Native Species in Southwest Florida

Get to know some of our local natives


The Sunshine State is literally teeming with terrestrial, aquatic, and avian wildlife. More than 130 native species are threatened or endangered—and many make their home in Southwest Florida. Whether they’re outgoing or shy, get to know a few of your neighbors’ “cool factors.”

Photo by Dennis Goodman

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Scientific name: Caretta

Adult size: 3 feet

Weight: 250 to 300 pounds

Lifespan: More than 50 years

Habitat: Temperate and tropical regions of the ocean

Diet: Fish, crustaceans, jellyfish, and occasionally seagrass and algae

Status: Threatened in Florida, endangered in other parts of the world

Cool factor: Mature sea turtles return to the beaches where they hatched to lay their eggs.

Photo by Dennis Goodman

Florida Panther

Scientific name: Puma concolor coryi

Adult size: 7 to 8 feet from the nose to tail tip

Weight: 100 to 160 pounds

Lifespan: 12 to 15 years

Habitat: Confined to Southwest Florida’s pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mixed swamp forests

Diet: Deer, wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos, snakes, and even alligators

Status: Endangered, with an estimated 120 to 230 panthers in Florida, making them one of the rarest and most endangered mammals in the world

Cool factor: Panthers are strong swimmers, have a keen sense of smell, and a 130-degree field of vision.

Photo by Dennis Goodman 

Eastern Indigo Snake

Scientific name: Drymarchon couperi

Adult size: 6 to 8 feet long

Weight: Up to 9-plus pounds, averaging about 5 pounds

Habitat: Upland forests, hardwood hammocks, Florida scrub

Diet: Small mammals, reptiles, amphibians

Status: Threatened

Cool factor: This snake eats its prey live, and hunts and consumes other snakes, including venomous ones. It is also the longest native snake in North America.

Photo courtesy of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Roseate Spoonbill

Scientific name: Platalea ajaja

Adult size: 2.5 to 3.5 feet, with a wingspan of 4.5 to 5 feet

Weight: Up to 4 pounds

Habitat: Shallow wetlands, marshes, bays, or swamps

Diet: Small fish, insects, small aquatic crustaceans

Status: Threatened, Protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Cool factor: Shortly after hatching, spoonbill chick bills gradually start to flatten and develop into their iconic flared shape after a few weeks’ time.

River Otter

Scientific name: Lontra canadensis

Adult size: 3 to 5 feet

Weight: 11 to 31 pounds

Lifespan: 10 years

Habitat: Rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, and swamps

Diet: Fish, crayfish, and turtles

Status: Native

Cool factor: The tail comprises 40 percent of total body length and facilitates strong swimming skills. Otters can swim 8 miles per hour and dive to depths of 36 feet. They are mostly nocturnal and live in burrows on the banks of waterbodies.

Gopher Tortoise

Scientific name: Gopherus polyphemus

Adult size: Up to 15 inches

Weight: 8 to 15 pounds

Lifespan: 40 to 60 years

Habitat: Well-drained, sandy soils found in habitats such as longleaf pine sandhills, oak hammocks, scrub, pine flatwoods, dry prairies, and coastal dunes

Diet: Low-growing plants, such as wiregrass, broadleaf grasses, gopher apple, and legumes

Status: Threatened

Cool factor: The only tortoise naturally found east of the Mississippi River, they spend up to 80 percent of their time in burrows that average 15 feet long and more than 6 feet deep. These burrows offer shelter for hundreds of other species.

Courtesy of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Sandhill Crane

Scientific name: Antigone canadensis

Adult size: Approximately 4 feet

Weight: 7 to 10 pounds

Habitat: Marshlands, wetlands, open fields

Diet: Berries, seeds, small invertebrates

Cool factor: The sandhill crane mates for life, and pairs dance together to reinforce their bond.

Be a Good Neighbor

We all play a part in making sure these natives remain happy, healthy neighbors. Whether you are a long-time resident or first-time visitor, here are some tips for being a good neighbor.

  • Leave nothing but footprints. A No. 1 cause of harm to all creatures is plastic pollution. Bottle caps, ribbons, balloons, and monofilament fishing line commonly kill or maim birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals. Use less plastic and clean up litter, especially around waterways.
  • Keep your eyes on the road. Observe safe speeds on the roads and on the water to avoid collisions with wildlife.
  • Don’t feed wildlife. This causes animals, including alligators, to lose their fear of people, posing a threat to humans and domestic animals—and to the animals that are being fed.
  • Take nothing but pictures. Florida has strict laws that prohibit the capturing, harming, or harassment of Florida’s native species, including live shells, sea stars, urchins, and sand dollars.

Get Up-Close

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a nonprofit environmental protection organization established 55 years ago. Learn about Southwest Florida’s ecosystems, plants, and wildlife. Rent kayaks, take an electric boat tour, and stroll through native ecosystems. See gopher tortoises at the Christopher B. Smith Preserve. Go behind the scenes at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. Find out more:


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