Gopher_tortoise rare animals in Florida

12 Must-See Rare Florida Animals

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When most people think of Florida, they think of sandy beaches, palm trees, and alligators. But what about rare animals in Florida? If you’re looking to visit the Sunshine State, you should be aware of the state’s unusual inhabitants.

What you might not know is that Florida is also home to some pretty rare animals. From manatees to panthers, here are five of the most unique animals you can find in the Sunshine State.

The Bluetail mole skink, Key deer, West Indian manatee, and Bobcat are just a few of the endangered species that call Florida home.

For a better understanding of rare Florida animals and Florida’s wild creatures, read on to learn about their characteristics and other rare Florida animals to learn about their conservation status.

If you haven’t been to Florida, you should!

1. Bluetail Mole Skink

Bluetail_Mole_Skink_rare animals in Florida
Photo Credit: Author Glenn Bartolotti

Mole Skinks are small lizards native to the interior central part of Florida. Their color is gray to brown with two light stripes on either side of their body.

They have a red tail, and their habitat is sandy.

They can be found under logs, leaf litter, or rocks. Florida has only a small population of this species.

It is considered a threatened species. Conservation efforts are underway.

In the wild, the species is quite uncommon. Its habitat has been ravaged by sea level rise and human development. This has resulted in a severe decline in mole skink populations.

The species was introduced to Florida from Asia in cargo.

It is now protected as a species and cannot be bred in captivity. However, it is important to note that there are two subspecies of Florida skinks.

A small brown skink, the bluetail mole skink is found in a few protected areas in Florida.

The species feeds on roaches, crickets, and spiders.

They live in xeric hammocks and need loose sandy soil for burrowing. It is also vulnerable to habitat destruction, largely due to the expansion of invasive plants.

A single mole skink population is estimated to live in Florida for about two to five years, despite the threats facing it.

2. Giant Barrel Sponge 

While it appears that the population of the Giant Barrel Sponge in the Florida Keys is thriving, there are still threats affecting this iconic creature.

Giant Barrel Sponge Florida rare animals

As with their coral cousin, they are threatened by ocean acidification and pollution. Additionally, they are prone to blunt trauma from divers and ships. 

The Giant Barrel Sponge lives hundreds to thousands of years and reproduces year-round.

  • The process of spawning involves the release of sperm, which then falls on receptive eggs.
  • This process mimics the life cycle of coral reefs.
  • When the coral reefs die off, the sponges will take their place as the dominant species. However, sponges have no organs, circulatory systems, or nervous systems.

The physical makeup of the sponge contributes to its longevity. Its pores allow water to enter and exit through a large opening at the top.

The sponge then consumes plankton and bacteria while pulling nutrients from the water.

This process results in cleaner water, and the sponge is essential for ecosystems and food webs.

As a result, it is important to protect the Giant Barrel Sponge in Florida and the other marine environments.

The Giant Barrel Sponge has a fragile internal skeleton made up of calcium carbonate and silicon.

The internal skeleton is composed of cells that can perform multiple functions

A large part of this sponge’s energy goes into reproducing eggs, so it is important to take care to protect the species from damage.

Nevertheless, there are ways to harvest sponges without compromising the environment and their benefits to the human population.

In addition to the threat of environmental change, Xestospongia muta is considered an important species in the ecosystem.

3. Key Deer

This subspecies of white-tailed deer migrated to the Florida Keys over the land bridge during the Wisconsin glaciation. The earliest written reference to the Key deer is from the 1550s when Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda described the animal.

key deer are rare animals in Florida

This animal is also known as a fawn or juvenile. Their lack of fear of humans makes them an endangered species.

There are over 1,000 species of animals in Florida, including 269 species that only occur here. Of those, 87 are endangered or threatened.

The plight of these animals has led to the creation of conservation initiatives to protect their habitats.

The Key deer is a prime example of an endangered animal, as it is the smallest subspecies of the white-tailed deer in North America.

It weighs between twenty and thirty kilograms and stands 66-76 cm high.

The population of this animal has declined significantly over the last five decades, with only a few dozen remaining today.

