Green Anoles, Anolis carolinensis, are native to Florida. They are found in natural and suburban areas throughout our entire state.
Adult Green Anoles grow to 5-8 inches long. Males have a solid pink throat fan known as a dewlap. Anoles can quickly change from bright green to a dull brown color to blend into their surroundings. Their favorite foods are roaches, beetles, flies, spiders, and other small invertebrates which makes them beneficial to your garden.
In cool weather, you may find these lizards hiding in shingles, under tree bark or in rotting logs. In warmer weather, look for them basking in plants, on fence tops or rooftops. Females lay single, round, eggs in rotting wood or moist soil throughout warmer months. The tiny lizards emerge from their eggs looking like miniature adults.
The biggest threat to Green Anoles is the introduced Cuban brown anole. Because they are great climbers, Green Anoles move vertically up in their habitat which allows them to decrease competition by claiming the higher habitat among the trees as their own.
Striped Mud Turtles, Kinosternon baurii, are small turtles who grow to only 4″ -5″ long. They usually have 3 visible stripes on their shells and 2 yellow stripes on each side of their faces. These native semi-aquatic turtles live in and near brackish and freshwater in ditches and ponds. Dinner consists of algae, snails, insects, worms, seeds, and carrion.
Females may travel up to 820 feet away from the wetlands to lay a clutch of 1-6 eggs. Temperature determines the sex of the embryo. The embryo may pause its development until the correct temperature is reached. Incubation lasts from 2 1/2 to five months. The hatchlings are about 1′ long and may take more than a year to leave the nest.
Striped Mud Turtles depend on waters with low saline content. This makes them especially vulnerable in the Lower Keys where sea level rise is expected to cause saltwater intrusion into freshwater habitats. More intense storms will cause many of the low-lying areas to be inundated with saltwater thus making the ecosystem uninhabitable for Striped Mud Turtles. Human-caused pollution and oil spills also threaten these little turtles.
Striped Mud Turtles spend much of their time underwater and can often be seen in the shallow waters. When in wetlands keep an eye out for movement in mud, marshes and wet fields and you may meet a new wild turtle friend.
Eastern Hognose Snakes are found throughout Florida with the exception of the Keys. Their habitat is diverse and includes scrub, sandhills, turkey oak woodlands, hardwood hammocks, pine woodlands, meadows, and even cultivated fields. Hognose snakes secrete a mild venom that is toxic to their prey. They are not known to cause serious injuries to humans, however, some people may show signs of an allergy if bitten.
Hognose snakes are thick-bodied and vary in color from solid gray or black to various shades of brown, yellow, orange, olive, or red with large, randomly shaped markings. The underside can be off-white, gray, or yellow with the bottom side of the tail lighter in color. An average adult grows to 20-35 inches. Hognose snakes breed in spring. Females lay 15-25 leathery eggs in sandy soil or under logs. In 1-2 months, the hatchlings break free of their eggs and are 6 1/2 to 9 1/2 inches long.
Active only during daylight hours, Hognose snakes use their blunt noses to search through soil and leaf litter for their meals. They may dine on frogs, insects, salamanders, and invertebrates, but toads are their favorite dinner. When a toad is threatened, it will puff itself up. Immune to the toad’s poison, Hognose snakes are equipped with rear fangs which enable them to pop the toad-like a balloon before swallowing it whole.
Eastern Hognose Snakes are best known for their dramatic display when warding off danger. Also known as a Puff Adder, when a threat is detected, a hognose snake will suck in air, flatten its head, rise like a cobra, and hiss. With its mouth closed, it may strike. If this display does not scare away the predator, the hognose will flip itself over and imitate death. It may convulse, regurgitate, and emit foul-smelling fecal matter before becoming completely still with its mouth open and tongue hanging out. When the danger passes, the Hognose snake will simply roll over and get on with enjoying its day.
