We are not the only ones to call Cape Coral home, several threatened or endangered species also live in the wonderful city of Cape Coral.  Animals like the burrowing owl (Cape Corals city bird), the gopher tortious, and the eastern indigo snake all call Cape Coral home. In this blog I’m going to talk about these animals, some background information on them, what is being done to protect them, and what you can do as a resident of Cape Coral to help keep these species around for generations to come.


The Burrowing Owl: 


In our last blog we talked a lot about burrowing owls and the annual burrowing owl festival. The burrowing owl is the city bird of Cape Coral and while it is on the threatened species list they can be found all around the Cape. They have only been on the threatened species list since late 2016.  Burrowing owls are cute little birds who unlike other owl species make their nests underground in burrows (hence the name burrowing owl). Burrowing owls are about the same height as a soda can and have a 20-24 inch wingspan. They play an important role in controlling the pest population of rats and insects in Cape Coral, which is a big reason we want to keep them here.  Burrowing owls first came to Cape Coral in the 1950’s as the land was being developed and cleared out. Burrowing owls love to make their burrows in empty lots and places without a lot of tree cover which is why they love Cape Coral. As the city has started to fill up and more houses being built every year on the empty lots the burrowing owl has been loosing its prime nesting areas. The owls will live in the same burrow for as long as they can, but land development has been causing them to relocate, and space is running out. Cape Corals city council has signed a few new bills to raise the penalties for destroying owl burrows, and made it so city police officers can enforce the statue protecting burrowing owls, and their burrows. One way to help the threatened burrowing owl that is highly recommended is to build a starter burrow in your yard to give the animal a home that may have been lost when the house was built. To make a starter burrow you must first find an area on your property that is open with little to no tree cover, then take a shovel and dig about a foot into the ground piling dirt around the entrance to the hole, lastly make a wooden perch in a T shape to get an owls attention.  We should all do this method because not only are you helping to save a threatened species but you’re house will be better protected from rodents insects and snakes!


         The Gopher Tortoise:


The gopher tortoise is an ancient North American reptile who has been around for around 60 million years but has been on the endangered species list since 1988. The main reason the gopher tortoise has started to go extinct is because of habitat loss. Just like the burrowing owl gopher tortoises dig burrows that they share with almost 350 other species. Since so many animals use their burrows they are a keystone species vital to to ecosystems they are a part of. If they were to go extinct there could be disastrous effects on other species that utilize their burrows for shelter. Because they like to build their burrows in flat sandy/grassy areas with little to no tree cover, they use the empty lots we build our homes on found throughout Cape Coral as their main source for suitable burrows. Their burrows have a distinct half moon shape at the entrance. Tortoises can be mistaken for turtles by some people and placed into water when found after they falsely assume the tortoise was going to the water, it is important to not do this because they are land living animals who will drown if put in a lake, canal, or stream. It is a felony to move, harass, feed, or kill a gopher tortoise, it is also a felony to destroy or damage the burrows and eggs. If you find a gopher tortoise is living in your yard here are a few things to do; keep small children and pets like dogs and cats away from the burrow, use tortoise friendly plants in your yard to keep them from having to cross the road to find food, mow around the burrow leaving the entrance alone, and do not fence or inhibit the movement or the tortoise in any way as it is against the law and can result in heavy fines. If you see a tortious crossing the road don’t be afraid to help him or her cross, but make sure you place the tortious in the same direction it was walking before you moved it. The gopher tortoise has been around for millions of years and unless we work to coexist with these ancient peaceful reptiles we may not see them much longer.


The Eastern Indigo Snake:                                                                                           



While not as cute as the owl, or as well liked as the tortoise, the eastern indigo snake is just as important and just as much in danger of becoming extinct. The eastern indigo snake is a large non venomous snake that lives along the east coast of the United States. They rarely bite people and while a bite may hurt it is never fatal, they are a bluish black color and have very smooth scales. The most notable characteristic of the eastern indigo snake is their ginormous size, males growing up to 8.5 feet and females growing to 6.5 they are hard to miss. While they may sound intimidating your view on them will change drastically when you find out what they eat. Their diet consists of lizards, frogs, pests like rats, and most importantly… every single species of venomous snake in Florida. Thats right, every species of dangerous snake is hunted by the eastern indigo. They are under the protection of the federal government and on the threatened species list, this means if you are caught harassing or killing these snakes you can be fined or put in jail. They are an apex predator in their ecosystems, they keep the populations of all species smaller than them under control which means less rats and venomous snakes in our community along as there is a decent population of eastern indigo snakes. The eastern indigo is one of the 350 species that uses gopher tortoises burrows as a home. If you encounter an eastern indigo snake you should leave it alone and allow it to go about it’s business hunting the snakes that can actually cause you harm. They can be found at the Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge in Cape Coral and in gopher tortoise burrows throughout the city. Without this very helpful species of snake we would see a jump in the numbers of rats and venomous snakes in the area which can lead to more often and more dangerous human animal interactions. By helping to save the burrowing owl, gopher tortoise, it will help the eastern indigo snake swell, making cape coral an even better place to live for all species, including us!