Reptiles and Amphibians of Highlands County, Florida
by Daniel Parker 

All photos by the author unless otherwise mentioned

Copyright 2007



Florida Scarlet Snake Cemophora coccinea coccinea    Common
The scarlet snake is one of two species (the other being the scarlet kingsnake) that are sometimes confused with the venomous coral snake. The scarlet snake can be
distinguished from the coral snake by having a a red tip to the nose (the coral snake's is black), having red and black bands that touch, and having a white belly. The scarlet snake is found in most terrestrial habitats, but may be most common in pine flatwoods. Though it is locally abundant, the scarlet snake is rarely seen because it is a secretive burrower and is active mostly at night. It's diet is made up almost entirely of the eggs of other reptiles. 

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Southern Black Racer Coluber constrictor priapus      Common
This is the most commonly seen snake in Highlands County. It is found in nearly every habitat and adapts well to areas disturbed by people. The adults are easily recognized by their plain black coloration above and a white chin. Juveniles are quite different, with a reddish brown diamond pattern on a gray background. True to its name, the racer moves quickly, which helps it to escape predators or chase down the lizards, frogs, and small rodents on which it feeds. I once caught a black racer (along with a greater siren, pig frog, and many tadpoles) in a funnel trap half submerged under water in a marsh. This observation confirms this species ability to exploit all types of habitats, including aquatic ones. 

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Southern Ringneck Snake Diadophis punctatus punctatus     Common
This small snake is easily recognized by the broken orange ring around the neck. It is common in all terrestrial habitats. Though secretive and primarily nocturnal, it is often seen around houses when debris or sod is removed, or it falls into a swimming pool and cannot get out. It feeds on earthworms, frogs, lizards, and other snakes and is totally harmless to humans.

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Eastern Indigo Snake Drymarchon corais couperi      Locally Common                                                                 Threatened Species   
This large snake is protected by law and should not be disturbed. Though populations have been reduced or extirpated in many areas, the indigo snake is still common in some areas of Highlands County where there is adequate space for this wide-ranging snake to roam. This snake is most often associated with xeric habitats, where it uses gopher tortoise burrows for shelter. It is found in other terrestrial habitats and can adapt to disturbed habitats, especially agricultural areas with canals. However, it may be quickly eliminated in developed areas. Indigo snakes are indiscriminate feeders on small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles including other snakes and even small gopher tortoises.                         

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Corn Snake Elaphe guttata guttata      Common
The corn snake or red rat snake is a very successful species that can be found in all terrestrial habitats, even developed areas. It is easily identified by its red blotches on an orange, peach, or grayish background. The belly is patterned with white and black and somewhat resembles a piano keyboard. It is occasionally active during the day in the spring, but is primarily nocturnal. It may forage on the ground, in bushes, trees, or on fences and the sides of houses. It preys on lizards, rodents, and birds.                                                              

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Yellow Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata       Locally Common
The yellow rat snake is often called the "chicken snake" by Floridians. It may have gotten that name from raiding eggs and young chicks from chicken coupes. It is beneficial to humans, however, because of its ravenous consumption of rodents. Adult Yellow Rat Snakes are widely recognized by their coloration and four dark stripes. Juveniles look quite different, with dark blotches on a gray background. This snake is not common in the scrub of the ridge, but may be found around low areas such as bay heads. It is abundant in most lowland habitats off the ridge.                                                                                                                                              

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Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni      Uncommon
This subspecies or color variation (depending on who you talk to) intergrades with the yellow rat snake in Highlands County and is similar except for the orange coloration of the adults. This subspecies is thought to have once occupied the Everglades and Kissimmee Prairie regions, but may now be reduced in number because of the habitat destruction of those areas. Rat snakes are still common in those areas, but they tend to have more traits associated with the yellow rat snake than with the Everglades rat snake.