They are threatened by development, invasive species, illegal human feeding, and climate change.

As such, the species is listed as endangered by the Endangered Species Act. The deer must also endure a number of challenges, including the threat of extinction.

The Florida Key deer is considered a symbol of Florida’s natural beauty.

4. West Indian Manatee

The West Indian manatee is a rare Florida animal that lives in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

West Indian Manatee are rare animals in Florida

It is grey in color, though it can also be light brown or black. It has wrinkly skin and sparse hair covering.

The hairs on the manatee’s body are called vibrissae and are similar to whiskers in many mammal species. These hairs are thought to help the manatee navigate water, as they can feel water movement beneath the surface.

This is one of the few mammals that have vibrissae, but the only other species with this feature are dugongs.

The Florida manatee lives in warm coastal waters and near the coast. They typically live alone, in pairs, or in small groups, not more than six individuals.

These animals rarely leave the water but may migrate as far north as North Carolina.

Manatees can remain submerged for as long as 15 minutes, but they must surface every three to four minutes to breathe. Manatees are divided into two species based on where they live.

The West Indian manatee lives along the coast of North America, while the African manatee lives on the west coast of Africa.

The West Indian manatee population in Florida is recovering and has recently been downlisted to threatened status.

However, there are still many threats facing the manatee, including illegal poaching.

5. Bobcat

Although you may think this feline is a pest, the bobcat actually plays a vital role in maintaining the balance of nature. As a top predator, bobcats often hunt animals larger than themselves.

florida rare animals bobcat

Regardless of their size, bobcats have a strong sense of hearing and sight. Florida is home to a few melanistic bobcats, which are nocturnal hunters that feed on small animals.

Despite their predatory nature, they also play a vital role in the ecosystem by maintaining a healthy population of small mammals.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has been charged with protecting these animals from human harm.

This feline can range in size from about half an inch to a full foot long.

It has a blackish-brown coat with random patches of white or black. In addition, the bobcat has white spots on every part of its body, including its head and tail.

Florida bobcats are rarely seen, but there have been some documented sightings of this animal.

This species of cat is twice the size of a domestic house cat. Its body is around two to four feet long and weighs between fifteen and thirty pounds.

The bobcat’s name derives from the fact that it has a bobbed tail.

Bobcats usually have reddish brown to grey fur and white spots on their tail. Male and female bobcats are sexually mature at one to two years old.

5. Pelican

The Pelican is a beautiful bird that is a snowbird to Florida. This species is mainly a warm-weather bird and breeds in remote locations away from human disturbance and predation.

Pelicans eat a wide variety of fish, including shrimp, crab, and fish. These birds can fly as high as 70 feet above the ocean and have keen eyes for spotting fish below.

Pelicans dive straight down to catch the fish that are likely to be their next meal. Their pouches contain water and allow them to catch the fish.

Once caught, pelicans suck the fish into their mouths and swallow them whole.

A pelican can carry up to three gallons of water in its pouch. Its throat pouch also acts as a cooling system during hot summers. Their pouches can also hold food and can be used for nesting purposes.

A pelican can live for up to 30 years in the wild. A pelican can reach its breeding stage at about four years old.

They nest in large colonies near mangroves and migrate to the sea every year from March to May to feed.

The Pelican is one of the most important birds in Florida. It is common along the Gulf Coast, including the Gulf of Mexico, and in several other parts of the world.

Its wingspan is nine to ten feet. A brown pelican may live up to 20 years, but many of them die prematurely due to starvation and lack of food.

7. Florida Panther

The Florida panther is one of the most unique and rare animals found in the state. It lives almost exclusively in the southwestern part of the state.

Florida panthers are rare animals in Florida

A male Florida panther has a territory that can range anywhere from 70 to 200 square miles. The male maintains his territory by using scent to mark its territory.

Male Florida panthers are usually more territorial than females.

They will defend their territories with attacks or scrapes of dirt and grass that are up to six inches long and marked with urine.

Although panthers were once common throughout the southeastern US, their numbers have dropped to less than twenty in southwestern Florida.

