Reptiles

There are 51 species of reptile found in Big Cypress National Preserve. This includes some of our most recognizable inhabitants, such as the American alligator! Click here to view our Reptile Checklist.

 
An American alligator swimming
American alligator
American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
Appearance: Alligators possess four short legs, a broad, rounded nose, and a long, muscular tail. Bony plates of armor called “scutes” give their back a bumpy appearance. Adults can be olive, brown, gray, and almost black in color, while juveniles are black and have yellow stripes for camouflage.
Size: Maximum length for females is around 10 ft., while males can occasionally reach 13-15 ft. in length and can weigh up to 1,000 lbs. However, male alligators over 11 ft. and females over 8 ft. are rare.
Habitat: Alligators can be found in freshwater lakes, swamps, marshes, slow-moving rivers, and smaller bodies of water such as canals. They will occasionally enter brackish or salt water but lack the salt-secreting gland found in the American crocodile.
Diet: Alligators are carnivores, and will eat snails, invertebrates, turtles, fish, birds, frogs, mammals such as raccoons and white-tailed deer, and smaller alligators. Alligators are opportunistic feeders and may only feed 15-20 times per year, the majority of which takes place during the spring.
Reproduction: Alligators reach sexual maturity when they are around 6-7 ft. long. This can occur around 8-12 years of age for males and 10-15 years of age for females. Courting behavior begins in April and mating occurs in May or June. Females lay 32-50 eggs in late June or early July, and the eggs hatch 60-65 days later. The temperatures an egg experiences in the nest determine the sex of the juvenile, with 90-93 degrees Fahrenheit producing males, 82-86 degrees producing females, and 86-90 degrees producing a mix. The young alligators will remain with their mother for up to three years, an unusual behavior in reptiles.
 
A softshell turtle swimming
Softshell turtle
Florida Softshell (Apalone ferox)
Appearance: This turtle possesses a large, flat body with webbed feet, a narrow, tubular nose, and a layer of rubbery skin covering its shell. Adults range in color from dark brown to brownish-gray with dark spots on their carapace (upper shell.) Juveniles can have more distinct spots on their carapace, as well as an orange stripe behind their eye and orange around the border of the carapace.
Size: Carapace length in males is 6-12 in. Females are generally much larger, measuring 11-24 in. They can be quite heavy, with one individual reported to have weighed 70 lbs (Lodge, 2017).
Habitat: Florida softshells can be found in freshwater lakes, ponds, swamps, canals, and slow-moving rivers throughout Florida and in the southern parts of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Diet: These turtles are carnivores that will eat snails, fish, mollusks, crayfish, insects and other invertebrates, frogs, other turtles, snakes, and carrion. They have even been known to eat birds such as ducks.
Reproduction: Females lay their eggs in a sunny area in sandy soil, after which they bury them. A clutch can consist of 4-24 eggs.
 
A cottonmouth snake on sandy gravel
Cottonmouth
Florida Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti)
Appearance: These heavy-bodied snakes have a broad head, a dark facial stripe that runs across their eye, and a white interior of the mouth. Juvenile cottonmouths are brown or tan with a darker-brown crossband pattern. This pattern darkens with age, leaving some adults almost completely black. Juveniles also have a bright yellow tail tip.
Size: Cottonmouths average 2-4 ft. long and can be as long as 6 ft.
Habitat: Cottonmouths are semiaquatic and can be found in or near wet areas, including swamps, ponds, rivers, and canals. Sometimes they are also found in upland habitats away from water.
Diet: Cottonmouths are carnivorous. Their diet includes fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, birds, small mammals such as mice and rabbits, and young alligators. Juveniles will wiggle their yellow tail tip to lure prey within striking range.
Reproduction: Cottonmouths give live birth to 1-20 babies around August-October.
 
A view of the head of a Burmese python that is coiled around a tree branch.
Burmese python
Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus)
Invasive Species
Appearance: Burmese pythons are tan with large, reddish-brown, giraffe-like blotches along their body and a dark, distinctive arrowhead shape on their head.
Size: In Florida these snakes average between 6-10 ft. long, although the largest captured in the state measured over 18 ft. In their native area of southeast Asia, they can grow to over 20 ft. in length.
Habitat: Pythons require a permanent water source to survive. In southeast Asia pythons live around rainforest streams, although they can survive in a range of habitats including grasslands and swamps. In the United States they are found in a variety of habitats across southern Florida, including woodlands, swamps, and grasslands.
Diet: Pythons feed on a variety of mammals, birds, and reptiles ranging in size from rabbits and raccoons to deer and alligators.
Reproduction: Sexual maturity in Burmese pythons occurs around 4-5 years of age. Pythons breed in early spring and lay their eggs in March-April. Clutch size averages between 12-36 eggs, although the female can lay as many as 100 eggs. The female then wraps around the eggs and incubates them by frequently twitching her muscles, raising the air temperature around the eggs by as much as seven degrees. When they are ready, the 12-18 in. long baby snakes will cut themselves out of their egg using an egg tooth and disperse to fend for themselves.
 

References:

Lodge, T. E. (2017). The everglades handbook: Understanding the ecosystem (4th ed.). CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

Last updated: August 13, 2021

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