Keys Critters

 Posted by at 12:03 am  Nick's Blog
Nov 092012

Today I thought I’d tell you about some of the critters we’ve encountered here in the Florida Keys. In the short time we’ve been here, we’ve encountered everything from fish to birds, reptiles, and even deer. Deer in the Florida Keys? You betcha!

On our first day here, we encountered this fellow, who looked to be about three feet long. There are three types of iguanas in the Florida Keys and are all extremely invasive. The green, Mexican spiny-tailed, and black spiny-tailed iguanas are all prevalent throughout the area. Green iguanas can grow up to six feet in length, reaching weights of forty pounds or more.


Iguana face5

Most originated with released pets, and since they have no natural predators in the Keys, they have taken over, causing damage to gardens and fruit trees, burrowing under sidewalks and seawalls, and their droppings carry the salmonella bacteria. They can also inflict nasty bites if handled, or deep scratches from their sharp claws. A recent article on the Keys News website said iguanas are taking over the historic cemetery in Key West, and one city councilman said it was “time to break out the baseball bats.”

Of course, there are seagulls everywhere. Miss Terry doesn’t like seagulls. They seem to think she is a perfect target, and she’s been “bombed” more times than she cares to remember. Yeah, I know, she probably doesn’t need this reminder.

But those are just one species of the hundreds of birds that can be found flying, swimming, and wading around the Keys. Everywhere you look there are birds.

Seagull flying

You can find any kind of wading bird you’d ever want to in the islands. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, but have rebounded thanks to federal laws to protect them.

Great egret

Pelicans are cool birds, and they are all over the place. I think I like pelicans because they look like they have an attitude and they seem to be about as clumsy as I am. Pelicans don’t land on the water so much as simply crashing into it.

Pelican attitude

Pelican landing in water

The Portuguese Man-Of-War is a jelly-like animal with a vicious sting. The toxin secreted from their tentacles are about seventy-five percent as powerful as cobra venom, and in extreme cases can cause serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with the heart and lungs.

Man O War

And about those deer…. The endangered Key deer are the smallest of all white-tailed deer, and the only place in the world they can be found are on Big Pine Key and neighboring No Name Key. Due to uncontrolled hunting and habitat destruction, in the 1940s their numbers were estimated at less than 50 animals. The establishment of the National Key Deer Refuge in 1957 and laws to protect them have allowed their population to grow to an estimated 600 deer today. Drive just about any side street on Big Pine and you’re likely to see Key deer. We saw this handsome buck standing in someone’s front yard.

Key deer are small, graceful animals; does weigh 45-65 pounds, and bucks can weigh 55-75 pounds. Adults average 24-28 inches at the shoulder. They feed on native plants such as red, black and white mangroves, thatch palm berries and other species of plants. And do you remember those iguanas we talked about? They are one of the biggest dangers Key deer face, second only to automobiles. The iguanas eat the same plants the deer depend on, and can quickly devastate deer habitat. Folks in the Keys love their special deer, and when you drive over the bridge onto Big Pine Key the speed limit drops to 45 MPH (35 MPH after dark), and be aware that it is strictly enforced and fines can be high.

And these are just some of the wildlife around us. There are also alligators, snakes, sharks, and all kinds of fish. And that doesn’t include the party animals that can be found on Duval Street in Key West!

Thought For The Day – Whoever said homemade is cheap has obviously never purchased craft supplies.

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Nick Russell

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  11 Responses to “Keys Critters”

  1. Very cool pictures, especially the brown pelican and the iguana face and the deer. I had no idea iguanas could be so destructive.

  2. You could have spared me the iguana pictures, Nick. My son has one and I hate the thing! It creeps me out just looking at it. He knows if he ever brings it out of his bedroom, or if it gets loose, it’s history

  3. Nick, I love your blog posts and read them faithfully everyday. Great job. Your quote for today really struck home for me as an avid crafter. I know how much everything costs me (my husband does not know, though) and I really need to share this one with all my friends. Hope you don’t mind.

    Kind of really want to go to the Keys–but, with all these critters that you showed today, I am really not to sure.

    Have a great day and a great weekend.

  4. Have you seen the chickens in Key West?

  5. Trisha – Come on down, you’ll love the Keys. These critters aren’t as bas as the snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, Gila monsters, etc in Arizona.

    Mary – We spent some time in Key West a few years ago and saw the chicken running loose.

  6. I loved the pictures of the animals as usual, Terry takes awesome pictures. I watched a program on Discovery Channel about a refuge for iguana’s that was totally destroyed during Hurricane Andrew and all the animals escaped and only a few were caught. I do not like them as I had friends who had them and his favorite thing to do when it was little was put it down my back. Lucky he never scratched me. I would much rather have a tarantula again for a pet.

  7. Hi Nick and Terry. Just wanted to tell Terry that her photographs are VERY good. She is an awesome photographer and I especially enjoyed the picture of the iguana although I don’t really need to see it in person. Enjoy your time in FL and hope to see you in the west sometime this winter.

  8. One of my fav stories about Key West is that ” for lack of better things to waste money on” the curators at the Hemmingway house there do DNA testing on the cats to insure that they remain direct decendants of his pet cat. As if there would any real proof of the beginning sample to compare… lol
    They say that the chickens there taste like cat… Let me know will ya?

  9. Don’t think that’s a Portuguese Man of War. Looks more like a standard jellyfish.

    A Portuguese Man of War looks more like a little boat that sticks up above the water. Like this:

    I’ve been stung by both, and believe me, there’s a world of difference!

  10. Kinda-new follower, new commenter. We’ve been to KW from our winter home near St Pete, but have never driven there. I’m wondering if there is any way authorities are trying to eradicate the iguanas? The little ones are cute, but not those big fellas!

  11. Barbara, here is an article about the problem with them in Key West. It doesn’t seem like much is being done at this point.

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