ENDANGERED ANIMALS OF FLORIDA SERIES: KEY LARGO WOODRAT, KEY LARGO COTTON MOUSE, SCHAUS SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY Letterbox
Created by: Moo Poo
Placed by: Moo Poo
Hike Length: 1.3 miles roundtrip
Fee: $2.00 per person. You will have to use honor box to pay fees. There is a $0.50 per person Monroe County Surcharge, so if you have a Florida State Park Pass, be ready to pay a $0.50 per person entry fee.
Note: Bring mosquito repellent!!! I recommend anything with DEET (the other stuff didn’t work for me, so I had to pull out my emergency supply of DEET spray). Also, spray yourself EVERYWHERE! These mosquitoes will bite anywhere they can! They bit through my clothes and I have bites all over my fingers and on my ears.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on a leash. Please clean up after your dog!
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park (Hours: 8 am – Sundown)
From the intersection of US Highway 1 and County Road 905 (Mile Marker 106), head North on CR 905.
Go about ½ mile and the parking lot will be on your right. When I went, there was no sign on the road for the park. Just keep an eye out for a paved parking lot on your right.
1) Walk through the entrance-way, past the brochures (on your right).
2) Continue past the pay stand. You can take either the left or right path until you come to the bathrooms.
3) From the bathrooms, take the left path. Just before you come to the picnic pavilion, look for a dead y-shaped tree on your left (it’s lying on its side, with the base pointing towards the picnic pavilion).
4) Just behind the fork of the “y” is a black duct-taped bag. It is tucked under the trunk.
Key Largo Woodrat (Neotoma floridana smalli)
The Key Largo woodrat resides in tropical hardwood hammocks on Key Largo. This small endemic rodent once ranged throughout all of Key Largo, but today is limited to the northernmost portions. Known for its habit of building large stick houses, Key Largo woodrats depend heavily on the natural vegetation of the tropical hardwood hammocks to obtain material for constructing these houses. Although large portions of the remaining habitat are now in protection, there has been such a reduction in its total range and habitat that the future of this species remains in an endangered condition. The color of the Key Largo woodrat is described as sepia or grey-brown above shading into cinnamon on the sides, with cream or white ventral coloration. The forefeet are white to the wrist and the hindfeet are primarily white to the ankles. Key Largo woodrats are nocturnal omnivores, but feed primarily on a variety of leaves, buds, seeds, and fruits. They are dependent upon the diversity of tropical hardwood fruits.
The Key Largo woodrat is restricted to the northern one-third of Key Largo and is separated from other United States woodrat populations by the southern third of the Florida peninsula. Woodrats formerly occurred throughout uplands on all of Key Largo, but are now restricted to tropical hardwood hammocks on north Key Largo, representing about one-half of their original distribution. Effects of residential housing and commercial construction activity in tropical hardwood hammocks have been more extreme in the Upper Keys than in the Lower Keys. The primary threat to the Key Largo woodrat is habitat loss and fragmentation caused by increasing urbanization. Hammock vegetation on Key Largo has been removed or thinned by construction practices that remove all vegetation, then grade and fill the limestone substrate. In addition to land clearing practices, there are other threats to the hardwood hammock habitat resulting from human encroachment that also indirectly affect the woodrat. Increasing habitat fragmentation, combined with a decreased range, makes the Key Largo woodrat more vulnerable to genetic isolation, and to natural catastrophes such as hurricanes or fire. Other threats associated with human encroachment, include predation by feral cats, dumping of trash, and competition with black rats.
5) When finished stamping in, please be sure to seal all bags completely. Be sure to put the baggie for the logbook and the baggie for the stamp in a 2nd bag, and then place back into the duct-taped bag.
6) Please re-hide the bag better than how you found it. Use debris to hide it if you think it might need more coverage.
7) Continue on the path to the picnic pavilion.
8) The path continues to the right of the pavilion (the path loops around the pavilion, with a closed off section on the left, but you can simply go right). Start paying attention to the plant identification signs on your right.
9) You will pass Pigeon Plum (Coccoloba diversifolia) on your right. Now, keep your eye on the left side of the path for a large rock. If you come to Inkwood (Exothea paniculata), you’ve gone too far.
10) On the backside of the rock, under smaller rocks and debris is a black duct-taped bag. After getting the box, you can walk a bit further to a bench, if you’d like somewhere nice to sit in order to stamp in.