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Eastern Mud Snake Farancia abacura abacura      Locally Common
This large beautiful snake is common in wetland areas where it feeds on aquatic salamanders. Though it spends much of its time in the water, it may be seen crossing roads at night. It is a shiny black snake with red or pink bars extending up onto the sides from the belly. The red pattern may reach across the back to form rings in juveniles, but recedes to the sides with age. Black and white anerythristic specimens (lacking red pigment) have popped up in neighboring counties. Adult mud Snakes feed almost exclusively on aquatic salamanders such as sirens and amphiumas, though juveniles also feed on tadpoles.
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Eastern Hognose Snake Heterodon platirhinos       Rare
The Eastern Hognose Snake is now rare throughout much of the southern half of Florida. It may still turn up in dry, sandy habitats. Coloration is variable in this snake, but most in our area are some shade of dark brown or gray. Juveniles are boldly patterned. This snake gets its name from its upturned snout, which it uses to burrow through sand for its favorite food: toads. It also eats other types of amphibians. When disturbed, it may puff and hiss to try to intimidate a possible predator. If this doesn't work to scare off the attacker, it will roll over and play dead.
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Florida Kingsnake Lampropeltis getula floridana      Rare
This snake is rare or possibly extirpated in Highlands County. There has not been a record of this snake in this county in the last 15 years. It has been speculated that it may still occur in certain agricultural areas with canals, as it is common in those types of areas in neighboring Glades County. Adult Florida kingsnakes are black or brown with yellow crossbars and varying degrees of speckling. Juveniles have a similar pattern, but are not speckled and may have some red coloration on the sides. Florida kingsnakes prey on a variety of small animals including rodents, amphibians, and reptiles, especially other snakes.
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Scarlet Kingsnake Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides     Uncommon
This beautiful nonvenomous snake is patterned with red, black, and yellow bands. It is sometimes confused with the venomous coral snake, but is distinguished by having a red tip to the nose (the coral snake is black) and having red and black bands that touch. Scarlet kingsnakes may occur in all terrestrial habitats, but seem most prevalent in pine flatwoods. Scarlet kingsnakes are rarely seen by most people because they stay hidden beneath bark, rotting logs, rocks and other forms of natural cover much of the time. They are occasionally found beneath pieces of discarded tin or old boards. Like other kingsnakes, this species may eat other snakes, but they will also consume small rodents, frogs, and lizards.
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Eastern Coachwhip Masticophis flagellum flagellum      Locally Common
Though reduced in many areas where upland habitats have been developed, coachwhips are still common in dry scrub and sandhill habitats in Highlands County. They are the fastest snakes in Florida. When one is seen, it is often for only a fleeting moment as the snake races for cover. Adult coachwhips usually have a dark colored head and neck, resembling the handle of a whip. Juveniles are light brown or tan over the entire body. Some adults retain this coloration and never develop the dark head. They prey on rodents and lizards.
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Florida Water Snake Nerodia fasciata pictiventris     Common
The Florida water snake is the most common water snake in Highlands County and may be found in a variety of permanent and temporary wetland habitats. It is occasionally found some distance from the nearest water. One specimen seen crossing a road through dry scrub habitat while another was found near the entrance of a gopher tortoise burrow. The Florida water snake is variable in color and pattern. Some have dark bands on a brown or reddish background while others may be almost plain black. Though they are often confused with the venomous cottonmouth, water snakes are totally harmless to humans. All water snakes have a round pupil, while the cottonmouth's is vertically elongated.
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Florida Green Water Snake Nerodia floridana      Locally Common
This large water snake prefers open marshy habitats and feeds primarily on amphibians. It occurs in heavily vegetated canals, ditches, and lake edges on the ridge, but is most common in the wet pasture areas on either side. It may be drab green, brown, or reddish brown. Though it may react with defensive strikes if disturbed, like all water snakes, this snake does not hold its mouth open in a threat display like the venomous cottonmouth.
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Brown Water Snake Nerodia taxpilota    Uncommom
The brown water snake prefers areas of permanent water such as lakes and rivers. It frequents areas with trees or structures such as docks or bridges. It feeds primarily on fish, though it is generally not a danger to game fish populations. This is the best climber of the water snakes and may be seen high in trees over the water. If disturbed, it drops off into the water to escape. It is this species and not the venomous cottonmouth that occasionally falls out of trees into boats. True to its name, the ground color is brown. It is patterned with darker brown square blotches on the back and vertical bars on the sides.
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Florida Rough Green Snake Opheodrys aestivus carinatus     Uncommon
The green snake is not often seen in Highlands County, but may be more common than it appears. Its bright green coloration helps it to blend masterfully with the vegetation which it inhabits. The green snake is a good climber and can be seen high in bushes and trees, though it may also be found in open prairie, flatwoods, and scrub areas. It tends to shun developed areas. This is one of the only snakes in our area that feeds mostly on insects.
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Florida Pine Snake Pituophis melanoleucas mugitus      Rare                                                                      Species of Special Concern
This large, impressive and secretive snake is rarely seen . It may spend over 80 % of its time underground. It has suffered from the destruction of sandhill habitats throughout its range. Though sandhills appear to be its preferred habitat, it may also be found in scrub, dry prairie, and old fields. Throughout most of its range, the pine snake specializes in preying upon pocket gophers. An interesting situation occurs in much of Highlands County and other counties in the southern part of the state where pocket gophers do not occur. Pine snakes prey on other small mammals and birds here. When encountered by a human or predator, the pine snake will hiss loudly. Despite its fearsome display, it is totally harmless to humans.
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Striped Crayfish Snake Regina alleni    Locally Common
The crayfish snake is dark and shiny with stripes slightly lighter than the background.
It is found primarily in swamps, marshes, and flooded pasture areas off the ridge where it preys extensively on, you guessed it, crayfish. This is one of the most aquatic snakes in Florida and looks awkward as it tries to move on land. Many are killed by cars as the snakes warm themselves on the road at night. Because this snake is adapted to acidic, tannin-stained waters, specimens in captivity often develop skin infections and die because the pH of the water is too high.
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Pine Woods Snakes Rhadinaea flavilata    Uncommon
This rarely seen little snake inhabits low pine flatwoods and dry prairies. It is light brown or orange above with a yellow or white belly. It is sometimes called the yellow-lipped Snake, though the lips are rarely a shade of yellow. It feeds primarily on small amphibians.                                         
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South Florida Swamp Snake Seminatrix pygaea cyclas     Locally Common
This small snake is highly aquatic and often occurs in the same swampy and marshy areas as the striped crayfish snake. It may also be found in highly vegetated lake borders. I once observed a Florida mud turtle eating a swamp snake at the edge of a Polk County lake. This snake preys on a variety of small invertebrates and amphibians.
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Short-tailed Snake Stilosoma extenuatum    Rare                                                                                                     Threatened Species
This small, extremely slender snake is uncommon throughout its small range. It has dark blotches on a light gray background and, sometimes, and orange stripe down the center of the back. It is endemic to Florida, which means that it is found nowhere else. The short-tailed snake occurs primarily in sandhill habitats, though it is sometimes found in scrub. It is thought to feed on crowned snakes and other small reptiles.                                                                                                                                                                                 
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Shorttail Snake Lampropeltis extenuata

