Long before the first dinosaur walked the earth, reptiles ruled the world. 65 million years after the last dinosaur drew its final breath, North America’s modern crocodiles, alligators, snakes, lizards, and turtles and tortoises are still keeping our Florida natural history alive!
One of the most well known symbols of Florida is the American alligator. They are found so often all over the state that sometimes a pond looks strange without one. What many people don’t know is that Florida also has native American crocodiles, as well as some exotic species like the spectacled caiman from Central America.
Probably the most interesting and variable of all the world’s living reptiles, Florida is a haven for lizards, both native an non-native. With true 15 native species and at least 34 exotic species, these incredibly variable reptiles can be found in every habitat in Florida, with our most of our native species found in the drier, upland scrubs and and pine flatwoods, and the more coastal and subtropical habitats being overrun with exotic species – usually escapees from the pet trade, which not only compete with native lizards, but can often be incredibly destructive, such as the green iguana from Central and South America.
When we think of something that can create an intense aversion to wildlife, nothing (except maybe spiders) causes more feelings of anxiety and sometimes panic than the sight of a snake. Once we get beyond that, we see that snakes are not only extremely beautiful, we see that they fit into an essential part of the natural order of most ecosystems around the world. And when it comes to snakes, Florida boasts 44 native species, each specialized to cover every imaginable habitat in the entire state!
More ancient than all snakes, alligators and crocodiles, the oldest members of the turtle family lived, thrived, bred and died as far back as 157 million years ago. Today, turtles and tortoises continue as they always have, although many species have become highly endangered in recent centuries, including several of Florida’s own 30+ species.