Key Largo Cotton Mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus allapaticola)
The cotton mouse is one of the most common small mammals in South Florida and throughout the southeastern United States, but the Key Largo cotton mouse is endemic to Key Largo. Once ranging throughout the tropical hardwood hammocks (highly productive forests with a tall canopy and an open understory) in the Upper Keys south to near Tavernier, the Key Largo cotton mouse is now restricted to the northernmost portion of Key Largo. Key Largo cotton mice are larger with a more reddish color than other subspecies of cotton mice from peninsular Florida. Cotton mice are short-lived, with an average life expectancy of 5 months, although potential longevity is 2 to 3 years. Over 70 percent of the tropical hardwood hammock trees and shrubs produce fruits and berries that may provide important food items for the Key Largo cotton mouse.
The Key Largo cotton mouse is most closely associated with the Key Largo woodrat. It is often found in woodrat holes, nests, or runways. Both of these species are dependent upon the structure, composition, and quality of tropical hardwood hammocks. Continual growth of the human population and residential and commercial activity in Key Largo has endangered the Key Largo cotton mouse and Key Largo woodrat.
Urbanization of Key Largo has decimated the forests of tropical hardwood hammocks and has reduced the availability of food, shelter, and habitat for the cotton mouse. The physical separation caused by these activities makes it increasingly difficult to locate a mate and to disperse. Habitat fragmentation, combined with a decreased range, makes the Key Largo cotton mouse more vulnerable to natural catastrophes such as hurricanes or fire; each of these have damaged significant portions of north Key Largo hammocks. Other threats, associated with an increase in urbanization, include dumping of trash, possible competition with black rats, and predation by domesticated cats. Dumping of trash increases the size of black rat populations and rodent control agents used for black rats kill cotton mice. Black rats may compete against cotton mice and have caused the extinction of two other subspecies of cotton mice (P. g. restricuts and P. g. anastasae).
11) When finished stamping in, please be sure to seal all bags completely. Be sure to put the baggie for the logbook and the baggie for the stamp in a 2nd bag, and then place back into the duct-taped bag.
12) Please re-hide the bag better than how you found it. Use debris to hide it if you think it might need more coverage.
13) Continue on the paved path, past a brown “Nature Trail” sign and many other plant identification signs.
14) You will come to a fence blocking the road (with a bench to the right of the trail). Turn Left here.
15) Again, the road/path is blocked by a fence. You should notice a brown “Nature Trail” sign on your left.
16) Go on this nature trail but stop at the beginning of the rock wall on your right.
17) On the backside and under the first boulder, under a smaller rock, is a black duct-taped bag. I recommend stamping in at the bench because I noticed that the mosquito population tripled when I entered the trail.
Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly (Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus)
Named after Dr. William Schaus who discovered the large, showy butterfly in Miami at the turn of the century, the Schaus swallowtail was one of the first insects protected under the Endangered Species Act. It is also one of the rarest on the list. The butterfly depends upon the semi-shade of tropical hardwood forests (hammocks) to survive. The Schaus is a dark brown and yellow butterfly with a wingspan of about 4 inches and “tails” that are straight-edged rather than teardropped shaped. When perched and fluttering, the butterfly’s bottom wings show magenta scales bordered by iridescent blue. Adult butterflies have a life span of one month and may be encountered from mid-April to mid-July. The Schaus is most often confused with the giant swallowtail, a larger butterfly.
The Schaus swallowtail butterfly was listed as a threatened species in 1976 due to the decline of its tropical hardwood hammock habitat, mosquito control practices, and over collecting. Following continued population losses, the butterfly's status was changed to endangered in 1984. Since then, Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Georges in 1998 severely damaged Schaus habitat, and butterfly numbers plummeted as low as a few dozen.
The Schaus swallowtail butterfly's distribution is limited to tropical hardwood hammocks and is concentrated in the insular portions of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Once ranging from the south Miami area down to Lower Matecumbe Key, its range has shrunk to the upper Florida Keys, where it is now found from Key Biscayne Park to northern Key Largo and Upper Matecumbe Key.
18) When finished stamping in, please be sure to seal all bags completely. Be sure to put the baggie for the logbook and the baggie for the stamp in a 2nd bag, and then place back into the duct-taped bag.
19) Please re-hide the bag better than how you found it.
20) You can continue on the trail and explore the hammock habitat some more or you can go back the way you came to get back to your car.
21) Please log your find in to either AtlasQuest.com or Letterboxing.org