Class Reptilia (Reptiles) in the Christopher B. Smith Preserve

Class Reptilia Characteristics: Reptiles are ectothermic vertebrates. That means they rely on environmental heat sources and have bony skeletons for support. In addition, most reptiles lay eggs on land (some snakes and lizards have live birth) and all have body scales. There are three orders of reptiles found in the Smith Preserve: Crocodilia, Squamata, and Testudines. Order Crocodila is represented by an alligator. Order Squamata includes lizards and snakes. Order Testudines includes turtles and tortoises. Pond turtles swim and bask in the filter marsh, but visit the terrestrial environment to lay their eggs; box turtles are terrestrial, but may visit the filter marsh to eat fish. Tortoises are entirely terrestrial.

Interactions in the Smith Preserve: In areas of the filter marsh that are shallow or seasonally try, the alligator can excavate deeper spots that hold water longer. These areas become a refuge for fish, turtles, and other wildlife. The alligator also keeps prey populations in check.

Snakes eat lizards, birds, fish, snails, insects, small mammals, and other snakes, keeping prey populations in check. Lizards help keep their prey, mostly insects and spiders, in check. Both snakes and lizards are prey for large reptiles, birds and some mammals. Some lizards dig holes in the sand, which mixes sediments.

Turtles and tortoises contribute to the food web by keeping other organisms in check and providing food for predators. In addition, tortoises create burrows that provide shelter for a variety of other creatures.

 
Order
Family
Species Name
Common Name
Crocodilia
Alligatoridae
Alligator mississippiensis
American Alligator
Squamata
Anguidae
Ophisaurus ventralis
Glass Lizard
Squamata
Colubridae
Coluber constrictor priapus
Southern Black Racer
Squamata
Colubridae
Diadophis punctatus punctatus
Southern Ringneck Snake
Squamata
Gekkonidae
Hemidactylus turcicus
Mediterranean Gecko / Common House Gecko
Squamata
Iguanidae
Anolis carolinensis
Green Anole / Carolina Anole
Squamata
Iguanidae
Anolis sagrei
Brown Anole
Squamata
Teiidae
Cnemidophorus sexlineatus
Six-Lined Racerunner
Testudines
Emydidae
Pseudemys nelsoni
Florida Red-Bellied Turtle
Testudines
Emydidae
Pseudemys sp.
Testudines
Emydidae
Terrapene carolina bauri
Florida Box Turtle
Testudines
Emydidae
Trachemys scripta elegans
Red-Eared Slider
Testudines
Testudinidae
Gopherus polyphemus

 

Order Crocodilia - Family Alligatoridae

Alligator mississippiensis

American Alligator

Before the Smith Preserve area was purchased by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, a large alligator lived in the pond that had been used for irrigation when the land was a citrus grove. Sometime during the clearing of the invasives from the pond, the alligator disappeared. It is assumed that it left the area via the canal along the north property line.

In 2010, a young alligator was brought to the Conservancy wildlife hospital because it was missing an eye. It was cared for and let go in the filter marsh. The location was chosen because there were no competing alligators and the habitat provided everything a young alligator would need. Food would include small insects, snails, crustaceans, worms, fish, amphibians, and reptiles. As it grew, it would be able to eat turtles, birds, and other larger animals.

Since its release, the alligator has not been observed, but the pond is quite large and there are plenty of hiding places.

Alligators are native only to the United States and China and live in freshwater and brackish environments. Because they construct gator holes in wetlands, they are considered an important species that helps maintain ecological diversity. Alligators mature at about 1.8 m and mate in late spring. Females build a nest of vegetation where decomposition of vegetation provides the heat needed to incubate the eggs. The sex of the offspring is determined by the temperature of the nest. The mother defends her nest and young from predators.

 

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Order Squamata - Family Anguidae

Ophisaurus ventralis

Glass Lizard

The genus Ophisaurus means "snake lizard". This is an appropriate name because this legless lizard with its very long tail resembles a snake. Unlike snakes, it has movable eyelids and external ear openings. It has very smooth skin with shiny scales reinforced by bones (osteoderms) that make its body hard and brittle.

The common name "glass lizard" refers to its tail. When a predator grabs the lizard, Ophisaurus ventralis drops its tail. Once dropped, the tail can break into several pieces, resembling what happens when glass is dropped. The tail sections continue moving and distract the predator, allowing the lizard to escape. Overtime, the lizard regenerates a new tail. The reason a glass lizard can drop its tail is there are weakened areas within or between vertebrae that easily break apart.

