The state of Florida and South Florida Water Management District has begun a Burmese Python Elimination Program. The Burmese Python Snake is a reptile that came to Florida from S.E. Asia from the pet import business that thrives in Miami and South Florida. It became a threat to the people of S. Florida and native animal species in the Everglades after they were released by pet owners and the release of snakes after the damage that was done by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Burmese Python Snakes can grow to over 20 feet in length and up to two hundred pounds during their lifetime. Females can lay 100 eggs at a time. The main problem with these snakes is they have no known predators and they can eat and devour animals as big as deer and alligators. They have been decimating the small bird and mammal population in South Florida which makes it harder for other mammals and carnivores such as the Florida Panther to find enough food to feed themselves.
The recent program started by The SFWMD to eliminate the Burmese Python is to pay hunters $50 for each Python they catch up to four feet in length and an additional $25 for each ft over 4 ft. An eight foot Python would bring a hunter $150 in bounty. An additional $100 reward would be paid to a hunter who catches a female guarding a nest of eggs. The program has resulted in over 53 snakes caught and eliminated since the pilot program began this year. To learn more about the Burmese Python, visit the National Park Service website. The pictures shown above are courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District. Click on the pictures for larger images.
I came across this Gopher Tortoise while riding my bicycle on Sanibel Island along the Sanibel-Captiva Rd. The Gopher Tortoise was slowly crawling along a grassy area and eating grass. This reptile is a land dwelling animal and lives in a burrow that it digs for itself with its’ strong claws.
The burrow that it digs averages 6.5 feet deep and 15 feet long. The burrow provides refuge or habitat for up to 350 other species. The Gopher Tortoise is called a keystone species for this reason because of its importance for helping to insure the survival of other species in its ecosystem. The animals that typically live in the Gopher’s burrow include burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, crickets and many others.
The habitats that this reptile lives in include dry uplands, sandhills, pine flatwoods, scrub, dry prairies, xeric hammocks, pine mixed hardwoods and coastal dunes. They depend on natural fires to burn away the brush, dead leaves and shrubs so that new plants and grasses can grow. The Gopher Tortoise has been around for a long time and its estimated to date back 60 milliion years. The Gopher Tortoises’ life time averages 40-60- years.
The Gopher Tortoise itself is as a threatened species in Florida and is protected by the laws of the state against poaching or hunting. No land clearing or development can take place in an area where a tortoise lives unless it is relocated to a similar environment and permits are issued for its relocation. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has additional information about this animal. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/
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I photographed this small alligator at the Otter Pond at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers. The American Alligator is the largest reptile in North America according to the defenders.org website. The alligator can be confused with the crocodile which is a much more aggressive and dangerous animal. They both can be found in Florida but the more friendly alligator is a much more common sight.
Alligators are generally slow moving creatures and hunt by laying in wait for its prey to move by them and then snapping its large jaws on its prey which consists of small mammals, other reptiles, birds and animals inhabiting swamps, marshes and wetlands areas where they live. Adult males are usually seen by themselves in the wild. They build their nests in ponds, swamps and other wetlands areas by moving their large tails back and forth creating a depression in the underwater mud. The holes they create sometimes becomes homes to other types of wildlife living in swamps and wetlands. They are considered a keystone species for this reason and are considered essential for the health of a wetland ecosystem.
The lifespan of these large reptiles can be 35-50 years in the wild and longer when kept in captivity. There are many wildlife refuges where you can see alligators in their natural habitat in South Florida. They also live in Southeastern states such as Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and the Carolinas. They were once hunted for their hides to use as clothing and accessories but that is no longer legal. It is also illegal to feed alligators and by doing so they lose their fear of humans making them more dangerous. Adult alligators can grow as big as 18 feet long and weigh over 500 lbs.
Burmese-Python-Snake – Picture Courtesy of SWFWMD
The annual Burmese Python Snake hunt in Florida began in January and has so far brought in 68 of the non-native reptiles. The largest caught so far measured 16 ft. 10 inches. and was caught by an official of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The first year that this event was held was in 2013 and had 800 people registered and brought in 68 snakes. The Burmese Python snake is very difficult to find because of it’s camouflage skin and it’s ability to hide in the thick brush and water of the Everglades.
