A familiar south Florida reptile, the adult Alligator (Alligator mississipiensis) is black and has a broad, rounded snout. A juvenile is about inches at birth and has bold yellowish crossbands on its dark body. Protection of this species has increased its population after decades of over hunting. A limited hunting season has been reintroduced in Florida. The Alligator is seen in the brackish water in Henderson Creek and in fresh water along Shell Island Road. It is more common in the summer when water salinity is lower. Adult alligators eat fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, and birds. Learn more.
A long tapering snout with large teeth prominently showing on both sides of the lower jaw help identify the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). It is grayish green or brown in color. A young crocodile is 8 to 9 inches when hatched from its egg. American crocodiles feed on crabs, fish, small mammals and water birds. Unlike the alligators, they are shy and retiring, and prefer salty or brackish water. Their range extends from South and Central America to south Florida, and can sometimes be seen in the Ten Thousand Islands. The American crocodile is a federally-listed endangered species and is a victim of coastal development and habitat destruction.
Slender and fast moving, the black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) is plain black with white on its chin and throat. Its scales are smooth. The iris of its eye is usually red or orange. The black racer is an active snake and a good climber, but spends much of its time on the ground. It is commonly seen in scrub or pine flatwoods.
The Cane Toad (Rhinella marina) is a common nonnative species in our area that can be deadly to curious pets. Adults range in size from 6 to 9 inches across. They emit a milky toxin that sticks in the mouth of whatever tries to eat it. Naturally found in the Amazon river basin and Central America, these toads were introduced to South Florida to control pests in sugar cane fields, but they are more than just a nuisance in residential areas.
The diamondback terrapin is found along the Atlantic Coast of the eastern United States from Cape Cod to the Florida Keys and west along the Gulf Coast to Texas. Of the 250 species of turtles in the world, the diamondback terrapin is the only species to inhabit exclusively in estuarine environments and females are 75% larger than males! The ornate diamondback terrapin is found throughout Collier and Lee counties.
The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) is heavy-bodied with a broad, triangular-shaped head. Rough scales on its back are patterned with diamond-shaped markings which serve as effective camouflage and the snake's first line of defense. Despite its venom this ambush predator is generally mild in temperament compared to other species. Its tail ends in a well-defined rattle that it shakes loudly when threatened. The rattlesnake serves an important role in the natural ecosystem by keeping small mammal populations healthy.
The Eastern diamondback is found in pine flatwoods and scrub communities. Visitors sometimes see them on the Snail Trail as well as along Shell Island Road. Please keep a safe distance and do not approach.
The video below shows Rookery Bay Reserve's stewardship coordinator, Jeff Carter, who has 25 years of experience handling venomous snakes for zoos around the world, relocating a rattlesnake from near the field station entrance. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS YOURSELF.
The largest nonvenomous snake within the Reserve, the Eastern indigo (Drymarchon corais couperi) has a shiny blueblack body with a rust-colored chin and throat. It feeds on reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and birds. Despite its size, it is not a constrictor, and often swallows its prey live. This species prefers a dry environment, and most often inhabits scrub and pine flatwood habitats.
The Florida Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, is a 5-6 inch land turtle with a dome-like shell with variable coloration and pattern. Upper and lower shells may be patterned yellow, orange, or greenish on black or brown. A wide hinge across the plastron (lower shell) and moveable lobes front and back provide a close fit between the top and bottom, forming a box. With this armor, the box turtle is well adapted to life on the land. On a hot day, the box turtle will burrow under logs or decaying vegatation to escape the heat. It may also be seen soaking in water or mud, and rain showers often bring it out of hiding. Its diet includes slugs earthworms, berries, and mushrooms. In Rookery Bay Reserve, it inhabits the scrub, pineland and hardwood hamock areas.