Everglades Reptile Spotlight: Sea Turtle

sea turtleWhen you think of Florida, what comes to mind? Sunshine? Beaches? Oranges? You wouldn’t be wrong. However, there’s something else that’s known to be a symbol of this state: the sea turtle. Sea turtles can be found in the Everglades, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Five species of the sea turtle are found in the southern Florida waters:  loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempi), and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). Unfortunately in present day, all five of these species are either threatened or endangered.

Because of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, it is illegal to take, harm, hunt, pursue, shoot, wound, kill, capture, trap, or collect any endangered fish of wildlife species. Sea turtles and their nests can be spotted along many beaches in Florida and it is illegal to disturb the nests.

In the Everglades, Cape Sable has one of the most active turtle nesting areas in the south Florida region. Park biologists monitor these nests and their activity to document the turtles’ presence. People can easily spot turtles’ tracks, which are known as a crawl. If the female sea turtle abandons her attempt at nesting (for whatever reason), the tracks are called a false crawl. A person can tell the direction of travel from the orientation of the comma-shaped flipper marks and superposition of turtle tracks. Each species of turtle leaves behind a specific set of tracks.

A biologist can find a sea turtle nest by looking for certain-shaped mounts of sand on the beach. These biologists mark and record the nests and check for signs of hatching 45 days later. Incubation takes about 60 days. The temperature of the sand determines how fast the baby sea turtles develop and hatch.

Biologists find sea turtle nests by looking for a characteristically shaped mound of sand on the beach. They mark and record each nest and begin checking for signs of hatchlings about 45 days later. Although incubation takes about 60 days, the temperature of the sand determines the speed of embryo development, so the hatching period can cover a broad period of time. The speed of embryo development increases with increasing nest temperature. Cooler nests generally produce more males, and warmer nests generally produce more females. Hatching usually occurs at night.

Unfortunately, predators sometimes get to the eggs before they hatch. The eggs are the size of a ping pong ball. The baby turtles leave the nest and make their way to the ocean. Biologists will keep watch of the nest to see how many eggs hatches and how many survived.

On an airboat tour, you’ll have you chance to see so much wildlife! Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a glimpse of the Everglades like no other. Captain Mitch has been navigating the Everglades for decades! To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Everglades Reptile Spotlight: Tokay Gecko

tokay geckoThe Everglades has more than 50 distinct kinds of reptiles in the Park – they happen to be the Park’s most well-known and fascinating inhabitants. Unfortunately, some of these reptiles are invited guests who decided to make the Everglades their home. Many reptilian species are invasive. For this article, we wanted to spotlight one such invasive reptile: the Tokay Gecko.

The Tokay gecko was first spotted in Florida around 1965.  Coming from Southeast Asia, they are not native to the Everglades and they eat arboreal lizards, frogs and can even prey on nesting birds and rodents. They’ve even been seen to eat a young corn snake. How did they end up in the Everglades? This gecko was often sold in pet trade, and it has been released by people to control cockroaches.

Primarily, this gecko is nocturnal, but it can be spotted in the morning. If they are approached and feel threated, they will bite aggressively and hold on.

They have a gray/blue body with orange spots/markings.  It’s known for its beauty and decent price, so it’s quickly become a pet store favorite.  They are an easy-to-care-for pet, but they can be aggressive, so many people return or release them. It’s definitely not a docile species, so for those who like to handle their reptiles, the Tokay gecko isn’t the first recommendation. They are known to be a mean lizard and are very territorial.

This lizard can grow over a foot long in length. They also have the ability to make their skin patterns lighter or darker to blend into the background, and also as a way to communicate. They have no eyelids and lick their eyeballs to clean them.

They have the name “tokay” from the sound they make; it’s a two-part clicking mating call. They usually lay eggs in pairs. A breeding female can lay a pair of eggs every month for 4 to 5 months consecutively. In the wild, these geckos can live around 8 to 10 years.

Florida wildlife officials consider the introduction of Tokays to be a mild threat to native wildlife, and there is no major effort to eradicate them, whereas more resources are focused on more threatening invasive species like pythons.

Overall, they can be found in the Everglades, but they do prefer to stay in an urban area inside people’s houses, which shows they are not (yet) a major threat to Florida’s wildlife.

Come spot some reptiles on an airboat ride with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a glimpse of the Everglades like no other. To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.


The Nile Crocodile in the Everglades

Nile CrocodileThe Burmese python is well-known to be an invasive species in the Florida Everglades; however, there seems to be another major invasive reptile in the wetland: The Nile crocodile. Yes, the Everglades are full of crocodiles, but they’re native to America. These Nile crocodiles come from Africa. But, how did these crocs make their way across the Atlantic Ocean? And, how they end up swimming around the Everglades? That is the big question.