The Florida Reef Gecko (Sphaerodactylus notatus) is the smallest lizard in the United States. They are tiny and only grow to 2 – 2.25 inches. They have a rounded body with large, overlapping, scales on their backs. The body and tail are covered with dark spots on a brown background. Females have three broad, dark stripes on their heads.
The Florida Reef Gecko is found in the Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys, and southeastern mainland Florida. They can be found in pinelands, hammocks, and vacant lots. They are active at dusk and feed on tiny insects and spiders. Females lay one egg at a time. When born, hatchlings are over an inch long.
The Florida Reef Gecko could be impacted by human development as well as competition from introduced geckos. At this time, the only native gecko in Florida, the Florida Reef Gecko abundant within its range.
Short-tailed kingsnakes, (lampropeltis extenuata), are as thin as a pencil and grow to an average length of 14 to 20 inches long. Their scales are smooth and gray in with a spotted pattern. They have dark spots down the middle of their backs as well as on their sides. The lighter color between the spots has an orange center.
The Short-Tailed Kingsnake has a small oval-shaped head and round eyes. As the name implies, their tails are shorter than the tails of other snakes. This snake is nonvenomous and is not a threat to people. The Kingsnake consumes other snakes and lizards. They spend their lives below ground and are rarely seen. This snake is so rare that it is assumed eggs are laid below ground where it burrows. Reproduction has not been studied therefore, nothing is known about the number of eggs in Short-tailed kingsnake’s clutch. They can be found in habitats of north-central Florida such as pine or coastal live oak hammocks and sand pine scrub.
The Short-tailed Kingsnake is endemic to Florida. This snake is listed as threatened and protected by Florida state law. Their range is limited and conversion of habitat to citrus, mining, and development pose ongoing threats.
The Southern Hognose Snake, Heterodon simus, is a species often considered non-venomous. They do, however, possess a mild toxin that is considered medically insignificant and harmless to humans (A few people have had allergic reactions to hognose bites). They inhabit areas with sandy soils, sandhills, pine-oak forests, scrubs, agricultural areas, and coastal dunes, from northern to central Florida.
As the smallest of the hognose snakes, they will grow to between 1 and 2 feet. Their eyes are round. Body color runs gray-brown to tan and the tail’s underside is the same color as the body. Their bodies’ back and sides have irregular, dark brown-black blotches which are separated by orange-red blotches running along the spine. The neck has large blotches and the forehead is marked with a dark band which runs from each eye to the corners of the jaw. The snake’s scales have lengthwise ridges. The scales on the tip of the snout are strongly upturned.
The diet of a Southern Hognose snake consists of frogs, toads, and lizards. They have rear fangs which are used to puncture inflated toads and are immune to the poison produced by toads.
When a Southern Hognose snake feels threatened, it may play dead or flatten its neck and hiss. They live underground and are active during the day. However, you will rarely encounter one of these snakes as they have declined in number.
In the summer, females lay 6-14, thin-shelled, leathery, whitish eggs in either sandy soil or logs. The eggs hatch between September and October.
These snakes are of Conservation concern throughout their range. Their decline is due to introduced fire ants, the loss of longleaf pine forest, urban sprawl, and the conversion of habitats to agriculture. The Southern Hognose Snake is listed as vulnerable, and at risk of extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The cane toad (rhinella marina) is an invasive species. Native to Central and South America, it was released in Florida in the 1930s-1940s to control sugar cane pests.
Cane toads grow to between 4 to 6 inches. Their coloration ranges between tan, brown, reddish brown to gray. The skin is warty and the back is marked with dark spots. They do not have ridges or crests like the native southern frog. They do, however, have large triangle-shaped parotoid glands, which appear prominently on the shoulders. Breeding takes place from March to September along vegetated, freshwater areas and they lay their eggs in a long, string line, like native toads.
Cane toads are predominantly found in Central and South Florida. They can be found in urban areas as well as agricultural areas, flood plains, and mangrove swamps. Cane Toads prey on anything that fits in their mouths. Unfortunately, their prey often consists of native frogs, lizards, snakes, and small mammals.
