Animal Exhibits

Invasive and Native Species Exhibits

Invasive species are defined as organisms (plant, animal, fungus, or bacterium) that are not native and have negative effects on a region's economy, environment, or public health. They are one of the leading threats to native wildlife. Because of Florida's status as a center for the illegal importing of exotic pets from overseas and our neo-tropical climate, Florida is the land of invasive species.

Tokay Gecko (Invasive)

The tokay is a large gecko, reaching up to 35 centimeters in length. It is cylindrical but somewhat flattened in body shape. The eyes have vertical pupils. The skin is soft to the touch and is generally gray with red speckles, but the animal can change the color of its skin to blend into the environment. The female and male have different body sizes and color characteristics with the male being more brightly colored.

The name "tokay" comes from the loud two-part clicking call that the male makes during breeding season both to attract females and to warn other males to stay away from their territory.

The male is territorial, attacking other Tokays and other intruders. The female lays clutches of one or two hard-shelled eggs and guards them until they hatch. The tokay feeds on insects and small vertebrates. It has strong jaws with which it bites through the exoskeletons of rainforest insects. It is a strong climber with foot pads that can support the entire weight of the body on a vertical surface for a long period of time. Compared to other gecko species, the tokay has a robust build, with a semi-prehensile tail, a large head and muscular jaws. Though common in the pet trade, the strong bite of the Tokay makes it ill-suited for inexperienced keepers

Tokay geckos are culturally significant in many East Asian countries. Regional folklore has attributed supernatural powers to the gecko. In Southeast Asia this it is a symbol of good luck and fertility. It is believed to be descended from dragons.

Pet tokays are easy to care for and pretty to look at, but they are known as the meanest lizard around - willing to bite the hand that feeds them, and not let go. Over time, keepers released their now-unwanted pets.  In the warmer areas, the tough adaptable Tokays thrived and today, they have become established throughout the subtropical parts of the United States.

Tokays make meals of Florida tree frogs and smaller lizards, including our smaller native geckos.

American Alligator (Native)

American alligators reside nearly exclusively in the freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps, and marshes of the southeastern United States.

Adult Alligators are apex predators critical to the biodiversity of their habitat. They feed mainly on fish, turtles, snakes, and small mammals. However, they are opportunists, and a hungry gator will eat just about anything. Males average 10 to 15 feet in length and can weigh 1,000 pounds. Females grow to a maximum of about 9.8 feet. Hatchlings are 6 to 8 inches long with yellow and black stripes. Juveniles, which are on the menu for dozens of predators, including birds, raccoons, bobcats, and even other alligators, stay with their mothers for about 2 years.

The American alligator is a rare success story of an endangered animal not only saved from extinction but now thriving. State and federal protections, habitat preservation efforts, and reduced demand for alligator products have improved the species' wild population to more than one million.

Marine Toad (Invasive)

The marine toad (or cane toad) is the largest of the frogs and toads found in Florida. Not native to the United States, it was originally released in the U.S. in sugar cane fields to help control pests.  It became stablished in southern Florida as a result of accidental release of about 100 specimens from a pet dealer at the Miami airport in 1955, and by subsequent releases by pet dealers in the 1960's.  This species is skilled at locating all types of food and have even been know to eat pet food.

When this non-native species is threatened or handled, it secretes a highly toxic milky substance from its large parotoid glands at the back of its head, behind the ears.  The secretion can burn your eyes, may irritate your skin and can kill cats and dogs if they ingest the secretion.

Giant toads are highly predacious exotic species that eats all types of native frogs and toads. They are now considered a pest and an invasive species in many of its introduced regions. 

The cane toad is now considered a pest and an invasive species in many of its introduced regions; of particular concern is its toxic skin, which kills many animals, both wild and domesticated. Cane toads are particularly dangerous to dogs. 

Southern Toad (Native)

The southern toad is a true toad native to the southeastern United States. It often lives in areas with sandy soils.

The southern toad is nocturnal and lives in a burrow by day, or sometimes hides under a log or pile of debris. It occurs in woodlands, cultivated land, and gardens and sometimes waits beneath outdoor lights at night to pick up the attracted insects that fall to the ground. Its coloring is usually brown, but can be red, gray, or black. It is approximately 3 inches long.