Florida Brown Snake Storeria dekayi victa      Locally Common
This small snake rarely grows longer than one foot in length. Like its name suggest, many individuals of this snake are brown, though some in our area are reddish-brown to bright red. A pattern consisting of a light stripe down the center of the back and collar around the neck may be more distinct in some specimens than others. The brown snake may be found in most terrestrial habitats and is common in some areas, but rare or absent in other areas. It is often found under human generated debris in the cooler months of the year and crossing roads at night in the warmer months.
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Peninsula Crowned Snake Tantilla relicta relicta     Locally Common
The crowned Snake is the smallest snake native to Highlands County. It occurs on the Lake Wales Ridge and other ridges in Central Florida. Most of the body of this snake is tan to pinkish in coloration. The head is black and a thin black ring encircles the neck. It seems to prefer sandhill habitats, but is also found in scrub and scrubby flatwoods. This tiny snake is occasionally seen under various surface debris or in leaf litter, where it it is thought to feed primarily on centipedes.
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Peninsula Ribbon Snake Thamnophis sauritus sackenii     Common
This slender species of garter Snake is one of the most abundant snakes in Highlands County. The ribbon snake is brown or black with yellow stripes on either side of the body and a darker, less distinct stripe running down the back. It is common both on and off the ridge anywhere near permanent or temporary water. On the ridge, it is often found where small ponds, ditches, and bayheads break up the dry scrub. It may be seen during the day, but is most active around sunset, often crossing roads in numbers. The ribbon snake is a good climber and often ascends into trees and bushes to forage or bask. It preys primarily on small amphibians and fish.
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Eastern Garter Snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis     Locally Common
The eastern garter snake is most common in open terrestrial habitats and wetlands. On the ridge it is usually found near water. The garter snakes of Highlands County are usually some shade of green with a distinct stripe on the back and each side. Some specimens are a beautiful turquoise color. The garter Snake feeds mainly on amphibians and fish.
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Smooth Earth Snake Virginia valeriae valeriae     Rare
This tiny snake occurs in an isolated colony near Lake Placid. This is over 100 miles removed from any other known population of smooth earth snake. The color is uniform gray or brown. Very little is known about this rare snake in Highlands County. More northern populations are known as secretive burrowers that feed primarily on earthworms.                                                                                      
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Brahminy Blind Snake Ramphotyphlops braminus  Rare                                                                                 Exotic                               

This tiny introduced species has spread through much of south Florida and has recently been documented in Highlands County. It is spread in flowerpots of tropical plants grown in south Florida. The blind snake is black and shiny with no visible eyes. It resembles a worm more than a typical snake. This is an all-female parthenogenic species which reproduces by self fertilization. It will probably become more common in our area as it has in many other areas of the Florida.
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Southern Hognose Snake Heterodon simus       Peripheral, Not Known to Occur in Highlands County
This short, stout snake has a more sharply upturned snout than the eastern hognose. It displays some similar behaviors, but its threat display is less elaborate. The southern hognose is more distinctly marked and less variable than the eastern hognose, with dark blotches on a gray or yellowish background. It prefers sandhill habitat and is eliminated by development. It feeds mainly on toads. Though it apparently has not been recorded in Highlands County, it has been found just to the north in Polk County.
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South Florida Mole Kingsnake Lampropeltis calligaster occipitolineata    Peripheral, Not Known to Occur in Highlands County
Though this rare snake has apparently not been recorded in Highlands County, it has been reported in Desoto, Okeechobee, Glades, and Polk Counties, so it can be expected to occur here. The mole king snake prefers dry prairie habitat, which in our area has been greatly degraded by agriculture and development. It has also been found in cattle pastures, orange groves, and oak hammocks. Juveniles are gray with maroon to black blotches. This pattern may be retained or fade with age. Some old adults may be almost uniform brown. Like other kingsnakes, this species preys on other snakes, lizards, and small rodents.
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Florida Cottonmouth Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti      Locally Common                                                                            Venomous
This venomous species is most common in marshes, swamps, flooded flatwoods, and pastures. It is rarely seen near the permanent lakes of the ridge, where nonvenomous water snakes dominate. Despite popular belief, cottonmouths are not aggressive and will never chase a person. When encountered by people, most will flee or stand their ground. This snakes gets it name from its habit of holding its mouth open when disturbed, in an attempt to intimidate a potential predator. Unlike all water snakes, the cottonmouth has a vertically elongated pupil (not round). The juveniles are more boldly marked than the adults, and are sometimes incorrectly identified as copperheads, though copperheads do not occur in our area. The cottonmouth is an indiscriminate feeder that will eat most small animals and even carrion. 
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Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Crotalus adamanteus     Uncommon                                                                              Venomous
This venomous snake has become rare in Highlands County because of habitat destruction, road mortality, and direct persecution by humans. It is one of the largest and most dangerous snakes in North America, but it is not aggressive, and will not bite unless disturbed. Most bites are caused by people trying to handle or kill snakes. This snake may occur in most terrestrial habitats, but it requires large tracts of suitable habitat to survive. It does not adapt well to disturbed areas. Diamondbacks feed on a variety of small mammals and birds including rabbits, squirrels, and quail.
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Dusky Pygmy Rattle Snake Sistrurus miliarius barbouri         Locally Common                                                                  Venomous
The pygmy rattlesnake is common in some pine flatwoods and prairie areas. In other areas of its range, it is common in scrub and sandhill habitats, but it does not seem to be so in Highlands County. This snake is gray with black blotches. Many specimens have a red or orange stripe running down the center of the back. Pygmy rattlers are probably the nippiest of our venomous snakes. Luckily, they do not have particularly strong venom and lack the capacity to deliver large amounts. However, a bite could be potentially serious and this snake should not be taken for granted.
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Eastern Coral Snake Micrurus fulvius fulvius                         Common                                                                               Venomous
Though it possesses a dangerous venom, the coral snake is not aggressive and is not dangerous unless handled or molested. It feeds mainly upon glass lizards, skinks, and other snakes. This snake is common in Highlands County and may occur in most terrestrial habitats. The coral snake is especially common in scrub, sandhill, and oak hammocks. It may be active during the day or night when temperatures are favorable.
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Green Anole Anolis carolinensis            Common
Though abundant in years past, the green anole is now reduced in number because of competition from the exotic brown anole. It is, however, still a familiar backyard species for many Floridians and is often called a chameleon. True chameleons are found in the Africa and Asia. The green anole inhabits many habitats and may be just as common in scrub as it is in swamps. It may be seen in low bushes or high in trees. This lizard is capable of considerable color changes and in a short amount of time it can change from bright green to a more subdued brown or vice versa. Males often display a bright red dewlap (throat fan) to communicate with other lizards and claim their territory. In captivity, males have been observed to put on their territorial display towards other species such as racerunners and scrub lizards.