Toxin from a cane toad can irritate a human’s skin and eyes. If a pet bites or swallows a cane toad, they will become sick and the toxin may be fatal. FWC states, “A cane toad’s toxin can kill your pet in as little as 15 minutes without proper treatment. If your pet bites or licks a cane toad, it will likely start acting strangely with frantic or disoriented behavior. It may also have brick-red gums, seizures, and foam at the mouth.”
FWC recommends “If you see these symptoms and believe your pet licked or bit a toad, immediately wash toxins forward out of the mouth using a hose for 10 minutes, being careful not to direct water down the throat. Wipe the gums and tongue with a dish towel to help remove the toad’s milky, white toxins that will stick to your pet’s mouth. Once you have done this, get your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.”
Keep your cats indoors and your dogs close by when you take him or her outside.
FWC offers these tips to make your yard less attractive to cane toads: Cut your grass regularly and keep it short. Fill in any holes around structures. Trim the underside of shrubs and keep branches off the ground. Clear away brush piles and remove clutter. Feed pets indoors when possible and bring outdoor pet food and water bowls indoors at night. Clean up any food scraps from pet bowls or outside tables and grills.
The Little Grass Frog (Pseudacris ocularis), is the smallest of frogs, they are 1/2 an inch long. They range in color from light beige to dark brown and tan. They have dark eye strips extending along the side of the body, and thin white strips above the lip and below the eye. They have tiny pads with slightly webbed toes. Despite its size, The Little Grass Frog can jump 20 times their body length.
The Little Grass Frog will lay between 1 to 25 creamy brown eggs on vegetation or submerged debris. The eggs hatch in less than 2 days. The metamorphosis happens in 10 days from tadpole to frog.
This frog can be found in wet prairies and flooded grassy meadows. They are active during the day climbing among the grasses.
The Little Grass Frog has a high pitched chirp which is difficult to hear. If you hear the chirping it is usually at night when the humidity is high or during rain and is coming from grassy areas. To hear the Little Grass Frog call go to: https://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/sounds/pseocu.mp3
Marine habitats surrounding the Keys provide habitat for threatened and endangered species. The Florida population of Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) has been considered endangered since 1978. The declining population has been victim to commercial harvesting for eggs and food as well as incidental bycatch in the shrimp fishery. Florida is an important sea turtle nesting area. The majority of nesting in Florida occurs between May 1st and October 31st. About 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place on Florida’s beaches. In order to prevent nesting and hatchling turtles from wandering off track, your beachfront property should use sea turtle friendly lighting. Never touch a sea turtle or pick up the hatchling, it interferes with the process of imprinting on their beach. The Green Sea Turtle has a rounded, oval body with a distinctive smaller head. Its name is derived from the greenish fat in its upper and lower shell. Incubation lasts approximately sixty days. As the nursery due date, between 4 to 5 days come closer, a depression forms in the sand that indicates hatchling movements. Soon, the babies begin digging out en masse, to start their journey to the water’s edge. The reflection of the moonlight on the water inspires their pathway to the sea. Turtles deposit approximately 100 golf ball size eggs, gently cover the eggs with sand and then they spread sand over a wide area to obscure the exact location of the chamber. A single female may nest several times during a season and then not nest again for one or two years. A male Sea Turtle never leaves the ocean. The Turtles live between 12 to 50 years. Once in the water, the hatchlings swim directly out to sea, facing a struggle to survive to adulthood. They range in size between 3 to 5 feet and weigh anywhere between 240 to 420 pounds. They mostly eat sea grass and algae, the only sea turtle that is herbivorous as an adult. Their jaws are finely serrated which aids in tearing vegetation. The estimate is there are between 85,000 to 90,000 nesting females. It may seem like a lot of nesting females laying eggs but the Green Sea Turtle is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.