The southern toad has a wide range and is common in much of that range, though it has become scarce in Florida in areas where the cane toad has become established.

Brown Anole (Invasive)

Brown anoles are native to the Caribbean. In Florida, this species thrives in disturbed habitats and ornamental plantings, but can potentially inhabit almost any inland or coastal habitat. It is the most abundant anole over much of the southern half of Florida.

The brown anole often perches low in trees and shrubs and is quite terrestrial. When threatened, brown anoles tend to flee toward the ground. Brown anoles displace green anoles to higher in the trees and adult male brown anoles sometimes prey upon smaller green anoles.


Green Anole (Native)

Green anoles are the only anoles native to the United States. They are sometimes called "chameleons" because of their color changing ability. They can range anywhere from emerald green to brown or gray in color. When stressed, they turn dark brown. Their toes have adhesive pads on the undersides. The green anole has a tendency to climb up when in danger.

Green anoles are easily tamed and are common in the pet trade. They are active during the day, often around human habituation, and regularly bask head down on tree trunks, fence posts, decks or walls. With the introduction of other species of anoles in Florida, it is uncertain how the green anole will fare when forced to compete with these similar species.


Knight Anole (Invasive)

The knight anole, which is native to Cuba, has become established over much of the suburbs of Miami and was introduce to Lee County in 2004 as a result of Hurricane Charley.

Generally this invasive species can be found on tree trunks or hiding in bushes or high in the trees.  They cannot withstand freezing temperatures; if winter freezes in South Florida, they drop semi-conscious from tree canopies.

Although alert, knight anoles are slower than many other anoles but are fiercely territorial and are prone to stand their ground and even become aggressive when disturbed, often biting their attacker.  Threats to natives: knight anoles prey upon large insects, smaller anoles, frogs, fruit and nesting birds.

Florida Box Turtle (Native)

The Florida box turtle can be found throughout the state of Florida and the extreme southeastern portion of Georgia. It lives in damp environments, such as wetlands, marshlands, and near swamps. Although it loves to lie in water, it rarely swims.

The Florida box turtle's carapace (upper shell) has a distinct pattern of bright, radiating, yellow stripes that make it easily identifiable. It has very sharp claws as well as a sharp beak used for catching small insects and eating fruits, vegetables, and fungi. A male Florida box turtle usually has bright red or orange eyes. The male's tail is usually longer and thicker than that of a female. The male also has a hooked claw on its back feet. The female has dark red or brown eyes. The female's plastron (under shell) is usually flatter than that of a male.

Florida box turtles can be kept as pets. However, by law, no person may possess more than two of these turtles. The Florida box turtle can live up to 50 years or more with the proper diet and care. 

Ball Python (Exotic)

The ball python is native to sub-Saharan Africa. The name "ball python" refers to the animal's tendency to curl into a ball when stressed or frightened.

Like all other pythons, it is a non-venomous constrictor. This nocturnal predator is the smallest of the pythons likely to be encountered in Florida and is usually only three to four feet long. It can live over 40 years in captivity.

It is popular in the pet trade, largely due to its small size and typically docile temperament. While there are no reproducing colonies established in Florida, escaped or released pets are occasionally encountered in the wild. As one of the most captive snakes in the world, the ball python has the potential to become an invasive species.


Eastern Indigo Snake (Native)

The Eastern indigo snake is a large non-venomous snake native to the Eastern United States and is the longest native snake species in the United States.  Eastern indigo snakes have a number of common names including indigo snake, blue indigo snake, black snake, blue gopher snake, and blue bull snake. Because of habitat loss, the Eastern indigo snake is listed as a federally threatened species in Georgia and Florida.

Like all snakes, the Eastern indigo snake is carnivorous.  It has been known to kill its prey by wildly beating it against nearby objects.  CROW's
specimen is not fed live animals to prevent injury to the snake from this violent method of subduing its meal.

As defensive behavior the eastern indigo snake vertically flattens its neck, hisses, and vibrates its tail. If picked up, it seldom bites.  Due to its generally docile nature and attractive appearance, some people find it a desirable pet, although its protected status can make owning one, depending on the location, illegal without a permit.