Glass lizards are the largest lizards in Florida. In Florida, there are four very similar looking species, all belonging to the same genus. Ophisaurus ventralis, which is endemic to the southeastern United States, is the most common glass lizard encountered in Florida and it is one of the largest. Adults can be 102 cm long.

This species has other distinctive characteristics besides size. The neck is marked by a series of mostly vertical white marks. Older specimens have numerous longitudinal dark lines and they may be greenish above and yellow below. This is the only species that has a greenish appearance.

 

Most of the day, glass lizards burrow through soil and piles of leaves looking for food (insects, spiders, snails, other small reptiles, and young rodents).

Once mated, the female lays her eggs at the base of grass clumps or under ground debris.

The photographs shown here show one of the lizards in the scrub area of the Smith Preserve.

All of the photographs of this glass lizard were taken by Jim Bigelow, Conservancy of Southwest Florida volunteer.

 

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Order Squamata - Family Colubridae

Coluber constrictor priapus

Southern Black Racer Snake

Coluber constrictor priapus is very active during the day and is easily recognized by it thin body, black dorsal surface, grey belly, and white chin. They are large snakes; the one in the photograph above was about a meter long. Its diet consists of rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, small snakes, eggs, insects, moles, and even small birds. It kills its prey by suffocation by crushing it into the ground. Its natural enemies in the Smith Preserve are Buteo lineatus (Red-Shouldered Hawks) and Buteo jamaicensis (Red Tailed-Hawks) .

In the Smith Preserve on March 6, 2013, two snakes were observed mating in a pile of leaves under the low canopy of an oak. The snakes took turns slithering quickly out of the oak and onto the sand, making a half circle and then back into the leaves. At one point, one snake chased the other around the half circle. Shown below is one of the snakes slithering in its half circle.

The photograph at left shows the head of one of the snakes as it mated. Between March and August southern black racers usually breed and lay eggs.

The clutch of eggs at right were found in a rotten log. Each egg was 4 cm long.

Coluber constrictor priapus shed their skins several times during the year. The shed below was found wrapped around a tree branch. The last photograph below was taken November 11. 2015 of a snake alarmed by the footsteps of the photographer.

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Diadophis punctatus punctatus

Southern Ringneck Snake

Diadophis punctatus punctatus is a very secretive, nocturnal snake. It is easily recognizable by its small length (15-25 cm at maturity), slender body, dark dorsal surface, yellow neck band, and yellow belly with black crescent-shaped black spots. This species can burrow. The one that is shown was found in the hammock portion of the Smith Preserve under a moist log.

Diet of the snake includes: worms, slugs, frogs, anoles, geckos, juvenile snakes of other species, and salamanders. Ring-necked snakes kill their prey by a combination of constriction and envenomation. They are rear-fanged and considered harmless to humans.

During the summer, a female will lay 2-8 whitish eggs under or inside rotting logs. This species is found throughout Florida.

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Order Squamata - Family Gekkonidae

Hemidactylus turcicus

Mediterranean Gecko / Common House Gecko

Hemidactylus turcicus is a small, non-native, insectivorous, nocturnal gecko. Originally from the Mediterranean, it has spread to many parts of the world. This gecko is most active around 2 am, when it is a voracious predator of moths and small roaches attracted to lights. Because of its small size and nocturnal behavior, it is not considered a threat to native species.

A tiny egg was collected from a boot jack of a Sable palmetto (Sable Palm) at the Smith Preserve. At the time, the type of egg was unknown, but it was suspected to be an Anolis spp. (Green or Brown Anole). About one month after its collection, a tiny gecko hatched out. Note the small size of the egg and gecko when compared to the silver quarter. When the second photograph was taken, the gecko was a few days old. Fully grown adults rarely exceed 15 centimeters in length.

As seen in the photograph below of the newly hatched individual, Mediterranean geckos have large eyes with elliptical pupils. They have no eyelids. The snout is rounded and the forehead is slightly concave. The ear-openings are oval and at an oblique angle. The skin is yellow/ tan-colored with dark spots. The tail is striped.

Mediterranean geckos emit a distinctive, high-pitched call that resembles a bird chirp or mouse squeak. This may be a territorial announcement.