A University of Florida herpetologist said he isn’t sure how they got into the wild over here, because they certainly didn’t swim from Africa. Nile crocs have been captured in the Everglades in 2009, 2011, and 2014. After reports from locals about strange looking alligators, this scientist and his colleagues captured and tested the crocs. After some DNA testing was done, it was determined these crocodiles are Nile crocodiles, and the three were probably related to each other. However, they were not matched to any of the Nile crocs in any of Florida’s licensed Florida attractions, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

What does this mean? Well, these crocs could have been brought over to the area illegally by an unlicensed reptile collector. The crocs could have escaped or have been let go. The crocs found were believed to have escaped from Predator World, and that no one released them but they escaped, according to officials at the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The male Nile croc can grow to be more than 16 feet long and weigh more than 1,600 pounds. They have a bronze/brown/yellow coloring. They are much larger and more aggressive than the American crocodile or American alligator. If this crocodile begins to grow in numbers in the Everglades, it will do harm to the area’s ecosystem. The Everglades is a perfect place for this croc to survive in. Since one of the three captured was captured before and escaped, this proved these crocs can live and survive in Florida for many years and they can grow and populate quickly. Cross-breeding between the American crocodile and the Nile crocodile could create larger crocs in the area, which could endanger the smaller breads of crocodiles and the purity of the American breed.

As of right now, Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission officials aren’t worried, and believe they have captured all the Nile crocodiles in the area, since there have been no other confirmed sightings and no unaccounted for captive animals. These officials conduct regular routine inspections and surveys to look out for exotic and invasive species.  The agency also doesn’t believe these crocs mated with any native crocs in their time in the wild, because of dissimilar habitat and behavior.

Explore the Everglades
Despite being home to crocodiles, especially one’s native to the area, the Everglades is a safe place for humans to explore (with caution and regulations in place, of course). A great way to explore the crocodile’s habitat is with an airboat tour. Contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours here or call 800-368-0065 to book a tour today.

Poisonous Snakes of the Everglades

Twenty three snake species live in the Everglades. Of these 23, only four are venomous. Many people have a fear of snakes, and with several being poisonous, it makes sense why people prefer to stay away from these slithering creatures. However, these reptiles are an important part of the ecosystem of the Everglades. They control and prey on the number of rodents, invertebrates and other snakes. These snakes are also a food source for birds and alligators.

Types of Poisonous Snakes

The four venomous species of snacks found within the Everglades are: The Eastern coral snake, the Florida cottonmouth, the dusky pigmy rattlesnake, and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

Eastern Coral Snake – This snake is beautiful in color with red, yellow, and black bands running down its body. It prefers a wooded habitat and is considered to be very elusive in nature, since it spends a lot of time under ground or beneath foliage. Coral snakes are not confrontational and account for less than one percent of all bites that occur in North America every year; however, their bite is the most venomous of all the snakes on the continent. Its bite isn’t overly painful, but can cause death within a few hours.

Florida Cottonmouth – This snake is common and is also known as the “water moccasin.” It is a type of pit viper, and is the only semiaquatic viper species in the world. In the Everglades, this snake can be found around shallow waters like streams and marshes; they are strong swimmers. The cottonmouth is usually all black, brown, tan or olive; it also has a very thick body and can be up to six feet long. Its bite is painful and can lead to death.

Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnake—The dusky pigmy rattlesnake is a small snake (between two to three feet) that can be found in both wet and dry areas. Its coloring is gray with black/brown dorsal spots across its back with white flecks on the stomach. This snake is known to be aggressive and quick to bite with no warning. Since its fangs are small, it only releases a small amount of venom with a bite. Its bite is rarely fatal, but can post to be a greater risk to a child or pet.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake – This snake is the biggest of the venomous snake in both mass and length; it has been known to grow up to eight feet.  This snake is a great swimmer, often found by water; it is known to live underground sometimes. The diamondback rattlesnake has dark diamonds across its body, each separated by a whiteish color. Although extremely venomous, diamondbacks are not aggressive and try to warn a potential threat by rattling their tails.

How to Spot /Handle a Poisonous Snake

It’s not always easy to spot a poisonous snake because they can look similar to many non-venomous snakes. However, there are some general guidelines of differentiating a venomous snake from a non-venomous one.

  1. Most snakes with a triangular head are venomous.
  2. Snakes with length-wise stripes are non-venomous.

You also want to do your best to avoid interaction with one of these. Do not approach or touch the snake if you’re unsure of what species the snake is. If you want snakes to stay away from you, it’s a good idea to make a lot of noise while walking, so the snakes are aware you’re around. It’s best to keep your hands out of potential snake hiding spots (logs, brush, leaves, rock piles), as well. Also, keep on the trails; you’re less likely to run into a snake on a cleared path.

Sail by the Snakes
Snakes, although not the friendliest creatures, can still be quite the sight to see. But, you may not want to run into them, especially the venomous kind. An airboat tour is a great way to stay safe in the Everglades without running the risk of encountering a snake. The ride will also give you chance to see the habitat of these snakes. To check out the beautiful ecosystem that the snakes contribute to, book an airboat ride with Captain Mitch through the Everglades today!