1,145,956 people live in Orange County, Florida today, making it one of the most crowded colonies of Homo sapiens in the United States. A satellite view of this county reveals a densely packed network of suburbs surrounding the many lakes that dot this once beautiful piece of real estate. It appears as if green space has been entirely extinguished here. Walt Disney is responsible for much of the ungodly mess Orange County has become. He created Disney world, a shitty tourist trap constructed between 1965-1972. In my opinion the entertainment value of Disney World is nil, and a blank television screen is preferable to 95% of the series presently aired on Disney-owned ABC network. I can’t understand how even small children are entertained by the imbecilic cartoon characters created by Disney’s company. Ironically, the man behind Bambi destroyed more deer habitat than any other business criminal in history. It disgusts me how the real interesting fauna of Florida has been replaced by artificial anthropomorphized animals.
Orange County, Florida.
Walt Disney with one of his imbecilic cartoon characters. Real animals are far more interesting than Mickey Mouse.
There were at least 7 different types of natural communities that formerly made up the landscape of Orange County. In 1774 William Bartram found hardwood hammocks growing on the lake shores and islands within the lakes in north central Florida. The tree composition consisted of live oak, palm, magnolia, orange, and many other temperate and subtropical species. Orange trees were not native to Florida but Indians widely planted this fruit from seeds they obtained from early Spanish colonists 200 years earlier. Large orange groves, abandoned by declining Indian populations, were being invaded by native trees in some places. Other wild fruit trees included papaya (Carica papaya), tallow plum (Ximenia americana), coco plum (Chrysohailaanos icaco), and pawpaw (Asimina triloba). Ivy and grape vines covered the hammocks and spectacular flowers such as hibiscus grew in the understory.
Hibiscus coccineus. Bartram found stalks of this flower growing 12 feet tall.
Silver Glen Springs in Ocala National Forest. The numerous springs and lakes of Orange County acted as firebreaks protecting hardwood hammocks that would have otherwise been converted to longleaf pine savannah.
Florida has more thunderstorms and lighting strikes than any other region of North America. Accordingly, lighting ignited wildfires shaped the most common type of environment found in Orange County. Lakes acted as firebreaks that protected hardwood hammocks, but longleaf pine savannahs predominated on uplands away from water. Widely spaced pines with grassy understories supported lots of wildlife. Great herds of bison, feral longhorn cattle, horses, and deer used to roam the savannah along with mighty flocks of cranes and turkeys. Burrowing owls and caracaras preferred the heavily grazed grasslands where they had a good view of potential threats. By contrast the now nearly extinct grasshopper sparrow preferred to nest in tufts of bunchgrass perchance left ungrazed. This species requires large ranges because the type of habitat they need is ephemeral, annually disappearing in some areas and appearing in others. A slight dip in elevation of only a few inches differentiated 2 similar but distinct natural communites–dry longleaf pine savannah and wet pond pine savannah. They shared some species of flora and fauna but carried many different species as well. Crayfish for example preferred the latter.
Sand scrub habitat hosted gopher tortoises, a species Bartram referred to as abundant in 1774 but has probably been extirpated from modern day Orange County. There are many commensal species that co-occur with the gopher tortoises, including the spectacular indigo snake.
Gopher tortoises, now endangered, were formerly abundant on all areas of Florida with sandy soils.
Cypress swamps with 1000 year old specimens grew in low lying areas. Drought or storm-killed trees attracted the now extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. This bird required freshly killed trees infested with beetle larva. Some cypress trees were exceptionally large, and they were covered with Spanish moss. The myriads of mosquitoes made these swamps a paradise for several species of bats that nested in cypress snags. Mosquito county was the original name of Orange County.
An 1000 year old, 90 foot tall cypress tree in Louisiana. Trees this age used to be common in Orange County.
Some low lying areas were treeless marshes where grasses and sedges grew. This was the habitat of the marsh rabbit and many species also found on the savannahs.
Marsh rabbit. The artificial Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck replaced this real living and breathing animal in Orange County. Walt Disney, a so-called animal lover, hypocritically destroyed most of the marsh rabbit habitat here.
Modern lakes in Orange County are often polluted from fertilizer runoff. Gizzard shad are the only species of fish to thrive in these algal blooms. Formerly, these lakes supported much higher largemouth bass populations that fed alligators and wading birds. Wintering ducks and geese used to be much more abundant.
Bartram wrote that the most common songbirds in Florida were green jays, loggerhead shrikes, and rufous-sided towhees. I’m sure the jays he saw were the Florida scrub jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens); rare now but still present in Florida. Bartram must have been color blind because there is no green on this bird. Green jays occur no farther north than the Rio Grande, but there was a species of green jay that lived in Florida during warm stages of the Pleistocene. Bartram is the only person to record the king vulture in Florida–a bird that today is restricted to tropical regions of South America. He saw them scavenging reptiles unable to escape wild fires.
Bartram saw bears, wolves, and bobcats in Florida. Bears fed on oranges and wild fruits. The Florida black bear is the largest subspecies of Ursus americanus, thanks to the year round foraging opportunities that preclude the need for hibernation here.
Rock Springs is a Pleistocene fossil site located in Orange County, Florida. It yielded a typical Rancholabrean large mammal fauna. For a list of species found at the site here’s a link to a wikipedia article. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_County,_Florida_paleontological_sites). Rock Springs is a good avifossil site. The abundant fossils of ducks and wading birds show that wetlands have often been common here.
Orange County was still a sportsman’s paradise in the first half of the 20th century. Though many of the natural communities had been transformed into citrus orchards and cow pastures, there was still enough green space to make for superior deer and quail hunting, while the black bass fishing remained outstanding. But the citrus business shifted south following a killing freeze, and pastureland has transmogrified into unending suburbs, and now the land is ruined.
The late George Leonard Herter lamented this ruination. He enjoyed dining at a long gone local restaurant owned by Peter Miller. Miller served largemouth bass, dressed, skinned, and boiled whole and covered with dill-flavored mayonaise and a side of garlic-infused sourkraut. None of the chain restaurants that currently add to the congestion of this suburban nightmare serve a dish this unique. The unique natural beauty of Orange County is as forlorn a thing as a locally-owned restaurant.