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Amphibians and Reptiles

Florida has a diverse assemblage of amphibian and reptiles consisting of at least 144 species.  Although the life histories of amphibians and reptiles are very different, they share threats to their persistence. Many of these species are difficult to detect through traditional survey techniques because they are cryptic, burrowing, or only seasonally conspicuous; therefore, a species may be present, even if it is not detected.  To make effective management decisions, managers should survey their property to ground-truth species presence, rather than rely on data that may be incomplete.

The following pages include groups of amphibians and reptiles either by taxonomic categories or habitat categories.

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The Florida bog frog (Lithobates okaloosae, ST) is a small, yellow-green to brown frog that inhabits slow-flowing acidic seeps, boggy overflows of streams, stream bends, and pond edges.  They can be identified by light-colored dorsal ridges, brown eardrum, yellow upper lip and throat, and copper-colored iris.  Florida bog frogs are limited to Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties in northwest Florida.  The Florida bog frog is primarily threatened by habitat loss and alteration.

Methods to survey for these species include dip-netting for tadpoles and conducting call surveys at breeding ponds.  Males can be heard calling from March to September

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Frosted Flatwoods Salamander

Georgia blind salamanders (Haideotrition wallacei, ST) reside in aquatic caves and subterranean springs in Northwest Florida.  Their localized distribution and specialized habitat make them vulnerable to water pollution from runoff, agriculture waste, fertilizers, and erosion.

The flatwoods salamander has been identified as two distinct species: frosted (Ambystoma cingulatum, FT) and reticulated (Ambystoma bishopi, FE).  Both species reside in longleaf and slash pine flatwoods where there is a diverse herbaceous groundcover, but they occupy different geographic regions.  Reticulated flatwoods reside in the western panhandle, whereas the frosted resides east of the Apalachicola River.

The main threats to these species are habitat loss and degradation.  Striped newts and flatwoods species require ephemeral ponds for breeding.  Altered hydrology and land use changes remove these habitats from the landscape and pose significant threats to the success of these species.

Survey methods for these species primarily involves dip netting and drift-fence surveys.

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Sand skinks (Neoseps reynoldi, FT) are burrowing lizards that are gray and light brown with reduced limbs and a narrow snout.  They are endemic to Central Florida and use xeric habitats with open sandy patches, such as rosemary scrub, scrubby flatwoods, sand pine and oak scrubs, and turkey oak ridges.  They are most active during the breeding season from March through May.  The primary threat to this species is habitat loss.

Bluetail mole skinks (Eumeces egregius lividus, FT) are lizards found in Highlands, Polk, and Osceola counties in Central Florida.  They have a brown body with a bright blue tail and light-colored lines on its sides.  Bluetail mole skinks burrow in loose sand found in xeric habitats.  Their main threat is habitat loss from agricultural, residential, and commercial development.

To monitor for these species, coverboards and pitfall traps are the suggested methods of surveying.  Avoiding occupied skink habitats is the best way to minimize and avoid potential impacts.  This includes limiting road access and activities that cause soil compaction (e.g. use of heavy equipment) surrounding these areas.  For more information on avoidance, minimization, and mitigation, please refer to the USFWS Conservation and Consultation Guide.

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alligator snapping turtle

The alligator snapping turtle is a large turtle characterized by its massive head, hooked beak, and three ridges along its carapace.  Three species are recognized in Florida: Suwannee alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys suwanniensis, ST), alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii), and Apalachicola alligator snapping turtle (M. apalachicolae).  Alligator snapping turtles inhabit river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico from the Escambia River to the Suwannee River System.

The Barbour’s map turtle (Graptemys barbouri, ST) is a smaller turtle with distinct ridges going down the central portion of the shell.  Females can be quite large and lack the distinct ridges characteristic of males and juveniles.  They are mostly found in the Apalachicola River System, but observations have also been made in the Ochlockonee and Choctawhatchee river systems.

Both of these species use the adjacent riparian areas for nesting between April and September.  The main threats to these turtles are habitat destruction (such as channel dredging and impoundments), pollution, and illegal take.  During the nesting season, sand mining and off-road vehicle use should be avoided in the areas surrounding these waterbodies to reduce disturbance to these animals.  Additional conservation measures include enhancing water quality and maintaining sandy beaches, berms, and surrounding uplands for nesting.

Survey methods for these species include baited hoop traps, hand-capture, and visual observations of basking turtles.  For more information, refer to the species’ profiles.

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There are five federally protected species of sea turtles, the green (Chelonia mydas, FE), loggerhead (Caretta caretta, FT), Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii, FE) Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate, FE) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea, FE) sea turtles, that can be found along the coastal waters and beaches of Florida.  The nesting season for sea turtles varies across geographic regions and species, but generally it begins May 1st at the start of loggerhead nesting and ends October 31st when most nests have hatched for each species.  For species-specific nesting regions, visit the species’ profiles at the links above.

