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Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida

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On this page - American Alligator, American Crocodile, Gopher Tortoise, Florida Box Turtle, Florida Cooter, Florida Redbelly Turtle, Red-eared Slider, Florida Soft-shell Turtle

Florida has 142 native species of reptiles and amphibians, including fifty species of native snakes, and six snakes statewide that are venomous. Four of those six are found in South Florida, the Copperhead and Timber rattlesnake are found only in the panhandle and northern Florida. Florida has also acquired about fifty species of non-native reptiles.

Click any image for a larger version

American Alligator - Alligator mississippiensis

Pair of American Alligators - Alligator mississippiensis on a lake shore An Alligator hiding in a cypress swamp A baby Alligator basks in the morning sun on a cold day.

Male Alligators can grow to 19 feet long and can weigh in at over 1,000 pounds, while females rarely exceed 9 feet and half the weight of males.

Baby Alligators eat a wide variety of insects, crayfish, small fish, lizards and frogs. Adults will eat all types of prey that comes within range; fish, turtles, mammals, birds, reptiles and even smaller Alligators.

Habitat - Freshwater swamps, marshes, rivers, lakes. Occasionally alligators will wander into the brackish water of estuaries but don't stay long as they are not equipped to live in saltwater.

On occasion an Alligator can become a potential threat, especially if people start feeding them. Feeding an Alligator or any wild animal teaches them to associate people with food and can cause them to become aggressive toward people.

If you believe you know of a problem gator or observe someone feeding a gator you can report it, the FWC Nuisance Alligator Hotline is 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286).

American Crocodile - Crocodylus acutus

The American crocodiles historical range reaches its northern limits around Martin county on the Atlantic coast and Charlotte county on the Gulf coast.

Despite the Crocodiles fearsome reputation and prehistoric appearance, the American crocodile is rarely seen and is shy by nature, an estimated 400-500 live within Florida.

Threatened by habitat loss, this animal is listed as an Endangered species and is protected by state and federal law. Males grow to about 15 feet, females 8 to 12 feet. The American crocodile is olive brown to tan in color with a much longer, narrower snout than the Alligator and an exposed forth tooth on the lower jaw.

Crocodiles will eat just about anything, feeding on fish, turtles, water birds and any unaware mammal that strays too close including Deer and Feral pigs. The American crocodile is found primarily in the brackish waters near the mouths of rivers and in the mangrove swamps of extreme South Florida.

Gopher Tortoise - Gopherus polyphemus

Large Gopher tortoise feeding. Gopher Tortoise out for a walk. A Gopher Tortise pauses at the entrance of its burrow.

Gopher Tortoise burrows can be found in well drained, sandy soils of Sandhill, Scrub, Dry Flatwoods & Dry Prairie habitats.

Gopher Tortoises' need open, sunny areas for the plants that they feed on to grow. The fruit of the Gopher Apple, Saw Palmetto berries, & Blackberries along with grasses and herbaceous plants make up the bulk of its diet.

Sometimes erroneously referred to as a Gopher Turtle, the Gopher Tortoise lives to 50 plus years and is considered a "keystone species", in that over 350 other animals rely on the burrows of the tortoise as a necessary part of their habitat, including the threatened Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais couperi).

Skunk, fox, mice, Gopher Frogs, other frogs and small invertebrates are frequent visitors to the tortoise burrow. Tortoise burrows, which are up to 40 feet long and 10 feet deep are also sometimes the only avenue of escape from wildfire for many smaller animals.

Burrows are also a good indication of the size of the animal that dug it - the width of the burrow is the length of the Tortoise, this allows them to turn around at any point in the burrow.

The entrance of a Gopher Tortoise's burrow is easily recognized by a low mound of excavated sand, called the apron. The biggest current threats to the Gopher Tortoise are loss of habitat, upper respiratory infections & poaching.

Florida Box Turtle - Terrapene carolina bauri

Florida Box Turtle - Terrapene carolina bauri A Florida Box turtle comes out to say hello.

The Florida Box turtle is one of four sub-species of Eastern box turtle, its range is limited to the Florida peninsula. Box turtle populations in Florida are on the decline because of loss of habitat and over-collecting for the pet trade.

Growing to a length of about 7 inches, the Box turtle has a dark brown or black carapace (upper shell) with striking yellow or cream colored stripes radiating in a somewhat fan shaped pattern. These turtles have the ability to almost completely close its shell because of its hinged plastron (lower part of shell). Box Turtles are land dwelling & omnivorous, feeding on a variety of vegetation, small animals and eggs.

Box turtle habitat - Sand Pine scrub, Flatwoods, Margins of lakes, ponds, marshes, river floodplains.

Florida Cooter - Pseudemys floridana

Florida Cooter in a small pond. A Florida Cooter turtle basks on a log.

One of the most common turtles in Florida, the Florida Cooter is often seen sunning itself on the banks of freshwater creeks, ponds or slow moving rivers.

Growing to 15 inches in length this turtle is a herbivore, although juveniles will eat the occasional insect.

Florida Cooters construct a three part nest on land, digging one deep hole with two shallower holes to the sides of it. The female lays most of her eggs in the deeper hole, putting one or two eggs in the shallow holes in an attempt to distract predators from the main egg cache.

Florida Redbelly Turtle - Pseudemys nelsoni

Florida Redbelly Turtle with algae growing on its carapace.

Common names include - Florida Red-bellied Cooter, Florida Red-bellied turtle.

The Florida Redbelly turtle has an unusual method of protecting its eggs, it often lays them in an Alligators nest! While this behavior has it risks, it provides a warm nest that the female 'gator will defend from predators.

Length to 13 inches, average is about 10 inches. Shell is round and domed, highest at mid-point. Upper shell is dark with reddish bars, lower shell red tinged when young, older turtles often loses the red belly color. Single yellow line on top of head. This turtle is omnivorous but feeds mainly on aquatic vegetation.

Habitat - Prefers freshwater, occasionally found in brackish water. Ponds, creeks, marshes, swamps, slow moving rivers, always with abundant vegetation.

Red-eared Slider - Trachemys scripta elegans

The Red-eared slider is an introduced species from the pet trade.

Not native to Florida, the Red-eared slider is one of the most widely introduced species of turtle worldwide. In Florida, as with other non-native species, this turtle competes with native species for food and habitat. Identified by its unique red or orange stripe on the head, behind each eye.  Adults grow to about 12 inches, males have elongated front claws. The Red-eared slider can be found in freshwater lakes, ponds and deepwater Marshes.

Florida Soft-shell Turtle - Apalone ferox

The Florida Soft-shelled turtlle moving across land.

Soft-shell turtles spend most of their time hiding in the sand or mud in shallow waters with just their neck sticking up to get air and to ambush fish, snails and crayfish.

The Florida soft-shell turtle can be found throughout Florida and into Georgia, Alabama and even as far north as southern South Carolina!

This unusual turtle has leathery skin growing over its hard shell, a very long neck and an unpredictable demeanor, these turtles are surprisingly fast both on land and in water, can be very aggressive and they are capable of delivering a nasty bite. Their neck is also long enough to reach almost to the back of their shell.

Juvenile Florida soft-shell turtles are olive yellow with gray spots, adults typically have blotchy skin and brownish green to tan shells. Females grow to 24 inches long, males are somewhat smaller, usually around 12 inches.

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