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Herpetofaunal Surveys at Fort Matanzas National Monument

Turtles

Loggerhead Turtle – Caretta caretta

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turtle

Paddle-like front limbs and an enormous head identify the loggerhead sea turtle. It comes ashore at night to nest on the Fort Matanzas National Monument beach during May-August. The female crawls onto the upper beach above the high tide mark or into the dunes to dig her nest. About 100-125 eggs are laid, which hatch 50-60 days later. The hatchlings emerge at night and must find their way to the sea. The east coast of Florida from Fort Matanzas National Monument south to Jupiter Inlet is the largest loggerhead sea turtle rookery in the western Atlantic. The U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service lists the loggerhead sea turtle as a 'Threatened Species'.

Green Turtle – Chelonia mydas

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turtle

Green turtles come ashore to nest on the Fort Matanzas National Monument beach in June-July. Nesting occurs at night on the upper beach or dunes. About 100 golfball-sized eggs are laid, which hatch about 60 days later. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the green turtle as an 'Endangered Species'.

Leatherback Turtle – Dermochelys coriacea

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turtle

Leatherbacks are the largest of the sea turtles. Large adults may measure 7 feet (2.1 m) in length and weigh more than 1,000 pounds (454 kg). As suggested by their name, the shell of the leatherback is covered with a tough leathery skin rather than the horny scutes found on the shells of the other sea turtles. The frontlimbs are long and paddle-like. Leatherbacks nest on Fort Matanzas National Monument beaches during the summer months. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the leatherback as an 'Endangered Species'. It feeds on jellyfish. Occasionally one will swallow a discarded plastic bag, which it mistakes for a jellyfish. Unfortunately, the plastic bags can obstruct the turtle's intestine.

Gopher Tortoise – Gopherus polyphemus

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turtle

Gopher tortoises are one of the most abundant reptiles in Fort Matanzas National Monument. Gophers and gopher burrows can be found in all the open dry habitats, dunes, dunes meadows, and areas between patches of forest. Gophers feed on grasses, herbs, green brier, and cactus pads. Their flattened frontlimbs are used in digging a burrow up to 30 feet (9.14 m) long in the sandy soil.

The burrows, which end in an enlarged chamber, provide a secure shelter and stable environment not only for the gopher, but also for a large group of other animals, including the eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, indigo snakes, coachwhips, six-lined racerunners, mice, and several dozen species of insects, spiders and crustaceans. Because it provides secure habitat for so many other species, in the State of Florida the gopher tortoise is classified as a 'Species of Special Concern'. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists gopher tortoises as a 'Threatened Species'. Although gopher tortoises are not an aquatic species, they occasionally are found floating in the Matanzas River and Intracoastal Waterway, possibly having been caught in a rising tide while walking along the water's edge. Nevertheless, this may explain how gopher tortoises make their way to so many coastal islands.

Kemp's Ridley Turtle – Lepidochelys kempii

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Kemps ridley is one of the smallest of the sea turtles found in Florida waters. It rarely nests in Florida. It's largest nesting areas are on Gulf of Mexico beaches in northern Mexico and southern Texas. However, juveniles and adults occasionally wash ashore on Fort Matanzas National Monument beaches after being injured in shrimp trawls or in collisions with boats. The U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service lists Kemps Ridley as an 'Endangered Species'. It is probably the most endangered of all sea turtles.

Diamondback Terrapin – Malaclemys terrapin

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turtle

Diamondback terrapins occur in Florida's salt marsh estuaries and tidal creeks, including Fort Matanzas National Monument. During the day they forage through the salt marsh and tidal creeks where they feed on blue crabs, fiddler crabs, shrimp, snails, and occasionally on the tender shoots of the marsh vegetation. At night they bury themselves in the mud.

Box Turtle – Terrapene carolina

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Florida box turtles are found in the live oak hammock and dunes meadows in Fort Matanzas National Monument. They are fairly omnivorous, eating herbs, grasses, ferns, fungi, and other plants and also scavenging dead animals. Box turtles lay up to 8 eggs in mid-summer. A hatchling cannot close its shell. However, as it grows, a hinge develops across the middle of the lower shell that allows the front half and the rear half to close against the upper shell. This provides complete protection to the head and limbs.

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