Posts Tagged ‘George Leonard Herter’

The Land Walt Disney Ruined

May 12, 2014

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  It disgusts me how the real interesting fauna of Florida has been replaced by artificial anthropomorphized animals.

Map of Florida highlighting Orange County

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 Tortoise Burrow

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.

Swamprabbit

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.

 

Advertisements

Evidence Humans Butchered a Jefferson’s Ground Sloth in Ohio 13,700 years ago

January 11, 2013

Some time prior to World War I, R.C. Niver found the bones of a Jefferson’s ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) and a bison on his family’s farm located near Norwich Township, Ohio.  The bones were unearthed fom 4 feet below the surface of a bog.  It’s unknown whether he was attempting to drain the swamp by digging a ditch, ploughing, or deliberately looking for fossils.   The bones were examined by the late Oliver Hay, one of the leading paleontologists of the day.  Eventually, the ground sloth bones were placed in a box mislabled as mastodon and put in the attic of the obscure Firelands Historical Society Museum where they rested for over 80 years.  One day, Matthew Burr was cleaning the attic, and he rediscovered the ground sloth bones.  Furthermore, he noticed cut marks on the bone.  Although many paleoecologists believe humans overhunted ground sloths into extinction, before Mr. Burr’s astonishing observation, no direct evidence of human exploitation had ever been reported from the archaeological record.

Photo of the bog where researchers think the ground sloth bones were originally discovered.

The ground sloth bones rested in a box labeled as mastodon in the attic of the Firelands Historical Society Museum for many decades.

Brian Redmond, a curator of the Cleveland Museum, examined the bones.  He counted 5 chop marks and 41 slice marks on an upper leg bone. (Claws, ribs, an ankle, a knee cap, and the lower leg were the other bones found along with the femur.)  Of course, the material was studied thoroughly to discount fraud and other types of morphology such as trampling or river scouring that can produce scratches that resemble anthropogenic marks.  They looked at the marks with a scanning electron microscope and confirmed they were made while the bone was fresh, and they learned they were made with 2 different stone tools.  The placement of the marks also made sense from a butcher’s point of view.  The Indian butcher cut the muscles from the most efficient angles.

There are visible cut marks on this ground sloth femur.  It’s a one of a kind specimen.  The cracks are the result of drying after the specimen was retrieved from the wet bog.

Though the Ohio ground sloth is the best direct evidence that humans exploited ground sloths, 2 other sites yielded assumed evidence.  Scientists found dermal ossicles of a Harlan’s ground sloth at the Kimmswick site in Missouri.  Kimmswick is a confirmed mastodon kill site.  Dermal ossicles make up the armor that used to help protect ground sloths from predators.  Like their cousins, armadilloes and glyptodonts, ground sloth skin was covered in armor, but theirs was covered with thick fur.  The scientists who studied the Kimmswick site believe the dermal ossicles came from a sloth hide carried by paleo-Indians to the mastodon kill site.  The hide later rotted away but the ossicles endured.  The other site is in South America where sloth bones were found associated with human artifacts.

Artist’s rendition of a Jefferson’s ground sloth.  They weighed over a ton.  The Ohio specimen discussed here was one of the largest individuals ever discovered.

Only 3 Jefferson’s ground sloth bones have ever been found in Ohio.  It’s an amazing coincidence that 1 of them showed evidence it was probably killed by humans.  The Indians may have been scavenging it, but I doubt it.  I’m sure they directly killed it.

13,700 years ago, the Laurentide Glacier had retreated northward from Ohio and Lake Erie was young, and recently filled with glacial meltwater.  The climate was rapidly warming but still quite cold during winter.  But as I wrote  in a previous blog entry, these  beasts with neotropical origins could survive cooler climate because they dug deep underground burrows. https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/some-giant-ground-sloths-dug-long-burrows/

It’s sad that these amazing beasts no longer walk the earth.  When the paleo-Indians hunted them, they probably never imagined they were in the process of completely wiping them out.  They likely had no concept of extinction because they lived in a world of bounty.  To them, a ground sloth was an easy feast in a world before grocery stores existed.  (Incidentally, in his book How to Get out of the Rat Race and Live on $10 a Month George Leonard Herter claims that tree sloth tastes like pork.)  Ground sloths were well adapted to defend themselves against big cats and wolves, but they were helpless against projectile weapons.

Reference:

Lepper, Bradley

“Pre-Clovis Butchered Ground Sloth in Ohio”

The Mammoth Trumpet 28 (1)  Jan 2013

The Co-existence of the Rice Rat (Orzomys palustris) and the Florida Muskrat (Neofiber alleni)

March 9, 2012

Water-loving rodents of many different sizes abounded in Pleistocene marshes and swamps.  It’s likely man overhunted giant beavers (Castoroides ohioensis) and capybaras (Hydrochoreus and Neochoreus) into extinction, but several medium and small species remain.  Beavers (Castor canadensis) and muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) are still common throughout the southeast, except in Florida where both are completely absent.  However, the presence of round-tailed or Florida muskrats (Neofiber alleni) proves that an aquatic rodent can survive in environments that host significant numbers of alligators. 

