raccoon hung out on our roof when
we first moved in. It took a concerted
effort over several weeks to scare it away.
They often frolic on the palm trees next to the house, as well as the
squirrels. And we often catch our masked
residents on the critter cam. The
barred (hoot) owl is next to the pool cage, perched on the Vietnamese trellis
that supports our dragon fruit. We have
many of these engaging, silent predators.
We named this one “Oliver” because he stayed very close to the house for
days, having an obviously damaged eye. During
this time, when we had Nevi, our since gone little girl white
Neighbor Steve about a quarter mile down our street has deployed several photo and video critter cams in his empty lot. And wow, does he have gems. The two panthers together and owl videos above are his. Here we have Tas (as in Tasmanian devil) on top of the water pump. He’s the feisty runt of the litter trailing the family while crossing the street in the photo seen above, taken several months before the one you see here by Steve. He’s obviously with us and growing! Below him is a brother or sister, with Mom grazing leisurely nearby.
And to our right, on the same popular pump, is a magnificent Great Horned Owl, so named after its prominent ear-tufts. This character was seen by our immediate neighbor last year, standing on his driveway several feet from where a bbq was underway. This one doesn’t stand down, hissing at Steve without taking flight, as he approached within six feet. These raptors will take down prey several times their weight and have many choices from a very long menu: small to medium size mammals (rabbits, skunks, raccoons, dogs, cats, …), rodents (mice, rats, squirrels, …), birds (including big ones such as herons and turkeys), reptiles (yes, including small gators), insects, and even carrion… not choosy for sure. Their flight is silent, their hearing is acute, and their eyesight enables them to judge prey distances and heights in low light. As with other owls, their eyes don’t move within their sockets, so we have that creepy near-exorcist-like 270 degree head rotation. We often hear their calls at night, especially during mating season in early winter. And we keep a very watchful eye when we take our Chi out at night, leash firmly gripped.
Last updated May 20, 2014
To be continued…