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Knight Anole Anolis equestris*       Rare                                                                                                                                         Exotic
This big anole (up to 18 inches long) is native to Cuba. It is known from only a few specimens in Highlands County and it is not known whether or not there is actually a breeding population here. The few individuals seen may just be hitchhikers on plants brought in from nurseries in southeast Florida, where it is firmly established. The knight anole is usually found high in the canopies of trees, where it feeds on various insects and fruit. Like the smaller green anole, this species is capable of considerable color change. If caught, it should be handled carefully because it is capable of delivering a painful bite.
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Brown Anole Anolis sagrei            Common                                                                                                                                   Exotic
This exotic anole has become one of the most abundant lizards in the state. Native to Cuba and the Bahamas, it has invaded nearly every habitat in Florida, though it is most common in areas disturbed by humans. This species has reduced populations of the native green anole through competition for habitat and even outright predation. It does not usually venture as as high into trees as the green anole and is more often seen on the ground or in low bushes. Brown anoles are variable in pattern and color. Females often have a light stripe down the center of the back which may be bordered by a dark zigzag or chain-like pattern. The background color is light brown or gray and the head may be reddish. The much larger males usually have an indistinct pattern of speckles and a bright red dewlap (throat fan) bordered in yellow. Though not capable of as extreme color changes as some other anoles, it can change from light to dark shades.
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Florida Scrub Lizard Sceloporus woodi    Locally Common
The scrub lizard is found only in Central and South Florida. This lizard may be seen hunting insects on open, sandy patches of ground in scrub habitat. If approached, it will quickly flee to the nearest brush or trees. The scrub lizard is gray with a dark stripe on each side and brilliant blue patches on the underside. Some individuals have dark bars across the back. Though it is not legally protected, The Florida Committee on Rare and Endangered Plants and Animals has classified this species as threatened. Like many of Florida's xeric adapted species, this lizard is threatened by the destruction of its habitat. Though the it is common where its habitat remains intact, unlike such lizards as anoles and five-lined skinks, the it cannot adapt to the lawns and gardens of human habitations.
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Curlytail Lizard Leiocephalus carinatus   Uncommon                                                                                                                     Exotic
This exotic lizard originally descends from the Carribbean. Highlands County populations probably hitchhiked from south Florida in potted plants. This lizard thrives mostly in disturbed habitats and is most often seen as it forages on sidewalks and the edges of parking lots. It may be established in areas of downtown Lake Placid and has been reported near Sebring. It tends to be a chunky lizard with an indistinct pattern of dark stripes on a gray, brown, or greenish background. True to its name, its tail is often curled up behind it as it runs. 
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Six-lined Racerunner Cnemidophorus sexlineatus sexlineatus      Locally Common

This fast moving lizard is common in dry, sandy habitats such as scrub and sandhill. Racerunners are able to maintain an extremely high body temperature of over 110 degrees Fahrenheit, which is one of the reasons they can move so fast. This is one of the few reptiles that is likely to be seen active in middle of the day in hot weather. True to its name, this species has six white or yellow lines along the back on a dark background. Many individuals of this species have a beautiful light blue belly.
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Blue-tailed Mole Skink Eumeces egregius lividus    Locally Common                                                                                   Threatened 
This beautiful little lizard is endemic to the Lake Wales Ridge and is threatened by development of scrub and sandhill habitats. It is apparently absent in many areas of seemingly suitable habitat. Like the sand skink with which it shares its habitat, the mole skink is able to move through loose sand rapidly through a sand-swimming motion. It often burrows just beneath the surface of the sand and is sometimes found under natural or artificial debris and leaf litter. This skink may or may not actually have a blue tail as it may turn red or purplish in older specimens.
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Southeastern Five-lined Skink Eumeces inexpectatus        Common

