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  A variety of pools and aquatic habitats can be found in Tiger Bay State Forest (Volusia County, FL), where we did most of our cottonmouth observations.  In spring, small pools dry first, larger ones later, providing a prolonged opportunity for cottonmouths to find concentrated prey (or carrion).
    Snakes aside, flatwoods during the late winter and spring are biologically fascinating.  Superficially, they may appear monotonous and lacking in diversity.  Often a sparse canopy of slash, longleaf or pond pine and a handful of hardwoods constitute the overstory, and most other vegetation is concentrated at head-height or lower.  Particularly during the dry season, they may seem like the antithesis of aquatic snake habitat.  First impressions can be deceiving, though.  During the spring, there is a profusion of carnivorous plants in flower.  Pitcher plants, sundews, and butterworts are often abundant in dryer areas, and in the depressions where flatwood ponds occur, blooming bladderworts in brilliant yellows and pinks blanket the surface.  The diversity of carnivorous plants reflects the scarcity of specific nutrients, most likely nitrogen, in the soil or water.  These plants have evolved predatory habits to obtain from their prey what they can’t get through conventional plant modes.  The ponds are also home to a spectacular array of small to medium-sized fish, including several species of killifish and their relatives, sunfish, bowfins, pickerels, and madtom and bullhead catfish.  Tadpoles of several species of frogs can also be abundant.  As the ponds shrink, these fish and tadpoles transform into an all-you-can-eat buffet for the cottonmouths, and a variety of other fish-eating snakes, reptiles, birds and mammals.


In addition to several species of carnivorous plants such as sundews and pitcher plants, a plethora of colorful wildflowers can be found in May and June, when water levels are falling and cottonmouths are feasting. Above, from left, are Drosera brevifolia, Polygala rugelii with grasses and sedges in a regenerating burn, and Sabatia angularis.




Wildflowers above: top row, from left - Rhynchospora, Aletris, and a variety of sedges and grasses, Befaria at the edge of a flatwoods stand, Rhexia and sedges in a post-burn field, and Aletris lutea; second row, from left -  Aster reticulatus, Befaria racemosa, Calopogon barbatus, and Deeringothamnus rugelii (a rare and endangered species known only from Volusia County, FL); third row, from left - Gordonia lasianthus, Hypericum sp., Lupinus diffusus (found in nearby upland habitats), Lyonia lucida; bottom row, from left - Polygala nana, Polygala rugelii, Sarracenia minor, and Scutellaria integrifolia.

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