Description: The name “Alligator” probably derives from the Spanish el lagarto, the lizard, which is what early Spanish settlers in Florida (and probably South Carolina) called the Alligator. An average Alligator is 13 feet long and weighs 790 pounds. One Alligator was recorded to live 76 years, but on average they live 30-50 years. Alligators vary from crocodiles primarily by the shape of the jaw, which is narrower on the crocodile. Crocodiles are also considered more aggressive than the docile American Alligator. The Alligator lives in freshwater wetlands, as well as brackish (somewhat saline) environments. When they construct holes in the wetlands they help increase plant variety, and are therefore an important species to maintain coastal ecologies. They feed on fish, turtles, deer, birds, and even carrion if they are really hungry. At Hunting Island, Alligators occasionally have been seen riding the surf. They can tolerate salt water for several hours.
Range: Alligators are native only to the US and are found on the coasts of North and South Carolina, all of Florida and Louisiana, and southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Only in southern Florida do crocodiles and Alligators live side-by-side.100 breeding pairs. They live near seacoasts, rivers, and lakes.
Description: The Carolina Anole, an arboreal lizard, is sometimes called a chameleon because it changes colors. But it can only change between a bright green (on warm days when it’s basking in the sun or when sexually aroused) and a brownish color (on cooler days, even if sunny.) The male anole has a bright red dewlap—an area of skin under its chin that can be stretched and bloated to suggest that he is a menacing foe as well as an ardent lover. He may be seen doing push-ups to show off his dewlap when other males are in his territory. Anoles hide under bark, stones, brush, and boards. They eat small insects and grasses. Their major predators are skunks, snakes, and birds. Anoles have “automatic tails” which if broken off continue to move as a means to distract an enemy.
Range: Found primarily in the southeastern U.S. and some Caribbean Islands, the Carolina or Green Anole is native to North America and abundant on the coastal plains of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. It can be seen in shrubs and on roadsides in the low country, as well as urban areas such as steps and railings of a house near foliage.
American Green Tree Frog
Description: Ranging from bright yellowish-olive to lime green, the American Green Tree Frog is a common species and is the state amphibian of Georgia and Louisiana. They are long-legged and smooth-skinned. Some have small patches of gold or white on their skin or pale lines running from their jaws. They are up to 2.5” long. They are most active in the dark. The males are polygynous, and the females lay as many as 400 eggs which take 4-6 days to hatch. They eat insects such as flies and mosquitoes, and the most active prey seem to be their preference.
Range: Found in the central and southeastern US, there may be a clinal variation on the southeast coast from Florida north. They prefer habitats with free-floating vegetation such as grasses and cattails, and are found in small ponds, marshes, and streams or swimming in a backyard pool.
American Green Tree Frog
Hunting Island Deer
Description: Hunting Island’s white-tailed deer are smaller than most US whitetails, and have their own subspecies (Odocoileus virginianus venatorius). The breed has at least 16 subspecies genetic variations. Hunting of deer and other species was so popular on Hunting Island that the name stuck. The deer eat acorns, fruit, legumes, plant shoots, poison ivy, and mushrooms, and their diets vary by season. As a ruminant, the deer has a four-chambered stomach, like a cow, which allows it to ferment and later digest its food. Most primary predators of the white-tailed deer have been depleted, and in many places whitetails have become a nuisance.
Range: The Hunting Island subspecies is unique to Hunting Island, but whitetails are common across the continent.
Hunting Island Deer
Description: The largest venomous snake in North America, the Diamondback Rattlesnake is not very aggressive and is averse to human contact. They only attack in self-defense, so be sure not to taunt or try to capture or kill one. Their venom is very poisonous, but the mortality rate is only 10-20% due to available antivenoms. They may or may not use their rattler before striking, and their strike distance is up to 1/3 of their body length. They can reach up to 7’ in length (averaging 3.5-5.5’). They have stocky bodies, making them one of the heaviest American snakes. They are technically pit vipers and they eat rats, mice, squirrels, and birds. They may use gopher burrows for shelter during summer and winter, coming out to bask in the sun. Though excellent swimmers, they do not climb trees well. They lay roughly 12 eggs, and the young stay with the mother only a few hours before setting off on their own to hunt, which leads to high mortality rates among the young. If they reach maturity, Diamondbacks can live to 20 years.
Range: The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake lives in coastal scrub habitats from North Carolina to Florida and Louisiana, making Hunting Island ideal for them. Though widespread, their numbers were down in 2007, and they are being reviewed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for addition to the Endangered Species List. Few are seen in Louisiana any longer.
Family: Limulidae (leach)
Description: Often you can find the remains of horseshoe crabs when walking on Hunting Island beach in the fall. Their carapaces have a prehistoric look to them; that’s because they originated over 450 million years ago and are considered living fossils. Horseshoe crabs are marine anthropods and live primarily around shallow ocean waters with soft or muddy bottoms like Hunting Island. Although they resemble crustaceans, they belong to the subphylum Chelicerata and are more closely related to arachnids (spiders and scorpions). The blood of the horseshoe crab is blue because of the copper present and their blood is harvested for medical purposes.
The female is larger than the male. They mate in shallow coastal waters or on shore. The female lays 60,000-120,000 eggs, and it takes two weeks for them to hatch. There is evidence that they return to mate where their own eggs hatched. As a result, it is difficult to raise them in captivity. Recently they have been overharvested for bait on the North American east coast, and their numbers have declined. Red knots (a migratory shore bird that stops on Hunting Island) feed on the horseshoe crab eggs, and declining numbers are threatening the red knots as well.
Range: Found throughout the world in ocean waters with muddy bottoms
Description: The Lettered Olive is South Carolina’s state shell. It is amarine gastropod mollusk—a large predatory sea snail. Olives live in near-short waters and on shallow flats. As carnivores, they feed on bivalves and crustaceans. At very low tide, the lettered olive leaves trails when it crawls in the sand. Zigzag markings on the shell give it the “lettered’ name. Early Native Americans made jewelry from the shells.
Range: Lettered olives range from North Carolina to Florida and the Gulf States and Mexico, and they are prevalent on Hunting Island.