Because of its abundance around houses and in gardens and its large size (up to 8 inches), this is our most visible skink. It forages both on the ground and above it in trees and on manmade woodpiles and decks. It is often seen hiding under artificial cover. Juveniles have five light stripes on a black background and a blue tail. Adults may turn brown and lose the stripes. Both juveniles and adults may have red coloration on the head.
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Ground Skink Scincilla lateralis        Common
This tiny lizard is abundant, but often goes unnoticed because of its size. It may be found in many habitats, but is most abundant in hammocks with a layer of leaf litter, where it forages for small insects. This is not a colorful skink, being mostly light brown with dark brown stripes on the sides.
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Sand Skink Neoseps reynoldsi            Locally Common                                                                                                          Threatened
The sand skink is a truly unique lizard. It is found only on Central Florida ridges and is threatened by habitat destruction. The sand skink is well-adapted to sandy scrub habitats and uses sand-swimming as its primary means of locomotion. It may bask just below the surface of the sand or take refuge under dead palmetto fronds, boards, or other surface debris. When discovered it seems to literally dive back into the sand and disappear. Its white or silvery coloration helps it blend very well with the white sand. The sand skink has tiny legs and only one or two toes on each foot.
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Tokay Gecko Gekko gekko*            Rare                                                                                                                                        Exotic
This large exotic gecko is often imported from Asia for the pet trade and has become established in many areas of Florida where captives have escaped or have been released. This gecko is easily recognized by its light blue coloration and red spots. Care should be taken in handling this feisty lizard, as bites can be quite painful. Geckos are unique among lizards in having a voice The tokay gecko is one of the most vocal members of this group, calling loudly at night. This lizard is known in Highlands County from only a few specimens and is not known to be breeding here.
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Indopacific Gecko Hemidactylus garnotii        Common                                                                                                                Exotic
The Indopacific gecko is a very successful introduced species that may be seen at night on the walls of buildings, especially where there are lights which attract insects. It is also one of the few reptiles that seems to thrive living indoors. Though it is most abundant around human habitations, it is sometimes found in more natural habitats. This gecko is grayish brown with dark speckling during the day and turns to a pale translucent peach color at night. It is an all female, parthenogenic species. Eggs can sometimes be seen through the skin of the belly.
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Tropical House Gecko Hemidactylus mabouia          Uncommon                                                                                                Exotic
This gecko is now firmly established in Highlands County at several localities in both Lake Placid and Sebring and may be spreading. It has replaced the Indopacific as the dominant house gecko throughout much of south Florida and may do the same in our area. The tropical house gecko is gray with dark bars across the back. It is darker during the day than at night. Unlike the Indopacific gecko, this species has tubercles giving it a somewhat a warty appearance.
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Mediterranean Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus     Rare                                                                                                                    Exotic
The Mediterranean gecko was the first house gecko species to become established in Florida and was very successful for several years. The introduction of other species seems to have reduced its numbers drastically. It is not known whether this gecko was ever common in Highlands County, but it certainly is not now. It may still occur in a few isolated colonies as it does in some heavily developed areas of Polk County. This species is pinkish in coloration and has heavily tuburculate scales, giving it the wartiest appearance of our geckos. It is almost invariably seen on, in, or in the immediate vicinity of human habitations and does not seem to colonize natural habitats.
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Eastern Glass Lizard Ophisaurus ventralis       Common  
Glass Lizards are legless and have very long tails, often causing them to be confused with snakes. The vertebrae of the eastern glass lizard have fracture planes that allow the tail to be broken and regenerated. This is the most common glass lizard throughout much of the state and can be found in most terrestrial habitats, though they are less common on the ridge than the slender glass lizard. This lizard is variable in color throughout its range, but most specimens in Highlands County are brown above and yellow below with a thick dark stripe on each side. This species does not have a dark stripe down the center of the back.
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Eastern Slender Glass Lizard Ophisaurus attenuatus longicaudus     Locally Common  
The slender glass lizard is the most common glass lizard in xeric habitats of Highlands County. It is quite secretive and spends most of its time burrowed beneath the sand, but it may be seen basking or crossing roads in the morning or evening in warm weather. Like the eastern glass lizard, the tail is easily broken and can be regenerated. All glass lizards have a crease in the skin on both sides of the body called the lateral fold. The slender glass lizard can be distinguished from the other species because it is the only one with stripes below the lateral fold. In addition to these stripes, it may have stripes on the sides above the lateral fold and a thin stripe down the center of the back. The ground color is light brown.
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Island Glass Lizard Ophisaurus compressus     Locally Common
Though often described as preferring dry sandy habitats, in Highlands County and neighboring counties the island glass lizard seems to be most common in periodically flooded prairies, flatwoods, and pastures. It may be found in dry areas near ponds, but the slender glass lizard is the dominant species in scrub and sandhill. It can be seen crossing roads at almost any time of day, but is most often seen in the evening.
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Florida Worm Lizard Rhineura floridana      Uncommon
The Florida Worm Lizard is not actually a true lizard. It differs from lizards in having its scales arranged in rings called annuli. This makes it look somewhat like an earthworm. The worm lizard is not often seen, because it stays in underground burrows most of the time. It is encountered most often by gardeners and farmers when it is accidentally shoveled or plowed from below the ground or when it is forced to the surface by saturating rains. It may be most common in scrub and sandhill habitats, but can turn up in any terrestrial habitat that does not frequently flood. 
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(Photo by R.D. Bartlett)  



American Alligator Alligator mississippiensis       Common
Alligators inhabit nearly all freshwater bodies in the state. They are the largest reptiles in Florida with a maximum length of around 18 feet. Most do not grow that long, however. 'Gators can be very dangerous and should not be approached or fed in the wild. Those that are fed learn to associate humans with food which may lead to an attack. Alligators naturally feed on many types of animals. Small individuals may eat insects, fish, amphibians, snakes. Larger ones may eat mammals such as raccoons, hogs, deer, and the occasional dog. Their broad snouts are especially adapted to crushing the shells of turtles. Juvenile alligators have a pattern of  yellow bands on a black background, which fades as they grow.
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Florida Softshell Turtle Apalone ferox        Common
This large turtle may inhabit any permanent freshwater habitat. It is easily identified by the elongated, snorkel-like nose and flexible, leathery shell. Hatchlings are greenish in color and boldly marked with round spots and an orange ring around the carapace. This pattern fades to a uniform light brown or pinkish color in the adults. Softshells are agile in the water and can move surprisingly quickly on land. They have sharp claws, a long neck, and strong jaws  that are capable of delivering a painful bite, so use caution when handling them. If a softshell is crossing a road and one wishes to rescue it without injury to the turtle or the rescuer, one method is to gently coax it headfirst into a five gallon bucket. With its head and claws restrained in the bucket, it can then be safely moved a short distance. Softshells are primarily carnivores, feeding on a variety of small animals and carrion.
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Florida Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina osceola      Uncommon  
The snapper is one of the more infrequently seen turtles in Highlands County. Though occasionally seen crossing roads, it is primarily aquatic and is rarely seen basking. It may be found in any permanent water body and can sometimes be observed from board walks crossing swamps. It is the most aggressive of our turtles, often lunging forward and extending its long neck to strike when
encountered on land. If you are attempting to rescue a snapper crossing a road, you can use the same method mentioned above for softshells or gently lift the turtle by its long tail to move it a short distance. Snappers should not be handled in this manner for long periods of time because of the risk of injury to the turtle.