Florida is famous for many things, one of them being the only environment on earth in which American Alligators and American Crocodiles coexist. You may wonder what the difference is between the two. While they are related and do look very similar, crocodiles and alligators have some major differences. Crocodiles exist both in freshwater and saltwater, whereas alligators prefer freshwater environments. The obvious difference is their appearances. Crocodiles have longer, pointier snouts, alligators have shorter, more rounded snouts. When an alligator has its mouth shut, you won’t see any of its teeth. When a crocodile has its mouth shut, its back teeth stick up over the top lip. Because they are broader, alligator snouts are stronger than crocodile snouts, that allows them to crush hard-shelled prey such as turtles. Crocodiles are typically lighter in color, with tans and brown colors. Alligators are darker, showing more gray and black colors. Both members are excellent hunters. They have sharp, above water vision, night vision, sensitive hearing, and vertical pupils that take in additional light. Both have small sensory pits along their jaws that allow them to detect pressure changes in the water, and to locate and capture prey. They both prefer to swallow large chunks or swallow their prey whole. Crocodiles have higher functioning salt glands, that allows them to excrete higher amounts of salt from water than alligators can. Alligator glands do not function as strongly, which makes them less tolerant of saltwater environments so they prefer freshwater. Crocodiles can successfully migrate across multiple bodies of salt and fresh water. Alligators are regarded as more docile than crocodiles, only attacking if hungry or provoked. Crocodiles are regarded as more aggressive than alligators. Crocodiles are known to attack just because someone or something is near them. Crocodiles prefer to spend more time in the water. Alligators prefer to sunbathe on the banks or in mud close to the water. Female alligators will continuously mate with the same male alligators for life. Crocodile babies come from multiple mates. Crocodiles live longer than alligators. The average lifespan of a crocodile is between 70-100 years, while the average lifespan of an alligator is usually between 30-50 years. You should avoid contact with both animals at all costs.
The Florida Worm Lizard, Rhineura floridana, is neither a worm or a lizard. It is the only member of the genus Rhineura. This odd little creature has no eyes. It spends most of its time underground and has no need for vision. In the event of heavy rain, you may see these odd like fellows above ground. They feed on any invertebrate they can, including spiders, earthworms, maggots, and ants. To make them even weirder they are sex-less in that they are neither male or female. They reproduce by a process called parthenogenesis. This means that they basically make clones of themselves. A benefit of this method is that they do not need to find a mate which could be difficult when you spend your life in the dirt. Our most common ancestors are the amniota. This section of our clade represents animals that develop from an egg, either internal or external. The Florida worm lizard may not be the cutest creatures but we think there is something lovable about these unique little underdogs. What have you seen in Nature this week?
Adult Southern Five-lined Skink. This fella is in the process of regenerating his tail. Young skinks have a bright blue tail which detaches when a predator tries to capture them. This gives them a chance to get away. As they get older, skinks get a reddish head and the stripes on the males fade. These lizards move fast so keep your eyes open when exploring damp trails.
This Florida Softshell Turtle, aka. Apalone ferox, made her way into a human neighborhood. Softshell Turtles will lay their eggs under the edge of a driveway or sidewalk. The sun will warm the concrete and keep her eggs warm until they hatch. If you see a Softshell Turtle in your neighborhood, just give her space and she will make her way back to the pond here she akes her home. Softshell Turtles usually eat snails and small fish but have been known to eat waterfowl such as ducks and small herons. Florida Softshell turtles will hide in the sand at the bottom of lakes and streams and ambush passing schools of fish for lunch or dinner. Softshells take 10 years to reach full maturity. They play a role as predator and scavenger. Animals who prey on these turtles are raccoons, bears, other turtles, skunks, snakes, eagles, otters, armadillos, and alligators. Their biggest predators are human.