Panthers are endangered because their habitat is being destroyed by human development and climate change. This is the only place in the world where this feline can survive, so preserving its habitat is critical.

Because of this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency formed to protect wildlife, has been tasked with capturing and euthanizing FP260.

8. Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit

The Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit is a threatened species in Florida, and a number of human activities have contributed to its decline. Among these threats change in habitat, dumping, and vehicular traffic.

The species is also vulnerable to domestic animals, such as feral hogs and cats.

Its habitat is also threatened by exotic vegetation and fire ants. Regardless of the reasons, habitat destruction is a major threat to the species.

The Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit is endemic to the Florida Keys, and is a small, brown mammal, growing between 14 and 16 inches long.

The marsh rabbit feeds on a variety of plant life, and breeds year-round, building nests of grass and fur for its young. It has a high parental drive, and female marsh rabbits have several litters a year.

They are self-sufficient in 12-15 days.

The habitat of the Lower Keys marsh rabbit in Florida is highly vulnerable to urbanization.

The species lives in small disjunct populations that rely on emigration and dispersal to survive.

Their population density must be higher than their mortality rate to sustain the species. Despite their limited habitat, breeding occurs year-round.

Habitat destruction, invasive vegetation, and domestic cats have all harmed the species’ reproductive potential.

Cat eradication is an effective way to reduce marsh rabbit populations on the Florida Keys.

Although it is difficult to completely eliminate cats from the marsh rabbit habitat, reducing their numbers will help the population flourish. A recent study found that marsh rabbits and free-ranging domestic cats share a common habitat in Big Pine Key.

Cat eradication, however, has yet to be implemented. The marsh rabbit population has been declining for decades.

This marsh rabbit breeds all year round, but peaks during the wet season (December-June), when the female produces about six to seven litter. Litters typically consist of one to three babies in a nest.

The number of litter produced each year by the Lower Keys marsh rabbit is much lower than in mainland South Florida.

While breeding in Florida is an ongoing process, the marsh rabbit’s reproductive output may vary based on maternal physiological changes.

9. Ebonyshell 

There are several endemic invertebrate species that live in Florida. This is due to the state’s rich biodiversity.  As a result, many species are restricted to particular habitats or associations in Florida. The round Ebonyshell is one such species. 

One of the major threats to the Ebonyshell in Florida is the destruction of its habitat. Construction activities have destroyed wetland habitat, which is a vital habitat for the species.

Habitat loss is the primary cause of the Ebonyshell’s decline in the United States.

Fortunately, there are several methods to protect these endangered species. If you’re planning a trip to the state, remember to research the species’ habitat requirements.

10.  Wood Stork

There have been several changes to the Florida Everglades that have negatively affected the Wood stork’s habitat.

Wood Stork are rare animals in Florida

In the past several decades, the species numbers have declined by 75 percent, primarily due to the destruction of suitable foraging habitats and colony nesting failures.

Additionally, human actions have reduced the area of wetland habitat in the region by 35 percent.

These changes have made the wood stork a top priority for management in Florida and the southeastern U.S.

The destruction of wetlands and other habitats has also contributed to the decline of the Wood stork’s population. As a result, the species has been designated as threatened by the federal government and state governments.

Nevertheless, there are several methods that can help preserve the species habitat. For example, habitat restoration programs can help prevent wetlands from being destroyed.

These efforts can also increase the number of nesting locations for wood storks.

The incubation period of the Wood stork is 30 days. After hatching, young birds can fly and begin hunting for food.

The incubation period is a critical stage for the survival of the species. They need sufficient water to survive and reproduce.

A wood stork nest should be located in a location with shallow water and a wetland that is free from vegetation.

The habitat should be free of predators and other animals.

The diet of the Wood stork is varied and includes fish and aquatic invertebrates.

  • They forage in shallow water using a technique called grope feeding.
  • They probe the water for food by using their enlarged bill.
  • Their bill snaps shut within 25 milliseconds, and they also consume more than four hundred pounds of fish during their breeding season.

A wood stork can eat up to four pounds of fish per day, so it is important to understand the diet of these birds.

