Diverse habitats in the Florida Keys help protect over 40 state and federally listed animal species. Many of these animals are found nowhere else and include the Lower Keys marsh rabbit, Key Largo cotton mouse, silver rice rat, Key deer, Key ringneck snake, Florida Keys mole skink, Lower Keys striped mud turtle, Stock Island tree snail, Bartram’s hairstreak and Schaus swallowtail butterfly. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is home to over 6,000 species.
Florida Tree Snail
Photo Credit: Kristie Killam/USFWS
Often called “the living jewel of tropical hardwood hammocks,” the Florida tree snail is found in the United States only in rockland hammocks of extreme southern Florida and the Keys. Florida’s population of snails may have descended from snails floating over on logs from Cuba or Hispaniola. More than 50 color forms with varying whorls of pink, green, yellow, orange and brown evolved in the isolated hammocks of Florida. Some color forms have become extinct from over-collecting and loss of habitat.
Sammy Creek Landing on Sugarloaf Key is a former home site that has been replanted with native vegetation. This rest stop for paddlers or bicyclists is a good spot to check for butterflies attracted to a variety of flowering plants. Visitors can launch kayaks here and explore coastal habitats. Birds are abundant in the marshes, mangroves and exposed mudflats.
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail showcases excellent wildlife viewing sites throughout the Florida Keys. Other wildlife viewing opportunities may be found in areas managed by the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks, in local city and county parks and in national wildlife refuges.
Wildlife Spotlight: Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit
Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit
Photos credit: Chad Anderson/USFWS
The Lower Keys marsh rabbit, a subspecies of the marsh rabbit, was listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990, six years after biologist James Lazell determined that rabbit differed from marsh rabbits in the Upper Keys. The Lower Keys marsh rabbit’s scientific name isSylvilagus palustris hefneriin honor of Hugh Hefner, whose Playboy Corporation helped finance Lazell’s research. The future of the Lower Keys marsh rabbit is threatened by loss of habitat, predation by house cats and road mortality.