These pictures might look like different skinks but they are the same species. You can see in the first picture that the eggs look painfully larger than the young skink next to them. Don’t worry. They are much smaller when laid. The eggs start out small but will swell with water. The eggs are usually laid in a damp location with some burrowed areas around them. You may find them under flower pots or bricks. The second picture shows the vibrant color of the newborn skink. Newborns are about 4 cm in length. The bright colors will fade over time but juveniles will retain the bright blue tail. In the third picture, you can see the bright coloring has faded leaving just the black and yellow stripes. This skink has just entered adulthood. Females will retain this appearance throughout the rest of their lives. In the fourth picture, you can see a full grown male skink. The stripes have faded and the head is a bright red color. These little lizards are very fast and it’s difficult to see them but they are very fascinating to watch as they hunt for small insects. Much like a cat, they flicker their tail as they stalk their prey. Have you been lucky enough to spot one of these little skinks around your yard? Be sure to give our page a LIKE so you don’t miss more like this – https://www.facebook.com/imagineourflorida/
Today, we look at a very important member of Florida’s ecological community. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is one species almost everyone can identify. Found across the entire state of Florida including the Florida Keys and several barrier islands, the only snake that looks even a little similar is the timber (otherwise known as Canebrake) rattlesnake.
The largest recorded eastern Diamondback was 96 inches (8 feet!) in length. Today, however, you would be considered lucky to see one as large as 6 feet long. They are found in pine flatwoods, longleaf pine, and turkey oak, and sand pine scrub areas. These areas are also prime for development.
A combination of a loss of habitat and the indiscriminate killing of these snakes by the general public upon site has caused a major population decline. They are currently afforded no protected status in Florida.
This is a species that must be respected when encountered. They can strike up to 2/3 the length of their body. Like other snakes, we are not prey to the D and they would be just as happy if we would leave them alone. If you encounter one of these amazing animals, observe from a safe distance and allow it time to pass, or simply walk around it.
In the United States, the vast majority of venomous snake bites occur when someone is trying to kill the snake. Attempting to kill these snakes greatly increases your risk of being bitten. They will not chase you and in fact, are very afraid of you. One of our Facebook friends commented with a wonderful little rule of thumb that I really like, 30/30. Stay 30 feet away for 30 minutes and they will leave. As he pointed out, this will hold true most of the time so long as they are not waiting for food to go by.
Please, give these wonderful creatures the respect they deserve as fellow residents of our great state!
— American Alligator – Alligator mississippiensis — Alligators are found across Florida. These large, water-dwelling reptiles have a powerful bite and should be treated with extreme caution. They will generally seek to swim away if approached, but if they think their young are in danger or they feel threatened in some way, they will strike out. Alligators have round snouts, range between 9.5 to 15 feet, can weigh as much as 1000 lbs. and have a maximum speed of 20 mph in the water. The alligator is a rare success story of an endangered species not only saved from extinction but who is now thriving. State and federal protections, habitat preservation efforts, and reduced demand for alligator products have improved the species’ wild population to more than one million today. They live nearly exclusively in the freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps, and marshes. The hatchlings are usually 6 to 8 inches long with yellow and black strips. Juveniles fall prey to dozens of predators including birds, raccoons, bobcats, and other alligators so they will stay with their mothers for about two years. They are opportunists and will eat just about anything, carrion, pets and, in rare instances, humans. They feed mainly on fish, turtles, snakes, and small mammals. Adult alligators are apex predators critical to the biodiversity of their habitat.
Alligators get a bad reputation but as long as we respect them from a distance we have no reason to fear them. Alligators have ears directly behind their eyes. Do you see that part that looks like this alligator’s eyes are smiling? That’s its ear. The structure of the ear is designed to pinpoint sound rather than hear a vast amount of sound.
Female alligators can lay between 35-50 eggs. If these eggs are hatched in the wild, and not a hatchery, there is a chance that only a few eggs will survive. Predators such as birds, snakes, raccoons, otters, bobcats, bass, and other alligators can eat their eggs. According to FWC an average of 25 eggs will hatch but only about 10 alligators will survive their first year. These eggs and small gators become food so that another species can survive. In turn, large alligators may eat these same animals to ensure their survival. It’s all about balancing out populations.