The Pleistocene range of the Florida muskrat is a curious example of Ice Age mammal distributions and how they differed from those of the present.  Today, the round-tailed muskrat is restricted to Florida, but during warm climate phases, they use to have a range that extended north.

Datei:Neofiber alleni distribution map.svg

Range map of the Florida muskrat.  During warm climatic phases of the Pleistocene, it was more widespread living as far north as Pennsylvania and Kansas where it shared the range with common muskrats (Ondatra).

Fossils of Florida muskrats were among those excavated from Ladds stone quarry in northwest Georgia.  These likely date to the Sangamonian Interglacial.  Their fossils have also been found in Texas, Kansas, and Pennsylvania and in many of these fossil sites their bones were associated with common muskrat (Ondatra) bones.  This is evidence that the 2 species of muskrats used to co-exist but presently they do not.  Because Florida muskrats are thought to be maladapted to cold climates, they must have only co-occurred with Ondatra zibethicus during extremly warm interglacials when winters were warmer than those of today. 

Florida or round-tailed muskrat (Neofiber alleni)

Round-tailed muskrat nest in Putnam County, Florida.  Photo by Alan Cressler.

Florida muskrats still share habitat with another aquatic rodent–the rice rat (Orzomys palustris).  The latter, though restricted to the south, is more widespread.

Rice rat range map

Rice rat (Orzomys palustris)

The rice rat feeds upon many of the same foods and utilizes Florida muskrat runways and feeding platforms.  They even occasionally build their nests on the roofs of muskrat nests.  Muskrat nests generaly consist of 12-25 inch grass mounds that are accessed by 2 tunnels saturated with groundwater.  Rice rats construct globular nests 6-18 inches in diameter and are located about 6 inches above the flood line.  The preferred habitat of both is a grassy marsh where bamboo cane, sawgrass, cattails, arrowhead, and pickerel weed grow.  Rice rats are omnivorous, feeding on succulent plants, mushrooms, seeds including those of iris and rice, insects, fiddler crabs, snails, fish, and carrion.  Florida muskrats are more vegetarian, eating mainly the stems of water plants and the roots of ferns, but Frances Harper reported that they ate crayfish as well.  Unlike muskrats, rice rats are not specifically adapted to aquatic life–they do not have waterproof fur and webbed toes and they can live in grassy meadows away from water.  But they are good swimmers and divers.

Florida muskrats are members of the vole family.  Most voles are small mouse-sized rodents, and muskrats are just big overgrown voles.  Florida muskrats are gregarious and share feeding platforms with other muskrats.  This behavior is not like that of other vole species including Ondatra which are territorial.  Rice rats are distantly related to white-footed or field mice.  Only 1 species of rice rat lives in North America, but many more occur in South America.  The North American species probably is descended from rodents that colonized the continent when a landbridge formed between the two.

I’ve never seen a rice rat, but I have seen common muskrats (Ondatra) quite often in and around Augusta, Georgia.  I took a boat ride on the Augusta canal a few years ago and saw a score of them.  I see their sign in Woodbridge Lake in Evans, and once I witnessed a hawk carrying a muskrat away.  I’ve seen a Florida muskrat on 1 occasion.  When I was about 10 years old, my grandparents lived on a canal in Inverness, Florida.  As I walked along the bank of the canal in the morning, a round-tailed muskrat swam along beside me and barked at me the whole time.

Frances Harper surveyed the Okefenokee Swamp circa 1920.  He estimated 10,000 Florida muskrats inhabited the swamp but none lived north of it.  However, fossil remains of Florida muskrats, dating to the Boling-Alerod interstadial (~14,000 BP) were found at Clarks Quarry, near Brunswick, which is slightly north of their modern day range limit.  Curiously, their fossils were found with woodchuck fossils (along with mammoth, long-horned bison, etc.).  The climate must have suddenly become much warmer, because woodchucks (which are a cool climate species) were still present in the region, though eventually they would disappear here.  It may be that the Boling-Alerod interstadial was a climate phase with warm winters but cool summers, so both species of rodent were able to live in the same geographic range.

George Leonard Herter writes in his classic Bull Cook and Authentic Recipes and Practices that muskrat is a delicious animal formerly popular to eat among pioneers of Swedish descent who settled in Minnesota.  His method of cooking muskrat was to a) remove the fat, b) boil the hind legs and hams for about an hour, c) season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, d) sautee in butter and smother in onions and celery.  I assume removing the fat and boiling gets rid of the musky odor.