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Common Musk Turtle Sternotherus odoratus     Uncommon
With an average adult length of three to four inches, this species is our smallest turtle species. Hatchlings are penny-sized. It may be dark brown to black in coloration with two yellow stripes on each side of the head. It is sometimes called the stinkpot because of the strong musk it may release when captured. The common musk turtle may be found in shallow areas of any body of water, but is infrequently seen because of its small size and nocturnal habits. This is one of the few turtles that actually climbs quite well and may be seen basking in trees overhanging the water. Unlike most turtles which bury their eggs, musk and mud turtles often lay their small clutches of one to three hard-shelled eggs right on the surface of the ground or piles of shoreline debris.
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Loggerhead Musk Turtle Sternotherus minor minor       Rare
The only record of the loggerhead musk turtle in Highlands County is based on single specimen found by Walter Meshaka in Lake June-in-Winter near Lake Placid. A turtle collector in Polk County reported seeing them in other lakes on the Lake Wales Ridge. This seems strange since it is considered primarily an inhabitant of spring runs and rivers in north Florida. It is not otherwise known to occur south of Orange and Lake Counties. If there is a viable population here, it may be expected to inhabit rivers, creeks, and, apparently, large lakes. The loggerhead musk turtle may be identified by its large gray head which is speckled in black.
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Striped Mud Turtle Kinosteron baurii palmarum          Common
This is the most common turtle species in Highlands County. Striped mud turtles may inhabit any body of water including temporary ponds and puddles and seem to be at least partially terrestrial, often wandering and even laying eggs far from water. They are sometimes found under artificial cover such as boards or tin. These small turtles may eat on land or in the water and are often noted for their strange habit of eating cow dung in pastures. They may be seen crossing roads at any time of day or night, especially in rainy weather. Many of these turtle of killed by cars as they migrate in mass after large tropical weather systems in the summer and fall. There are two extremes in shell pattern variation in this species. One has three thin light stripes on a dark background while the other has a mainly light-colored shell with two thick dark stripes. Most fall somewhere in between. In some specimens, the stripes are faded and barely visible. Like the common musk turtle, this species usually has light stripes on the face. Unlike the musk turtles, however, mud turtles have a hinged plastron which allows them to partially close their shells.

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Florida Mud Turtle Kinosteron subrubrum steindachneri         Uncommon
The Florida mud turtle is not nearly as abundant as the striped mud turtle, but it is reportedly common in certain areas. It may inhabit most permanent bodies of water and wetlands and is not as inclined to wander long distances across land as the striped mud, though it may be seen crossing roads like that species. The head may be mottled, spotted, or indistinctly striped, but the pattern is usually more obscure than the common musk or striped mud turtle. Many specimens appear to be plain olive or dark brown.

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Florida Chicken Turtle Deirochelys reticularia chrysea          Uncommon
The chicken turtle is an inhabitant of shallow, weedy wetlands and bodies of water, especially marshes. It feeds on a variety of small animals including crayfish, amphibians, and small fish. It frequently wanders on land especially in rainy weather, possibly in search of temporary wetlands where food may be abundant. It may bask on logs or mats of vegetation, but is not often observed doing so in groups like its relatives the cooter and redbelly turtle. The chicken turtle has thin yellow stripes on its face and its shell is marked
with an orange or yellow net-like pattern. It can be distinguished from other similar turtles by the presence of striped "pants,"  vertical yellow striping on either side of the tail.

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Peninsula Cooter Pseudemys floridana peninsularis        Common
The peninsula cooter is a large turtle (shell can exceed 15 inches) that inhabits permanent water bodies such as large ponds, lakes, and rivers. It is often seen basking on logs or the shoreline. As an adult, it feeds primarily on aquatic vegetation, but juveniles often feed on insects and other small animals. This turtle has a dark carapace with vertical yellow or tan markings. The shell pattern may be obscured by algae growth. The head and neck are striped in yellow and there are a pair of hairpin shaped markings on the top of the head.

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Florida Redbelly Turtle Pseudemys nelsoni         Common
The Florida redbelly turtle looks similar in many ways to the peninsula cooter, but it has red markings on the carapace and lacks the hairpin-shaped markings on the top of the head. It also has a notch in the middle of the upper jaw, which is lacking the cooter. Some individuals actually have red or orange plastrons, but this is not always the case. This turtle is diet is similar to the cooter, but it tends to be more abundant in small ponds, creeks, and marshes than the other species. There is much overlap however, and both species are often seen in the same habitat and sometimes even basking together on the same logs.
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Red-eared Slider Trachemys scripta elegans        Rare Exotic
This turtle may not have officially been documented in Highlands County, but it is bound to occur there. Until recently, it was the most common pet turtle and, unfortunately, many pet owners released specimens when they got too big to easily care for. Because feral populations became established all over Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned keeping or selling red-eared sliders without a special permit. The red-eared slider is easy to identify when it is young because it is the only turtle in Florida to have a red streak on each side of the head. Juveniles have a bright green background color which fades to dark brown or black with age. Older specimens often become melanistic, meaning they are almost completely black, even on the head.
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Florida Box Turtle  Terrapene carolina bauri        Uncommon
This beautiful terrestrial turtle was once common throughout most of the peninsula of Floridas, but it has now been reduced to small, local populations in most areas. Its preferred habitats in our area are pine flatwoods, hammocks, and dry prairie. It may also be found in pastures. It is rarely found in scrub. Box turtles are omnivores, meaning that they eat many different things including plants, fruits, mushrooms (even poisonous ones), insects, snails, worms, slugs, small snakes, and dead animals. The box turtle is easily identified by its shell pattern of radiating yellow lines on a black or dark brown background. Hatchlings, which are rarely seen, have only a yellow spot on each scute.

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Gopher Tortoise Gopherus polyphemus        Locally Common                                       Species of Special Concern
This is our only native tortoise species and it is still common where appropriate habitat exist. The gopher tortoise prefers dry sandy areas where it can build its famous, long burrows. Unfortunately, Highlands County's dry uplands are prime areas for development and the tortoises habitat is being destroyed at an astonishing rate. The gopher tortoise is a keystone species, which means that other animals depend on it to provide habitat and shelter, including many other reptiles and amphibians, most notably the gopher frog. The gopher tortoise grazes on grasses, fruit, and the leaves of low growing vegetation. This species is protected and should not be disturbed in most cases. Well-intentioned people sometimes move gopher tortoises from busy roads to areas they believe to be safer. However, this practice removes tortoises from their familiar home ranges and burrows and can spread a respiratory disease, so it should be avoided. In the case that it must be rescued from a road, move the tortoise off of the road in the direction it was heading. 

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Florida Cricket Frog Acris gryllus dorsalis         Common
This tiny frog rarely exceeds one inch in length and can usually be found at the grassy edges of any wetland or water body. When disturbed, it will often jump into the water but swim right back to the shore. The color is quite variable and individuals may have a brown, red, green, or yellow Y-shaped marking from behind the eyes down the center of the back on a gray or brown background. The cricket frog’s call is a clicking sound that has been compared to the tapping of glass marbles together and may be heard any time of year.