To protect turtles during nesting season, minimize the amount of artificial lighting along the coast, remove equipment from the beach that may deter nesting attempts, properly dispose of garbage, and do not disturb nesting turtles, hatchlings, or their nests.

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Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus, ST) reside in upland habitats throughout Florida.  They dig deep burrows in well-drained sandy soils to escape adverse weather conditions.  These burrows may be used by up to 350 other species, making them an important habitat feature for the survival of many of these species.  Gopher tortoises rely on prescribed fire to maintain early successional habitat conditions with an open understory and tender plants for foraging. 

The primary threat to gopher tortoises is habitat loss and degradation.  The conservation goals for the state is to minimize the loss of gopher tortoises, manage and protect their habitat, and to maintain their role as a keystone species.  

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Short Tailed Snake

Florida pine snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus, ST) are large, non-venomous snakes that are patterned with dark or reddish-brown blotches over a lightly-colored background.  When agitated, these snakes will hiss, inflate their bodies, and vibrate their tail against leaf litter.  They inhabit dry upland habitats with well-drained sandy soils.  They use burrows of other animals, most notably those of pocket gophers (Geomys pinetis), to forage, nest, and escape adverse weather conditions.  The species is currently threatened by habitat degradation due to fire suppression and population declines of other burrowing species such as pocket gophers and gopher tortoises.

The short-tailed snake (Lampropeltis extenuata, ST) is a small, slender snake with a gray underside and alternating black and reddish blotches on its dorsal side.  It is endemic to peninsular Florida and prefers dry upland habitats with well-drained sandy soils in which to burrow.  Major threats to this species are habitat loss and alteration due to development, agriculture, and silviculture.

The Florida brown snake (Storeria victa, ST) is a small brown snake often with a mid-dorsal stripe with dark spots on either side.  These snakes inhabit hardwood hammocks in the Lower Keys on Big Pine, Little Torch, Middle Torch, No Name, and Sugarloaf keys.  Their full distribution is from Georgia to the Keys; however, only the Lower Keys population is state-designated Threatened.

The rim rock crowned snake (Tantilla oolitica, ST) is a small, tan snake with a pinkish white or cream-colored underside.  It is endemic to extreme Southern Florida and the Florida Keys in pine rocklands and tropical hardwood hammocks.  It is a burrowing species typically found in solution holes, but can also be found in stumps, detritus, fallen logs, and beneath rocks.

The Atlantic salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata, FT) is a keeled water snake found only in the brackish marshes of Volusia County, and possibly neighboring coastal counties.  They are olive colored with dark brown stripes that become more fragmented towards the tail.  They are adapted to living is salt water areas and often use fiddler crab burrows as refugia.  Their primary threat is habitat loss due to drainage and coastal development.

The Eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi, FT) is a large, non-venomous snake with a dark blue-black dorsal color and slightly lighter blue underside.  They often have a reddish chin, which can be used to distinguish them from black racers that have white throats.  Indigos use a variety of habitats, but prefer upland areas, and will use burrows for foraging, nesting, and refugia.  The most effective way to survey for these species are through drift fence arrays and coverboard surveys.  However, due to the considerable bycatch from these techniques, surveys are not recommended unless in conjunction with the USFWS or the FWC.

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American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis, FT(S/A)) are federally protected due to their resemblance to crocodiles and also a managed species through the FWC.  Alligators can be distinguished from crocodiles by their broad snouts and lack of visible lower teeth when their jaws are closed.  Courtship begins in early April, nesting occurs in late June or early July, and hatching occurs from mid-August through early September.

American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus, FT) are found in South Florida’s brackish and saltwater areas, primarily in mangrove swamps.  Courting can be observed beginning in January and nesting for crocodiles occurs from late April to May.  Nests are made along raised banks beyond the reach of tides, near freshwater refugia which are essential for juveniles.  Threats to the species include habitat alteration, human disturbances, and illegal hunting.

Conservation measures for the American alligator include reducing human-alligator conflicts through proper outreach and education, reducing human-alligator conflicts, maximizing conservation of suitable wetland habitat, minimizing attractants in areas such as residential communities and golf courses, and developing and maintaining diverse stakeholder groups vested in the conservation of alligators and their habitats.  Conservation measures for the American crocodile include reducing human-crocodile conflicts through proper outreach and education, maximizing habitat conservation in crocodile range, and minimizing attractants in waterways and shorefront residential communities and golf courses.

To survey for crocodilians, night shining or aerial surveys are suggested.  The USFWS Conservation Guidelines provides more information on how to minimize impacts to American crocodiles.

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