If you see an alligator, don’t touch it. Take a few pictures and observe from a distance. In most cases, if you get too close an alligator maybe become afraid and swim away. Alligators wait patiently for animals to come near and then use all their energy at once to take down their prey. This is one way they conserve energy.
This is an Eastern Spadefoot Toad, Scaphiopus holbrookii. This little guy has recently cast off his tail and emerged as a little toad. Now, it will spend most of its life burrowed underground, primarily emerging only after explosive, heavy rains.
When Hurricane Irma passed through Florida, many saw only destruction. For many species, the hurricane was the perfect setting for reproduction. These toads emerge by the thousands and breed in the temporary pools of water that form in the forests after such weather events. These pools have no fish in them to prey on eggs and tadpoles. The rainfall associated with hurricanes can result in millions of tiny spadefoot toads coating the forest floor before they find their way into the forest and burrow down into the sandy soil.
What have you seen this week as you saunter through Florida?
The Eastern Fence Lizard, Sceloporus undulatus, occupies a large range in the eastern part of the United States, including much of Florida. They are masters of camouflage. If you are paying attention while sauntering around the woods, you will see these lizards basking on the trunks of trees, most notably pine and oak. This one is sitting on the side of turkey oak. They will remain motionless in hopes of going unseen. Only when they are approached closely will they flee.
The mature males have an amazing, bright blue belly, unlike the female’s white belly. Females lay 3-16 eggs in late spring and babies hatch in late summer.
They grow to about 7 inches and feed on small insects. They occupy a variety of habitats over their range but in Florida, they are most often seen in pine forests and scrub habitat.
Here, this mature male shows off his beautiful, metallic blue belly as he suns himself on a cool fall morning.
This guy, relying on his camouflage, allowed me to get quite close to him without so much as him flinching. He lives in a pine, upland forest with a wiregrass understory that sees an occasional fire. In fact, he is perched on the charred remains of a pine tree. The presence of fire is critical for the health of this type of ecosystem as well as the species that depend upon it, such as this fence lizard.
— Southern Black Racer – Coluber constrictor priapus —
The Black Racer is the most common snake found in Florida. It adapts easily to any habitat and therefore, is commonly found in low shrubs in urban areas. Black Racers are not poisonous although they will bite when cornered. These snakes would prefer to race away through the grass, into a shrub, up a tree or into a hole. They are great swimmers too. Their diet consists of whatever is available: Insects, frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards, snakes, birds and bird eggs, moles, mice, rats. Black Racers are not constrictors as their scientific name suggests. The Racer simply captures its prey and holds it tightly against the ground until the prey succumbs. Identification: Young Black Racers have obvious blotches that gradually fade to solid gray-black by adulthood. Body of juveniles (< 2 ft.) is gray with irregular reddish-brown blotches that fade with age. Body of adults is solid black; chin and throat are white. South of Lake Okeechobee, body of adults may be bluish, greenish, or gray. In the Apalachicola River Basin, the chin and throat of adults may be tan. -UF Wildlife – Johnson Lab
Hurricane Irma surely displaced many animals including this baby Florida Softshell turtle (Apalone ferox). These turtles use their long worm-like nose to lure prey close enough to catch them. They have flat shells that are easily concealed in mud. This little guy was found uninjured near a warehouse but was relocated to a safe area nearby. Did you encounter any displaced wildlife after the Hurricane?
Florida Box Turtle, Terrapene Carolina Bauri. This cute little girl is a great example of what the Florida box turtle looks like. Florida box turtles are a terrestrial species which typically inhabit damp forests and marshes. They can be found from the Keys north to the very southern portion of Georga. Their shell is dark brown to black with yellow radiating stripes.
The males have a concave plastron and both male and female have a hinged shell, which allows them to fully close up in their shell.
They are omnivores, feeding on fruits, mushrooms, and various bugs and other small creatures. They are a protected species in Florida. The selling of them is prohibited in the state and you may not be in possession of more than two box turtles. Habitat loss and road mortality are two major causes of their decline in population.