The Eastern Cottontail, Syivilagus floridanus, is the most widely distributed of the rabbits and hares. Best known for its short, fluffy tail which is cottony-white below, the cottontail is grayish-brown above, with white underparts and feet. Its nape is rust-colored. Most active between sunset and dawn, it feeds on plant material. During the day, the cottontail conceals itself in shallow depressions in protected areas called "forms." In Rookery Bay Reserve, it is seen in the scrub, pine flatwoods, and open grassy areas, and is a common visitor to the grounds of the Environmental Learning Center. Its cousin, the marsh rabbit, is darker and has shorter ears than the cottontail, and is more commonly associated with wetland habitats both fresh and salt.
Click below to watch a video of a cottontail rabbit foraging in the courtyard at the Environmental Learning Center.
White-tail Deer Odocoileus
One of our largest native mammals, the whitetail deer weighs 150 to 300 lbs. It is tan above with a white belly, noseband and eye ring. Its tail is brown above and white below. When alarmed, the tail is raised, displaying a flash of white communicating danger to other deer. The long slender legs of this deer give it great swiftness, with top speeds of 35 m.p.h. for short distances. It is also a good swimmer. Active at dawn and dusk, it eats large quantities of vegetation. The white-tail deer is typically found in the pine flatwoods of Rookery Bay Reserve, along Shell Island Road and on Key Island.
The Bottlenosed Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, is large, grey above, and somewhat paler below. Its Torpedo-shaped body is streamlined for swift movements. Navigating by using a series of clicking sounds that travel throughout the water, the Bottlenosed Dolphin can tell size, shape, and location of objects. This sonar also aids the animal in discovering fish for food. This dolphin can be seen in Rookery Bay often feeding on mullet, one of its favorite foods.
Feral hogs, sometimes referred to as "wild boar," are an invasive exotic species first introduced to Florida by the Spanish in the 1500's. They are considered nuisances because they tear up the ground while searching for buried food items, both plant and animal. They leave behind scars that resemble the work of a bulldozer. They can also be aggressive - if you see one, give it a wide berth. Learn more about these animals here.
The bobcat (Lynx rufus) gets its name from its short, stubby tail tipped in black. Reaching lengths between 28-49", the bobcat is substantially larger than a housecat. It is tawny in color and its legs are marked with dark horizontal stripes. Its face has thin lines radiating into a broad cheek ruff. Active early and late in the day, the bobcat typically uses the same hunting paths to prey on small mammals, birds and insects. Bobcats are more commonly observed in this area than panthers, which have tails as long as their bodies but are extremely rare and secretive.
The Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, lives in near-shore marine, estuarine and fresh waters that are shallow, warm and calm. As herbivores they eat sea grasses and other submerged or floating vegetation. Because the waters throughout the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve provide this essential habitat and food supply, manatees are commonly seen in these waters especially in winter when their population concentrates in the warmest waters available.
The Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) is black with a brown muzzle, weighing up to 400 pounds. Black bears are active during the day, particularly in the early morning and evening hours. Bears roam large areas in search of a mate or food. About 80 percent of a black bear's diet consists of vegetative matter, including roots, berries and nuts, but they also eat insects and small animals. They have long, sharp claws that enable them to climb trees for food or protection.
The river otter (Lutra canadensis) is a dark brown mammal with a long slender body and short legs. Its rudder-like tail and webbed feet allow for rapid movement under water. Although aquatic, it runs well on land and may travel several miles over land to reach another body of water. It feeds mostly on fish, but also eats crustaceans, mollusks and small land animals such as mice and reptiles. Intelligent and playful, river otters are active in early morning and evening hours.