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Order Squamata - Family Iguanidae

Anolis carolinensis

Green Anole / Carolina Anole

Anolis carolinensis is a native lizard. At one time, this species spent much of its life in ground-level environments, however since the introduction of Anolis sagrei (Brown Anole), it has moved to a very different environment in the treetops. In the Smith Preserve, the green anole's diet is small insects and spiders.

As shown in these photographs, a green anole has a sharp nose, narrow head, slender body, and skinny tail. It has toe pads to help it climb, run, and cling to surfaces. Its belly and lips are white. It has moveable eyelids and the eyes can move independently from one another. The eyes are surrounded by a turquoise border. Green anoles are small lizards. Male adults are usually 15 cm long, half of which is tail. They weigh 3 to 7 grams.

A male is very territorial and will fight other males to defend its territory. The photographer has witnessed a green anole male successfully chase a brown anole male down a tree.

Breeding season for green anoles begins in April and ends in August. During this time, males court females with elaborate displays, extending their bright pink dewlaps and bobbing up and down in a dance. Two to four weeks after mating, the female lays a clutch of one to two eggs. She continues laying eggs to total ten, burying them in soft soil or compost. Eggs incubate in the heat of the sun and hatch 30 to 45 days later. Young, as well as older anoles are prey for larger reptiles, birds, and mammals. They will cast off their tails to escape predation.

Temperature, light, humidity, health, and emotions affect a green anole's color. In addition, this lizard can change color to camouflage itself in its surroundings. Camouflage helps protect it from predators and allows it to sneak up on prey. Color changes of green anoles is the result of three layers of chromatophores (pigment cells): xanthophores (yellow pigmentation), cyanophores (blue pigmentation), and melanophores (brown and black pigmentation). Because of its ability to change color from bright green to brown, the lizard is sometimes called the American chameleon. However, this species is not a true chameleon like other members of Family Chamaeleonidae.

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Anolis sagrei

Brown Anole

Anolis sagrei is a non-native lizard that first appeared in the Florida Keys in the 1890s. It is originally from Cuba and the Bahamas. Brown anoles are highly invasive and not only out-compete the native anole, Anolis carolinensis (Green Anole), but consume them. Brown anoles live in the bottom of trees and shrubs. They consume insects, other lizards, lizard eggs, small fish, and their own molted skin and detached tails. Eating the molted skin replenishes supplies of calcium.

These anoles are slender and slightly larger than green anoles. Males are larger than females. The brown anole snout is short compared to that of the green. Brown anoles can change color, but only from light brown to dark brown. They are never green. As shown above in the second photograph, mature males have a crest-like ridge running down the back. Males also have a yellow or reddish-orange dewlap with a yellow-white edge as shown in the photograph at right.

If provoked, a brown anole may react by detaching its tail, biting, urinating, and defecating. Predators include rats, snakes, birds.

 

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Order Squamata - Family Teiidae

Cnemidophorus sexlineatus

Six-Lined Racerunner

Cnemidophorus sexlineatus is a native, slender-bodied member of Family Teiidae (Whiptail Lizards). Its tail is nearly twice the length of its body. As shown in these photographs taken in the Preserve scrub, a six-lined racerunner is dark brown with six yellow stripes extending down its body from head to tail. Females have white bellies and males have pale blue bellies and throats. All individuals in these photographs are thought to be males.

Like other species of whiptail lizards, Cnemidophorus sexlineatus are active during the day. These lizards have a voracious appetite for grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, ants, flies, small moths, and caterpillars.

To capture prey and escape predators, six-lined racerunners move very quickly, reaching speeds up to 29 km/h (18 mph). In the Smith Preserve, their major predators are snakes.

Racerunners use burrows during the night, on cool days, for egg laying, and for escape. They either dig the burrows or use burrows dug by other animals. To dig, they use their front legs to remove soil. The burrows can extend 20 to 25 cm and have two openings. When the lizard is inside, one of the openings is closed from the inside. The first two photographs below show a racerunner quickly digging a hole for safety. The very last photograph shows him standing beside his completed burrow.

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Order Testudines - Family Emydidae

Pseudemys nelsoni

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

 

Pseudemys nelsoni is a native turtle that can grow to 20.3 to 37.5 cm in length. Adult females are typically larger than adult males. Besides size differences, males can be distinguished by their longer nails and longer stout tails.

As its name "Florida Red-bellied Turtle" implies, the turtle plastron (belly shell) is usually orange or red. The carapace (dorsal shell) is round, domed with a yellowish edge, and has one large, dark red band across each scute (scale). In older specimens like the one in this photograph, mosses and algae cover the shell, making it difficult to see the red color. The turtle's head is black with narrow yellow stripes.