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Green Treefrog Hyla cinerea        Common
This common frog is found in many habitats, but seems to be most abundant in open areas such as marshes, prairie, and pastures where it often clings to the branches and leaves of low vegetation. It may be seen around windows and lights on buildings because of the abundance of insects attracted to light. Like many other treefrogs, this species is capable of considerable color change. Resting or cold green treefrogs may be tan, olive, or brown, but active and warm specimens are bright green. This species has a white stripe on either side of the body and sometimes tiny yellow speckles. Like other treefrogs, this species often calls on warm rainy nights and is sometimes called the “rain frog.” Its call has been described as a “quonk."

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Squirrel Treefrog Hyla squirella        Common
This small species is probably the most abundant treefrog in Florida. It is usually plain light green to brown with little or no pattern. This frog uses many different habitats, including those that have been disturbed by people. This is the most commonly seen treefrog around houses and on windows. Its call sounds similar to the quack of a duck.
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Pine Woods Treefrog Hyla femoralis        Locally Common
This small treefrog is not as abundant as the green or squirrel, but it is still common in its preferred habitat: pine woods and various wooded wetland habitats. This frog can be whitish, reddish brown, or green in coloration. It can be easily identified by the yellow spots on the backs of the thighs. Its call sounds like a rapid “dik-dak-dik-dak.”
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Barking Treefrog Hyla gratiosa          Uncommon
The barking treefrog is the largest native treefrog in Florida. It is present in pine flatwoods and scrub habitats, but it is not as common here as more northern parts of Florida. It does not adapt very well to human alterations of its natural habitat. This treefrog is capable of drastic color changes but is usually light green with dark green or brown spots. At times, the spots are barely visible. This frog is known to hybridize with the green treefrog in some areas and it is not known if this takes place in Highlands County. The sound of a large chorus of these frogs sounds like a group of barking hounds.
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Cuban Treefrog Osteopilus septentrionalis          Common                                                                                                             Exotic
The Cuban treefrog was present in Key West as long as 50 years ago and has spread throughout the peninsula of Florida since that time. This large treefrog is often transported from location to location on ornamental plants. Like several of the native treefrogs, this species is commonly seen on the outside of buildings and may eat or displace other frogs there. The Cuban treefrog may be whitish, light green, or brown in coloration. It has very large toepads that act as suction cups to help it climb vertical surfaces.
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Florida Chorus Frog Pseudacris nigrita verrucosa    Uncommon
Though this tiny frog may have been common in Highlands County at one time, it does not seem so today. It may be heard calling from open wetlands and small ponds with a clicking “crrrreek” sound. Other than that, little is known about its behavior or habitat. The chorus frog may be patterned in various shades of gray or brown on a darker background. It has a broken white stripe on the lips.
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Little Grass Frog Pseudacris occularis     Common 
With an adult size of less than three quarters of an inch long, this is the smallest species of frog in the country. The little grass frog is common in wet, open grassy areas, but it is rarely seen because of its diminutive size. This frog may be light brown or tan above with a dark stripe on each side of the body. Its high-pitched call sounds like a fingernail being run across a comb.
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Oak Toad Bufo quercicus          Common
This tiny toad is patterned with light gray spots on a dark gray background. It can be distinguished from juvenile southern toads by the presence of a light stripe running down the center of the back. The oak toad may be found  a variety of natural habitats, especially sandy areas such as scrub, sandhill, and dry flatwoods. It often calls after heavy summer rains and its voice sounds similar to that of a peeping chick. A large chorus of these little toads can be deafening.

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Southern Toad Bufo terrestris        Common
The southern toad is one of the most familiar amphibians in Florida and is often seen around homes and gardens as well as a variety of natural habitats. It is variable in color and may be any shade of gray, brown, red, or a combination of these colors. This toad’s call is a high-pitched trill, sometimes combined with chirps and low-pitched hum.
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Marine Toad Bufo marinus*          Locally Common                                                                                                                      Exotic
The marine toad is an introduced exotic species which is not yet common in Highlands County, though may become so in the next few years, as it has in many other areas of the state. Several specimens have turned up in and around Lake Placid. This huge toad (six to seven inches) is native to Central and South America. It preys on just about any animal small enough to fit in its mouth and may be damaging to native amphibian populations. I have found it in scrub near gopher frog breeding ponds. It is one of the few toads known to eat nonliving food, as it often eats dog or cat food left out for pets. It has a very toxic skin secretion which may cause extreme illness or even death if consumed by pets.
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Eastern Narrowmouth Toad Gastrophryne carolinensis        Common
The small narrowmouth toad appears quite round and pudgy with short, pointed snout. It is mottled in various shades of gray. It is common in a variety of natural and disturbed habitats and is often found hiding under artificial cover such as boards, carpets, and stepping stones. It may call in large numbers from shallow wetlands and temporary puddles after summer rains. The sound produced is very much like that of a sheep.
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Greenhouse Frog Eleutherodactylus planirostris          Common                                                                                                    Exotic
This is yet another exotic species that is easily transported from place to place in flowerpots. The greenhouse frog is now abundant throughout most of the state. It is often found under the same cover objects as narrowmouth toads, though it may be more tolerant of dry situations. It has become an important prey item for small snakes such as the ringneck snake. This is one of our few frogs that lays its eggs on land. Its call is an insect-like chirp. This small frog comes in a striped and mottled pattern phase. Both variations are patterned in various shades of rusty brown.
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Florida Gopher Frog Rana capito aesopus        Uncommon
Unlike many of its close relatives, the gopher frog prefers dry, sandy scrub and sandhill habitats. It is closely associated with gopher tortoise burrows, which it uses for refuge. It may also use other forms of cover such as stump holes, logs, and human-generated debris. This species is common in some scrub areas of Highlands County, but rare or absent in others. The availability of small ponds for breeding may be a limiting factor in this frog's distribution.