The snakes are having a harmful effect on Florida Wildlife because they have no known predators except very large alligators and they kill and consume all kinds of wildlife including deer, raccoons, rabbits, birds, rats and other animals. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that there are tens of thousands of the snakes in South Florida and were brought here originally as pets. Officials think they were let loose in the Florida Everglades by the hurricane that hit Florida in 1992 (Andrew) and by pet owners who could no longer care for their snakes as they got too large. The Burmese Snakes are native to Southeast Asia in countries such as India, lower China and the Malay Peninsula. They thrive in South Florida because of our warm and humid climate. To learn more about this invasive species, visit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.
7 Turtles at Otter Pond
Soft Shell Turtle at Gator Lake
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I was walking through the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve on their boardwalk and happened to see and photograph this group of 7 turtles sunning themselves on a log in Otter Pond. The other picture is of a Softshell Turtle on a raft in Gator Lake in the preserve. Turtles are cold blooded reptiles who cannot regulate their body temperatures by moving around like mammals so they are often seen lying along the banks of rivers, ponds and swamps trying to soak up the suns rays. The turtle on the wooden raft is a Softshell Turtle and the ones standing on the log look like Red Bellied Cooter’s. Turtles feed on vegetation in their habitat along with small fish, insects, and crustaceans. Their predators include alligators, raccoons, foxes and skunks. The juvenile turtles can also be fed upon by raptors such as eagles and hawks.
Turtles such as the Red Bellied Cooter’s can submerge into water and breathe through gill like structures near their mouths. They can also breathe through their mouths. The Six Mile Slough Preserve is a fun place to see wildlife that includes a variety of birds, river otters, alligators, turtles and other small animals. The slough is a slow moving swamp which moves rainwater and storm water through a labyrinth of Cypress Trees, plants and low lying land which helps to clean our water resources and provide a home for all kinds of wildlife. Lee County manages the preserve and gives tours of the slough which is well worth the time. They also have a nature center with exhibits. The Florida Museum of Natural History contains a list of pictures and descriptions of Florida turtles.
Florida Water Moccasin
Florida Water Moccasin
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The Florida Water Moccasin or Cottonmouth – (Agkistrodon piscivorus) – can be found in the eastern United States from Virginia to Florida and Texas. It lives in both water and terrestrial environments. It likes to inhabit freshwater ecosystems such as swamps, streams, lakes, and drainage canals but can also be seen on land usually near one of these freshwater bodies of water. They feed on insects, rodents, rabbits and other small creatures. The Florida Water Moccasin is one of 50 species of snakes in Florida but there are only 6 that are dangerous to humans and should be avoided. The Florida Museum of Natural History lists the snakes of Florida, their characteristics and how to identify them. I am not a snake lover and usually avoid them whenever I can. People often confuse the Water Moccasin to the common Watersnake which is harmless.
The Florida Water Moccasin can bite you if provoked and the venom it injects in you must be treated in a hospital by a anti-venom medicine. That is one reason I wear thick footwear and pants if I am hiking through an area where I might encounter these snakes.
I liked learning more about the Cottonmouth at another website at the Univ. of Florida Dept. of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. It shows pictures of Watersnakes and Water Moccasins next to each other and defining characteristics of each. The Cottonmouth has a much thicker body than the Watersnake, a short thick tail and blocky diamond shaped head. Watersnakes and other non-venomous snakes have bodies that are much slender for their length. There are very good descriptions of The Cottonmouth and other snakes at the Florida Dept. of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. The pictures of the Water Moccasins in this article were taken at the Calusa Nature Center in Ft. Myers. and are live snakes.
Diamondback Terrapin Turtle
Diamondback Terrapin Turtle click on pictures for larger images
Diamondback Terrapin Turtle
The Diamondback Turtle (Malaclemys terrapin) is native to the United States and can be found in coastal swamps and marshes in coastal areas from the Florida Keys all the way to Cape Cod. The turtle gets its name from the diamond shaped rings on its shell. It prefers brackish water which is a combination of salt and fresh water. Its habitat also includes estuaries, marshes and lagoons.
