I spent last week in central Florida at the Archbold Biological Station.
Archbold preserves 5,000 hectares of Florida sand scrub, some of the last remaining patches of an ecosystem now largely lost to agriculture and strip malls. The sand scrub is an odd place, a fossil beach from when sea levels were high enough to restrict peninsular Florida to a narrow sandbar. Water runs right through the coarse sand, leaving the scrub looking much like a desert in spite of regular afternoon rains. Cacti thrive. It is a paradoxical place.
The scrub is also remarkable for receiving more lightning strikes than anywhere else on the continent: about 50 strikes per square mile per year. So the scrub burns all the time, and has come to depend on frequent fire to maintain the structure of the forest. This unique system has birthed dozens of sand- and fire-adapted plant and animal species that are found nowhere else.
The trip was a spur of the moment decision for me. Budding myrmecologist Fred Larabee, a student here at the University of Illinois studying the evolutionary ecology of Odontomachus trap-jaw ants, was driving down to collect Archbold’s three resident species. I hitched a ride.
Below are a few photos from the week.
Of course, I also photographed a great many ants. Those will be posted shortly.