My husband and I took a road trip to visit a Florida native wildflower nursery in Groveland, and on the way home, we decided to check out Cypress Lakes Preserve in Ridge Manor.

Hernando County’s Conservation Land Specialist, Mike Singer, is working hard to improve the habitat restoration of the preserve and modified recreational accessibility as well. There is still a lot of work ahead of him, but the improvements thus far are incredible. (Environmentally Sensitive Lands | Hernando County, FL)

Thinking this was only going to be a quick walk just to check things out, I simply grabbed my camera with the 60mm macro lens, and off we went. Boy, I was wrong. 

From this day forward, every hike or walk on any trail it’s going to be a two-camera one. That’s what backpacks are for, right?

I showed my husband some neat plants and shared some super cool things about them.  I am so grateful he doesn’t mind me practicing my interpretative skills; plus, it helps me remember all these various flora and fauna species we come across.

To the Moonscape

What is a moonscape? Well, it means the surface of the moon, but it also represents a bare sandhill landscape, and you can see one at Cypress Lakes Preserve. It’s an excellent place to learn about critter tracks. Don and I were having fun finding all these different tracks left in the sand by insects, reptiles, and animals. Of course, we had no clue what made those tracks, but sometimes just playing in sand on a moonscape with your husband is a great way to spice up your marriage.  

But that wasn’t the only thing super cool that we experienced at Cypress Lakes Preserve.

Quietly following the trail along the cypress dome swamp, I see something in the distance that may resemble a gator. The shape looks like a gator, but we weren’t 100% sure, and of course, we did not bring the binoculars. It was one of those ‘it looks like it’ identification. This vast swamp area, and with the Withlacoochee River nearby, you know there has to be a gator or two in this area, but you never seem to see one. Walking a little further ahead, we got a better angle to conclude that, yes, indeed, it was a gator—our first observation of an American Alligator at Cypress Lakes Preserve.

We continued on the trail to the bridge. We hung out there for a bit, chatting about this and that.

American Alligator | Photo by Alice Mary Herden

You know the ole’ saying, you have to be at the right place at the right time. Heading back on the trail, I noticed some movement in the swamp, and low and behold, and I spotted a healthy size alligator crossing the bank about 25 feet from us. I pointed the gator out to my husband- “Look, look, honey.” 

Remember when I said all I took with me was my macro lens. Yes, all you nature photographers out there know exactly how I was feeling. Sigh. 

Most of the time, we have only seen alligators resting on the banks of retention ponds, swamps, canals, or lakes; at times, we may see them swimming.  But this experience was our first to see an alligator walk. I know it seems silly, but the experience is impressive. As you watch the gator move, you see this strength and power after each step, but yet there is this fear that unsettles the depths of your soul.

The enormous Cypress trees that tower over the swamp creates a great canopy for shade from the Florida harsh summers. And with many hiding places, and banks to sunbathe as well as plenty of water and food, Cypress Lakes Preserve is a splendid place for a gator.

BUT.. yes, there is a but! That’s not the coolest experience we had. Let me introduce you to a Mantispidae.

Brown Wasp Mantidfly | Photo by Alice Mary Herden

Yes, a mantis that impersonates a wasp. Here we have a Brown Wasp Mantidfly (Climaciella brunnea). When I first saw this insect, I was like, what the heck is that. It looks like a mantis, and it has mantis claws- (Raptorial forelegs. The front legs are used for grasping its prey while it is being consumed. They are also used to defend or push other bugs off its leaf.) Check out the video below.

As intriguing as the mantidfly looks, its life cycle is just as interesting.  

Mantispinae is the subfamily whose biological traits are best-known (Redborg 1998, Ohl 2004); the immatures are exclusively spider egg predators during their development. The first instar larva is campodeiform and agile to enable host-finding while subsequent larval stages are scarabeiform. Larvae locate and attach to a spider and enter the spider’s egg sac either upon its construction or afterwards. Once inside, the larvae pierce and drain the spider eggs, undergoing three larval stages within the sac (Redborg and MacLeod 1984).

First observations on the life cycle and mass eclosion events in a mantis fly (Family Mantispidae) in the subfamily Drepanicinae (

Campodeiform is a term used to describe the body shape of insect larvae that have well developed legs, antennae and a flattened body.
Scarabaeiform larvae are larvae that are grub shaped and their bodies are curled to form a shape like the letter C.

Stumbling upon this mantidfly was quite an eye-opener for me. It’s a reminder that there are so many species that I have yet to discover and to learn about.  Nature is truly inspiring!

Here’s some links for further reading:

Mantis fly has a walking pupa that climbs trees before hatching – Why Evolution Is True

First observations on the life cycle and mass eclosion events in a mantis fly (Family Mantispidae) in the subfamily Drepanicinae (

Species Climaciella brunnea – Brown Wasp Mantidfly – BugGuide.Net

Be safe in your travels.

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