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Bullfrog Rana catesbeiana         Locally Common
The bullfrog may not actually be native to Highlands County, though it is now common around Lake Placid due to escaped captives from a farm that raised this species. Most individuals seen are quite small compared to the native bullfrogs of north central Florida. This frog may use a variety of water bodies and wetland habitats, but it is most commonly seen here, surprisingly, around small ponds in scrub. Its call is a low, resonant “rumm.” Many locals confuse this species with the pig frog, which is more common and native to this area. The bullfrog can be distinguished from the pig frog by having a rounder snout and incompletely webbed feet.
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Pig Frog Rana grylio       Locally Common
Named for its pig-like grunt, this species is common in most wetland areas. The pig frog is quite aquatic and may awkwardly tumble as it crosses roads at night. It can be distinguished from the less common bullfrog by its completely webbed back feet and pointed snout. This species is the most important prey item for the Florida green water snake, which shares almost the exact same geographic range in the southeastern part of the country.
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Florida Leopard Frog Rana sphenocephala sphenocephala          Common
Patterned with dark spots on a light brown to bright green background, this beautiful frog is one of the most common amphibians in Highlands County. The leopard frog’s call, which can be heard in the cooler months of the year, is a chicken-like cluck. It tends to stay near water, even small roadside ditches, during the day, but ranges widely at night. It can often be seen crossing roads through wetland areas and even in the high, dry scrub. It is the most accomplished jumper for its size of all of our native frogs and can be quite difficult to catch. One night when I was attempting to catch a leopard frog, it jumped with such force into my face that it busted my lip!
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Eastern Spadefoot Scaphiopus holbrooki         Uncommon
This species is abundant in many areas of the state, but is secretive and is usually only seen at night after heavy rains. It spends most of its life burrowed away beneath the sand. It had not been recorded in Highlands County until recently. A local field herper, Alan Rivero, found one hopping across a road near Lake Placid. The skin of this species is warty and the back feet are webbed. There is a black "spade" on the inner surface of the inner toe which aides in digging. The skin is light brown and two indistinct yellowish stripes run the length of the back.

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Two-toed Amphiuma Amphiuma means           Locally Common 
The two-toed amphiuma is a large aquatic salamander that is present in most wetlands and even invades temporary pools and roadside ditches in the wet season. It is aptly-named with two tiny toes on each of its four extremely short limbs. If captured, it should be handled carefully because it can deliver a painful bite. It is preyed on by many large birds and reptiles and is one of the main food items of the eastern mud snake. I observed a great blue heron eating an amphiuma in a water filled ditch through a scrub area of Highlands County.
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Dwarf Salamander Eurycea quadridigitata       Uncommon
The dwarf salamander may be locally common in wetlands and moist forests, but is rarely seen in Highlands County. It sometimes takes shelter under logs or boards, but is most commonly found in mats of aquatic vegetation. This tiny salamander is brown with a dark stripe on each side of the body. It has smooth skin and is not likely to be confused with any other native salamander except the newt, which has rough skin.
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Peninsula Newt Notophthalmus viridescens piaropicola       Uncommon 
The newt may inhabit various permanent wetlands and heavily vegetated water bodies. This species is dark brown above and yellow with black speckles below. Though it is primarily aquatic as an adult, in some areas this species may go through a terrestrial eft stage. This stage probably does not occur often in Highlands County. This is the only rough-skinned salamander in our area.
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Narrow-striped Dwarf Siren Pseudobranchus axanthus axanthus    Locally Common
The dwarf siren is a completely aquatic salamander with bushy external gills and only two limbs each with three toes. It is common in mats of floating vegetation, especially water hyacinths, in open marshy areas. This small siren, which may reach up to nine inches in length is patterned with light brown or olive stripes on a darker brown background.
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Lesser Siren Siren intermedia intermedia        Locally Common

This dark-colored siren may reach up to a foot in length and inhabits wetlands and water bodies with dense aquatic vegetation. If its habitat dries out, as often happens in the winter and early spring in our area, the siren may bury itself in mud or take refuge under a cover object and secrete a mucous cacoon which helps it retain moisture. When rains replenish the area, it resumes normal activity. Sirens are prey for many animals and are one of the favored foods of mud snakes. This siren has four toes on each of its two feet and may be patterned with dark speckles.
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   (Photo by R.D. Bartlett)


Greater Siren Siren lacertina         Locally Common
The greater siren is our largest salamander and one of the most interesting. It may exceed a yard in length. Like other sirens, it has bushy external gills, but these gills may become smaller depending on the water level and oxygen level of the water. This is our only siren that readily inhabits open water situations such as lakes and rivers, though it can be found in smaller bodies of water and wetlands.  Like the lesser siren, it may secrete a moisture-retaining cacoon in dry times. I found a specimen like this once under a railroad tie in a dry marsh. The greater siren may be seen as it forages by shining a light into the water at night. It is occasionally caught by fisherman and is unjustly feared by some people. Despite popular belief, it totally harmless and is actually quite an endearing creature. It makes a fine pet and may live for years in aquaria. It is preyed on many large reptiles, fish, birds, and even mammals. I once observed a group of river otters eating a huge specimen on a dock over a lake in Polk Country.
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Layne, J.N. 1999. Checklist of Amphibians and Reptiles of the Archbold Biological Station, Highlands County, Florida.

Meshaka, Walter E. 1997. Herpetofauna of Buck Island Ranch, Lake Placid Florida: A Checklist.

Franz, R., D. Maehr, A. Kinlaw, C. O'Brien, and R.D. Owen. 2000. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Bombing Range Ridge, Avon Park Air Force Range, Highlands and Polk Counties, Florida.     

Amphibians and Reptiles, Status and Conservation in Florida. 2005. Meshaka Jr., W.E. and K.J. Babbitt, editors. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida. p. 257.


Thanks to Dick Bartlett, Walter Meshaka, Paul Moler, Kevin Enge, Kenney Krysko, and Rick Lavoy for providing information and photographs.



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