Pseudemys nelsoni are found in nearly any type of fresh or brackish aquatic habitat. The adult diet is mostly plants. These turtles spend much of the day basking on logs.

After mating, females lay 12 to 30 eggs in late spring and early summer and are known to nest in alligator nests or away from the water.

Florida red-bellied turtles are exported for consumption and the pet trade.

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Pseudemys sp.

Cooter / Slider

 

When photographed, this melanistic Pseudemys sp. was sunning itself on a log in the filter marsh. Melanism is the development of dark-colored pigments in the skin. In this individual, the dark skin and shell obscure its markings, making the species difficult to identify.

Like other members of Family Emydidae (Pond and Marsh Turtles), Pseudemys sp. has a prominent bridge connecting the dorsal and ventral shells. The limbs are adapted for swimming and its toes are webbed. Long nails on the front feet indicate that this individual is a male. A male courts a female by swimming backward while using the nails to stroke her face.

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Terrapene carolina bauri

Florida Box Turtle

The Florida Box Turtle lives on the peninsula of Florida in both wooded and grassy areas, often near streams and ponds. As with other box turtles, this species has a narrow, high-domed shell that is hinged. The hinge allows a turtle to tightly close its shell for protection.

Box turtles are terrestrial members of Family Emydidae (American pond turtle family), not members of Family Testudinidae (tortoise family).

The first two photographs shown here are of two individuals found dead in the Preserve. It is likely that they were attacked and eaten by raccoons. The first photograph shows the carapace (top shell) and some of the remaining scales that covered the carapace. The second photograph shows scales that had fallen off the carapace of the second victim.

The Florida Box Turtle shell is sometimes marked with a pattern of bright radiating yellow stripes, but the color can also be solid yellow to solid black. The head is marked with lines. This subspecies of Terrapene carolina has three toes on each of the hind feet. This distinguishes bauri from other subspecies.

Sharp claws and a sharp beak are used to catch and eat food. In the wild, diet consists of insects, worms, snails, roots, fish, frogs, berries, fungi, and carrion. The young are primarily carnivorous, while adults are mostly herbivorous, but they do not eat green leaves.

Males are larger than females and the plastron (ventral portion of the shell) is concave. Hind leg claws are short, thick and curved. The tail is thicker and longer than that of a female. Eyes are red.

Females have longer and straighter rear claws, and the posterior lobe of the plastron is flat or slightly convex. Females have yellow eyes.

Nest temperature determines the sex of the offspring. Cooler nests (22˚ to 27˚C) produce males. Warmer nests (28˚C and higher) produce females.

The third photograph, courtesy of Ian Bartoszek, shows a young, live box turtle. Turtles reach sexual maturity in five years. They are believed to live over 100 years in the wild.

On the morning of April 1, 2015, the photograph below was taken of a mature male as it shuffled over the sand in the Smith Preserve scrub.

Below, this male was in the hammock area of the Preserve on November 5, 2015

 

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Trachemys scripta elegans

Red-eared Slider

Trachemys scripta elegans is a non-native semiaquatic turtle that is the most popular pet turtle in the United States. Its original habitat was from Mississippi westward, but because of the pet trade, it has become an invasive species in many areas where it has been introduced. In Florida it competes with native turtles. It has become so invasive that it is illegal to sell these turtles in the state.

Trachemys scripta gets its common name "red-eared slider" because of the red patch of skin around its ears and the fact that it slides quickly off of rocks and logs into the water. Like most turtles, red-eared sliders have fixed tongues and produce no saliva, so they must eat their food in the water. Their diet consists of fish, crayfish, carrion, aquatic insects, and aquatic plants.

These turtles spend much time in the water, but leave it to bask in the sun and lay eggs. After mating, a female can lay 2 to 30 eggs in a clutch and have up to 5 clutches each year. The sex of the slider is determined by the incubation temperature during embryonic development. Females develop at warmer temperatures than males.

In the first photograph below, a female has dug a shallow hole and is laying eggs. The second photograph shows the eggs a few days later, broken by an invading predator, probably a Procyon lotor (Common Raccoon).

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Order Testudines - Family Testudinidae

Gopherus polyphemus

Gopher Tortoise

Click to go to the gopher tortoise web page.

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© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer), unless otherwise creditied above.

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