Moving to SW Florida...What Can You Expect From the Critters?

If you've been eyeing the Cape Coral, SW Florida area, looking for a place to call your new permanent residence, here is all the information you'll need to make the Cape Coral waterfront, or inland areas a more comfortable and less surprising place to live. Worried about critters? Florida's subtropical temperatures create a unique environment for a variety of wildlife.

We've got your information. Here we go...

Animals you won't see up North -

You may be moving here from up North, or from another country. Here's a list of animals you will most likely see in the Cape Coral area, along with information on their 'friendliness factor.'


Lizards, Crocs, & Gators

Lizards and iguanas thrive in our subtropical environment. Their presence includes about 10 native species, all of which are relatively small and completely harmless. You'll see them scurrying around your bushes, climbing your trees, and inhabiting vines and flowers gardens. They are fun to watch and help to keep the insect population in check.

One of the most startling characteristics of our lizards, is their ability to leave their tail behind when caught by a predator or startled. This can be quite alarming to Florida newcomers who have never been around these creatures.  We have no venomous lizards in Southwest Florida and none that would attack a human. We do have the Nile monitor, which can and will bite strongly to defend themselves if captured. The exotic monitor, which can reach over 7 feet in length, can be dangerous to anyone that would try to capture one.


Alligators and crocodiles can be found in Southwest Florida almost anywhere the habitat is suitable for them from freshwater canals and ponds to backwater bays, marshes, and lakes. They can be seen basking in the sun or floating on the water with eyes and snout just above the surface.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, spring is when Florida's alligators start to become more active. Gators and crocs have shared Florida's waters with people for centuries, but of course, you should be cautious whenever you are in or around the water.

And, just so you know, state law prohibits the harassing of alligators, and it is against the law to feed them. If a gator is posing a potential danger to you, your family, pets, or your property, contact the Florida Wildlife Commission to have it removed. They have a Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (392-4286). Alligators play a valuable role in Florida's ecosystem. For more information on their behavior, check out 'Living with Alligators' at



Southwest Florida is home to over 20 native snake species, and numerous subspecies and races.

Four species are venomous. Contrary to what you may have heard, there are no official standards for identifying venomous snakes. There are tips to follow that will help you to avoid dangerous encounters with snakes. They include:

  • keeping walkway borders free of debris
  • using caution when working low to the ground
  • giving all snakes a 10-foot berth, and learning the region's venomous species.

Most snakes avoid humans if possible, so the old saying, "Don't bother them and they won't bother you, holds true for the most part." Educate yourself on area snakes by visiting exhibited native snakes at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida or books from your neighborhood library. Snakes are part of Florida's natural habitat and not something to be overly feared or destroyed.

The most common non-venomous snake you will see is the Black Racer. This quick, slender creature is active during the daylight hours. Ranging from 30-60 inches in length, this speedy snake preys upon lizards and frogs.

Other non-venomous snakes native to the area include the Eastern Indigo, Corn Snake, Yellow Rat Snake, and the Florida Kingsnake.


Venomous Snakes

 Eastern Coral Snake This colorful viper is in hiding most of the time. It dines on lizards and other small snakes. Coral snakes have red bands bordered by yellow. They are often confused with non-poisonous snakes that have red bands bordered by black.

Florida Cottonmouth  This serpent's name comes from its habit of exposing its cottony white mouth lining when alarmed. An adept swimmer, it is also known as a water moccasin. You'll find this snake in river's, ponds, and swampy areas. The young twitch their yellowish tails to lure prey.

Other venomous snakes in the area include the Pigmy Rattlesnake and the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.


Florida Panther

The Florida panther is endangered so it is very unlikely that you will ever see one. It is estimated that there are only 80-100 living representatives of this cougar species left in the wild. Recovery efforts are underway to save this beautiful cat, but rescue efforts are complicated by the cat's need for a large habitat.


Gopher Tortoise

This unique, burrowing tortoise plays a vital part in Southwest Florida's ecosystem. It produces burrows that can extend over 40 feet into the ground and are used by a number of other animals, including armadillos, skunks and snakes.


West Indian Manatee

The manatee is the largest surviving marine mammal of its kind. Found in our shallow coastal areas, the manatee is a large, slow moving, and harmless sea cow that grazes along the sea bottoms. Be careful when boating in the canals and waterways of Southwest Florida. Manatees are often injured by boat propellers due to their need to surface frequently for air.


Burrowing Owl

Although the Burrowing Owl is a bird, we feel the need to mention it along with SW Florida's critters. Why? Because Cape Coral has the state's largest population of these small, brown, speckled owls. They generally live in sandy, open lots, but will occasionally make their home in your yard. 

They are protected by the state of Florida to such a degree, that if a nest of babies is discovered on a construction site, all work will stop until the baby owls are old enough to fly.

As you can see, the wildlife of SW Florida may take a bit of getting used to, especially for those coming from a much cooler climate. We have a wonderful and diverse ecosystem which is home to many animals not found anywhere else in the United States.




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