Alligators at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve


Alligator mississipiensis
A familiar south Florida reptile, the adult alligator is black and has a broad, rounded snout. A juvenile 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.

Where to Find

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.
Check out the American alligator moving through his habitat.

American Crocodile

Crocodylus acutus
A long tapering snout with large teeth prominently showing on both sides of the lower jaw help identify the American crocodile. 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.

Where to Find

Unlike the alligators, crocodiles 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.
American Crocodiles at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Black Racers at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Black Racer

Coluber constrictor priapus
Slender and fast moving, the black racer is plain black with white on its chin and throat. Its scales are smooth. The iris of its eye is usually red or orange.

Where to Find

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.

Cane Toad (Non-Native/Invasive)

Rhinella marina
The cane toad 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.

Where to Find

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.
Cane Toads at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Diamondback Terrapins at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Diamondback Terrapin

Malaclemys terrapin
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.

Where to Find

The diamondback terrapin is found along the Atlantic Coast of the eastern United States from Cape Cod to the Florida Keys and west along to the Gulf Coast to Texas.

Eastern Diamondback

Crotalus adamanteus
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake 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.

Where to Find

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.
Eastern Diamondback Rattle Snake Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve
Eastern Indigo Snakes at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Eastern Indigo Snake

Drymarchon corais couperi
The largest nonvenomous snake within the Reserve, the Eastern indigo 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.

Where to Find

Eastern indigo snakes prefers a dry environment, and most often inhabits scrub and pine flatwood habitats.

Florida Box Turtle

Terraoene carolina
The Florida box turtle, 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.

Where to Find

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.
Florida Box Turtles at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Florida Softshell Turtles at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Florida Softshell Turtle

Apalone ferox
The Florida softshell turtle reaches 18″ in length. Its soft, leathery shell is brown or grayish green with dark spots. 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.

Where to Find

Florida softshell turltes primarily lives in lakes, ponds and roadside canals, this turtle is a powerful swimmer and can also move quickly on land.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopherus polyphemus
The gopher tortoise 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.

Where to Find

Gopher tortoises can only dig their burrows in dry sandy soils with good drainage, and these areas are naturally prone to periodic wildfire. Without fire, some of their favorite food plants, native grasses, prickly pear cactus, and saw palmetto berries, can become shaded out as larger trees grow overhead. The gopher tortoise's burrow is especially valuable to other animals that also find refuge underground during fire events and weather extremes. For this reason gopher tortoises are considered a ``keystone`` species.
Gopher Tortoise at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Green Anoles at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Green Anole

Anolis carolinensis
The green anole 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.

Where to Find

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.

Green Iguana (Non-Native/Invasive)

Iguana iguana
Hundreds of these 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.  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.

Where to Find

Green iguanas are native to Central and South America and can grow to five feet in length!
Green Iguanas at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Green Tree Frogs at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Green Tree Frog

Hyla cinerea
Bright green in color, the green tree frog 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.

Where to Find

The green tree frog is found throughout the Reserve and is more readily seen during summer months due to increased rains.

Mangrove Water Snake

Nerodia fasciata compressicaudia
The mangrove water snake 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.

Where to Find

The mangrove water snake occurs in salt and brackish water, in mangrove swamps, marshes, and canals. It feeds on frogs, tadpoles and fish.
Mangrove Water Snake at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Sea Turtles at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Sea Turtles

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.

Each year from May through August, egg-laden females, guided by instinct, swim thousands of miles and often nest on the very beach where they hatched decades earlier. Under the cover of darkness, they hoist themselves up the beach to lay their eggs above the high water line. Roughly 60 days later, the young emerge and are guided to the sea by natural light. A third species, These turtles are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and by the Marine Turtle Protection Act because of their declining numbers worldwide.

The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve works in cooperation with Collier County Parks and Recreation to monitor sea turtle nesting efforts on the Reserve’s barrier island beaches.

  • Keep beaches free of barriers to nesting sea turtles, such as beach furniture or toys.
  • Take your trash home with you.
  • Keep beaches dark all summer.
  • Lights out or shielded by 9:00 p.m.

Yellow Rat Snake

Pantherophis alleghaiensis
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.

Where to Find

The yellow rat snake and a related species, the red rat snake (Elaphe guttata guttata), can be found in upland habitats throughout the Reserve.
Yellow Rat Snakes at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

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