The Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) reaches 18" in length. Its soft, leathery shell is brown or grayish green with dark spots. Living primarily in lakes, ponds and roadside canals, this turtle is a powerful swimmer and can also move quickly on land. The softshell's diet consists of snails, frogs and fish. Softshells, as with other turtles, are commonly seen trying to cross busy streets. If you try to rescue one, be advised that they have a long neck and a sharp bite.
The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is an expert excavator. Its scaly, stumpy legs and sharp claws are the perfect tools for digging its underground home called a burrow. Tortoises often have multiple burrows that average 15 feet in length and sometimes go as deep as six feet. Tunnels lead to larger chambers where the air temperature and humidity stays relatively constant, providing a safe refuge from the elements and fire.
The green anole (Anolis carolinensis) is a slender, lizard-like animal with large toe pads, long wedge-shaped snout, whiplike tail and expandable throat fan or dewlap. This dewlap flares red and is displayed by the male during courtship or while defending its territory. The green anole is usually green, but can quickly change color to light brown. It feeds on flies, beetles, moths, and spiders, which it will stalk. The nonnative, invasive Cuban brown anole feeds on and displaces the native green anole in its habitat. The green anole can be seen around the Shell Island Road field station.
Hundreds of non-native animals now call Southwest Florida home. Dozens of those are also considered "invasive" in South Florida, meaning they out-compete native species for space or food. Green iguanas are native to Central and South America and can grow to five feet in length! While considered a nuisance by homeowners, green iguanas don't pose as much of a threat to native wildlife as other invasive reptiles because they are primarily herbivores (mostly plant-based diet). Green iguanas are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty laws and can be killed on private property year-round with landowner permission.
Bright green in color, the green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) has white stripes on either side of its body and small yellow spots on its back. The green tree frog usually calls during damp or humid weather with a continuous, nasal, "gronk, gronk, gronk." During the day, it rests with its head flattened and legs gathered against broad-leafed vegetation. The green tree frog is found throughout the Reserve and is more readily seen during summer months due to increased rains.
The Mangrove Water Snake, Nerodia fasciata compressicaudia, is a small, non-venomous water snake. It is variable in color and may be brown, gray, dull yellow, orange-red or greenish, with faint dark markings or crossbands. Stripes may appear on its cheek. The Mangrove Water snake occurs in salt and brackish water, in mangrove swamps, marshes, and canals. It feeds on frogs, tadpoles and fish.
Southwest Florida’s sugary sand beaches are a popular recreation destination for people, but they also serve as important habitat for a variety of marine species, including the sea turtle. Of the three species of sea turtles that are found in southwest Florida waters, two come to area beaches to lay their eggs - the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the threatened loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys cortacea) are also known to frequent reserve waters on occasion, with one nest recorded on Keewaydin Island in 2015. The Kemp’s ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), is an endangered species that nests primarily in Mexico. Its hatchlings follow the Gulfstream and often end up in the Ten Thousand Islands where they find ample supply of crabs and other food items.
The adult yellow rat snake is golden-yellow in color with 4 brown, lateral stripes. Its belly is pale yellow. It is an arboreal snake, and the edges of its belly plates are square to help it climb trees. This snake feeds on birds and their eggs and small rodents. It is a constrictor, meaning it squeezes its prey before consumption. The yellow rat snake and a related species, the red rat snake (Elaphe guttata guttata), can be found in upland habitats throughout the Reserve.