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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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: conservancy.org.