World Wildlife Day is the perfect time to take a closer look at the home-grown residents of Hillsborough County Conservation Parks, nature reserves, and even your own backyard. Here are 10 mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish you may encounter in the untamed areas of the province:
These large reptiles are found throughout Florida in fresh and brackish waters. An adult alligator can reach 35 miles per hour and has 80 teeth. Females rarely exceed 10 feet in length, but males can grow larger. Their diet is fish, amphibians, mammals and birds. Admired and feared, the alligator is the state symbol and the mascot of the University of Florida’s sports teams.
Banned owls are known for their fun voice. Double buddies get engaged by calling back and forth to each other. They prefer to live in swampy habitat but can also be found in forests. These owls usually hunt at dawn or dusk and prefer a diet of small mammals. Set your eyes on a forbidden owl during your next bird adventure in
Lettuce Lake Conservation Park.
american wild cat
Although bobcats are common inhabitants of forests, hammocks, and swamps, they are rarely seen. Bobcats are twice the size of domestic cats. In the wild, their territory ranges to about 6 miles but is minimized in urban and suburban areas. Their diet includes ground-dwelling birds and small mammals such as rodents. It is a rare pleasure to catch a glimpse of these tough felines.
Fortunately, there are a few venomous snakes that call Florida home. One is the coral snake, which shares the same black, red, and yellow stripes as the non-venomous king snake. The important difference is that the red and yellow bands touch the coral snake, and the red and black bands touch the king snake. They are docile creatures and are likely to be afraid of humans.
gopher the turtle
These gentle reptiles live in highland habitats throughout Florida. Its deep burrows provide refuge for more than 350 other species. They are often found on or near roads, where it is sunny and warm. The gopher tortoise is often seen nibbling on the grass in the Bill Creek And the Camp Bay Nature reserves.
These majestic mammals typically grow 9-10 feet long and weigh about half a ton. They eat aquatic plants and breathe air, surfacing every 3-5 minutes when they are active. Watch them winter in the warm waters of Tampa Bay, most notably at the Manatee Viewing Center, just north of Apollo Beach.
Florida Red-Tailed Hawk
The Florida red-tailed hawk is a beauty worth seeing. As a non-migratory bird, it can be found locally all year round. They remain in the same area of 2 to 10 square miles throughout their lives and are highly adaptive, inhabiting different environments such as grasslands, parks, and woodlands while feeding on small mammals and reptiles. My favorite is the rattlesnake. Red-tailed hawks are adept thieves who don’t go beyond stealing a snack from other birds of prey.
The Snook has a large mouth with a prominent jaw that goes beyond the eye, a high dorsal fin, a sloping forehead, and a black streak running from the gills to the tail. The fish can grow up to 48 inches and up to 50 pounds. Their habitat is coastal coastal waters such as beaches, mangroves and seagrass beds. Fish and large crustaceans make up their diet. They can tolerate fresh water, but will not tolerate temperatures below 60 degrees.
Diamondback terrapin features a concentric ring pattern on their shell with handles lining their backs. Three of the five subspecies of Florida can be found in native brackish habitats, such as coastal swamps, mangroves, and tidal streams. Diamondback terrapin enjoys shellfish, crabs, fish, mussels, snails, worms and plants. Learn more at the Diamondback Terrapin exhibition in
Upper Tampa Bay Park.
Although a popular site, white-tailed deer add a little excitement to a time outdoors. When alarmed, they move their erect tails back and forth as if waving a white flag before running. Often seen at dusk or dawn in habitats where there are young, low-growing plants, it is easy to distinguish males from females. Males are often decorated with horns. Many of Hillsborough County’s nature reserves have these mammals frolicking inside.
Enjoy watching wildlife from afar. Get a closer look with your camera’s binoculars or zoom lens.
Many animals are most active at dawn or dusk, providing the best times for wildlife viewing.
Move slowly, keep calm, and don’t look directly at an animal.
If an animal stops being active or walks away, you are too close.
Always keep dogs on a leash.
To read more stories about Hillsborough County’s parks and preserves, subscribe to The Trailblazer