The wood stork breeds in colonies of 100 to 500 nests. They typically begin nesting during the fall in South Florida, while nesting in Central and North Florida begins in late February or March.

Nests are constructed in trees near water, and the females build nests out of twigs and sticks.

The eggs are laid between October and June. Wood storks can lay up to four eggs.

11. Smalltooth Sawfish

Although smalltooth sawfish are not aggressive towards humans, their long bill is able to stun and attack small fish, and they use their sharp teeth to protect themselves against predators.

rare animals in Florida sawfish

They are critically endangered and were once widespread in the warm waters of the Carolinas, Texas, and New York.

However, the population of smalltooth sawfish in these areas has decreased, and scientists do not know how many are left.

Despite protection under the US Endangered Species Act, smalltooth sawfish continue to be captured as bycatch in commercial fisheries. In a recent study, 59 sawfish were collected and fitted with satellite tags to assess bycatch risk from commercial fisheries.

The greatest threats to smalltooth sawfish recovery were shark bottom longlines and shrimp trawl.

The authors concluded that there are currently insufficient data to draw any conclusions about the status of this fish in Florida waters.

The fate of the smalltooth sawfish depends on how much exchange occurs between different population segments.

The species has been nearly extinct in much of its range, so mixing adults from several populations may increase the likelihood of a successful recovery.

Unfortunately, the invasive nature of fishing has led to the destruction of mangrove forests, the place where sawfish begin their lives. Hence, it is important to protect smalltooth sawfish in Florida in order to ensure its survival.

12. Gopher Tortoise  

The Gopher tortoise lives in central Florida where they use a variety of upland habitats and spend time feeding in freshwater wetlands called swales.

Gopher_Tortoise_Crossing_-_rare animals in Florida sign
Photo Credit: Author Jean-Lou Justine

Because gopher tortoises are solitary, they may spend some of their days feeding in nearby burrows and may spend time alternating between their own and neighboring burrows.

In some areas of FL, male gopher tortoises have been known to use as many as 35 burrows!

However, these tortoises are not common and are protected by federal law in most areas of the state except in certain areas and their habitats. When you do see one, be sure to observe it and put it out of harm’s way.

The Gopher tortoise can be found throughout Florida, from north-central Florida to southern Georgia, and is native to coastal plains.

However, they are not found in the Everglades. Their habitats are mostly on private lands. The endangered species status means that it is illegal to handle them, and the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission is the best place to report a sighting.

Wildlife officials are trying to protect gopher tortoises in Florida, and have set up several programs to help with their conservation.

Volunteers can help treat injured tortoises or help relocate healthy ones to more suitable areas.

A major threat to gopher tortoises is habitat loss. The longleaf pine forest once covered 90 million acres in the United States, but today only about five percent of that original habitat remains.

This ecosystem consists of old-growth forests, open pine stands, and well-drained sandy soils.

Urbanization and coastal development are destroying this habitat, and the gopher tortoise is at risk of becoming extinct.

If you plan to disturb a gopher tortoise’s burrows, you must obtain a permit before you start work. The commission also prosecutes anyone who violates the law by harming the protected species. If you plan to disturb a gopher tortoise, you must first contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The number of gopher tortoises per acre is calculated based on the number of burrows they use in the area.

Since gopher tortoises use more than one burrow, this number does not necessarily reflect the number of gopher tortoises per acre. However, four tortoises per acre is considered a healthy population.

However, the gopher tortoise does not require a lot of habitat to survive.

In Conclusion

If you’re looking for a vacation that’s a little different than the typical beach trip, consider Florida and if you’re looking for an interesting and unique animal to add to your list of sightings, be sure to keep an eye out for the animals on this list.

From manatees to bobcats, Florida is home to a wide variety of creatures that are worth checking out.

Not only are the beaches beautiful and the weather great, but you’ll also have a chance to see some of the state’s unique wildlife.

So next time you’re planning your vacation, be sure to add Florida to your list!

And if you’re looking for a place to stay while in the Sunshine State, don’t forget to check out an amazing selection of vacation rentals!

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