The Diamondback Turtle is threatened by natural causes such as predators but they are also threatened by man-made causes such as habitat destruction and climate change. The female turtles lay about 8-12 eggs each year from May to July. The sex of the new turtles is often determined by the temperature of the nest with higher temperatures producing more females. The chances for survival of the eggs is only 1%-3% and many more die off due to natural or man-made causes before reaching adulthood. Their predators include alligators, large birds and other reptiles who search for their eggs
The diet of a Diamondback Terrapin consists of fish, snails, worms, clams, crabs and marsh plants. I have never seen a Diamondback in the wild myself. I love the colors of it’s shell and other unique features.
I saw this turtle at the Calusa Nature Center in Ft. Myers which has a collection of live turtles, snakes and other types of wildlife that can be found in Florida. The nature center also has a great exhibit of stuffed animals that look real and are standing and walking through their natural habitats.
You can learn more about the Diamondback Turtle at defenders.org website.
Florida Box Turtle
The Florida Box Turtle ( (Terrapena Carolina bauri) which my hiking group found as we were walking through the Caracara Prairie Preserve has the ability to completely retract itself under its’ shell to protect itself from predators. Someone found this Box Turtle off the walking path probably under some leaves or a log which these turtles use for shelter and habitat on hot days in order to regulate their body temperature. Some turtles swim in stream and ponds on hot days but this species of turtles prefers moist areas like marshes, burrows in the ground in forested flatwoods and shady areas with lots of cover. The Caracara Prairie Preserve seems like an ideal habitat for the Florida Box Turtle because of its’ dry flatwood prairies and forests and wet marshes that make up most of the preserve. The turtle has a high back and shell that slopes off toward the edges and has colorful yellow and dark markings.
Their diet consists of insects, worms, snails, and vegetation which is plentiful in this habitat. I found out that these turtles can live up to 100 years. You can see pictures and learn more about Box Turtles at The Florida Museum of Natural History or the Smithsonian Reptile and Amphibian website. There is also a good website with specific information about the Florida Box Turtle and it’s care if you want to keep it as a pet at Austins’ Turtle Page.
Florida Red Bellied Turtle
Florida Red Bellied Turtle – (Chrysemys nelsoni)
I spotted this turtle along Daniels Pkwy while I was taking a bicycle ride on a cool day. The female Red Bellied turtle which can grow up to 12 inches in length and weigh 8.8 lbs. is larger than their male counterparts. They often lay their eggs in alligator nests or mud holes in the water which provides a more stable temperature range and protects the eggs from raccoons. The danger to this practice is that alligators sometimes attack adult turtles and it is thought by biologists that their high and thick shell coverings are evolutionary developments to protect them from alligator attacks. There are occasionally signs of tooth marks and scratches on the outer shell of Red Bellies showing signs of alligator attacks. Red Bellied turtles are popular for their export trade because they are eaten by some people and also used as pets. The Florida Museum of Natural History has a good collection of pictures of Florida’s turtles and other reptiles. The turtle is cold blooded since and since it is a reptile and cannot regulate it’s body temperature like other animals, it has to seek warm places in it’s environment to raise it’s body temperature on cold days in order to survive. You can often see one or more turtles sunning themselves along the banks of a river, ponds, or on logs.
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Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)
The Brown Anole is an invasive species, native to Cuba and they are killing off the Green Anoles because they are more aggressive. Brown Anoles are more common to see around the yard and crawling on buildings. They will feed on just about anything including insects, mealworms, Green Anoles and small fish when they are near water. They have the same sticky pads for feet which allow them to walk or climb on any surface. Many of the invasive species that have taken over our ecosystems and habitats were brought in by pet owners from other countries which is illegal. When they get too big they are released into the wild and sometimes overwhelm the native population of related animals. Keep them out of your garage, lanai or house for the same reasons I mentioned before. They can leave foul smelling droppings which are unpleasant to clean up.
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