There are certain stereotypical images of swamps, and many people across the US resist treading too far for fear of what lies within. Often, these fears relate to the reptiles lurking in the water and vegetation. Those with fears of snakes know that many may live here unseen. Then there are those scared of encountering an alligator. Of course, others welcome these encounters and flock to places like the Everglades to marvel at the reptiles that live there.
The American alligator and American crocodile are some of the most deadly reptiles found in a swamp. Mix in snapping turtles and snakes such as the cottonmouth and diamondback snakes, and you realize why swamps are some of the most deadly places.
U.S. swamps, especially in Florida and Louisiana, are perfect for many reptile species. The survival of these reptile species in swamps comes down to the right areas of water in the right vegetation and, of course, a good supply of food. Many species rely on sloughs, which are channels of water deeper than the marshier areas. These channels provide the right environment for alligators, snakes, and turtles.
The American Alligator is widely associated with the Everglades, where they have become a major tourist attraction and are the state reptile in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Visitors can head out and feed them or visit them in centers to see their power up close.
The American alligator is the largest living alligator species in the world, so it is strange to think that as well as inhibiting the swamps of southern Florida, it is also found right across the wetlands of the state and into North Carolina.
At their largest, males can measure around 15ft long, making them a startling sight when seen lounging on golf courses or wandering into neighborhoods. At one point, the creature was actually endangered due to hunting. It is now a species of least concern on the IUCN index thanks to conservation and protection.
There is often the misconception that alligators come from America and crocodiles from Africa and Australia. But, there are species of both worldwide. The American crocodile actually shares its territory with the American alligator in South Florida. It has the ability to thrive in saltwater areas with no access to freshwater where necessary.
Surprisingly, there is evidence of the two coexisting in the same area. There is no need to fight or become territorial and waste energy as long as the food is plentiful. The American crocodile is a Vulnerable IUCN species, not afforded the same protections as the alligator. It is also less of a threat, as a more docile species and much smaller and lighter. You can also tell the difference between the two by looking at their snout. Alligators have a more broad, rounded snout, whereas the crocodiles are more narrow and tapered.
There are also many snake species in the waterways and surrounding forests.
Moving onto the snake species of North American swamps, the most infamous may be the water moccasin. This species is also known as the cottonmouth for its bright white mouth. Anyone living near swamps and wetlands in Southeastern states must be aware of these snakes’ look and pattern. They are distinguishable by their large head with that white mouth. This is because they are one of the most dangerous species in the area. They will bite if antagonized and have potent venom. There is a rare chance of it being fatal to humans.
The cottonmouth is one of many snakes to have evolved to become adept swimmers to survive in swamps and similar habitats. Other water snakes include the diamondback and northern water snakes, as well as garter snakes. This ability to swim and hunt at the water’s edge gives them a great place to see prey, hide in vegetation, and escape as needed.
Then we have the different turtles that make their homes in these wetlands and swamps.
The diamondback terrapin is a highly adaptive creature that can thrive in brackish coastal regions, which means that it is somewhere between salt and fresh water. Their range extends from the Florida Keys up to Cape Cod. They can thrive in the mangrove swamps of Florida. Sadly, increasing land development in these intermediate and marshy lands puts the species in a more vulnerable position.
Elsewhere, you may encounter one of the snapping turtles. These creatures are incredible predators in marshy and swampy landscapes, with good populations in Louisiana and other Eastern states. Many will feed on whatever they can find. Their sharp snapping jaws are great weapons and make them great hunters. The larger alligator snapping turtle has become almost entirely carnivorous and can take all kinds of creatures from snakes to armadillos at the water’s edge.
Unfortunately, there is a problem in some US swamps with invasive species. Another important point to note about the Everglades, as one of the most beloved swamp regions, is that an approximated 26% of species are non-native.
One of the most alarming is the Burmese python. This is a creature you may be familiar with in exotic collections. It is a beautiful but massive species that should not be in the Everglades. However, it is reported that federal authorities removed as many as 2000 of them from the park up to 2017. There are fears over their impact on mammal populations, and there is now a ban on those and three other exotic snake species.
The reptiles of the North American swamps are fascinating and demand respect.
America doesn’t mess around with its reptile species. Having the largest alligator species roaming Florida’s waterways is incredible, but when you add in the American crocodile, it is even more impressive. With these species, and the many water-dwelling snakes and turtles, there is a diversity in native reptile life. It is just a shame to see so many invasive species putting this complex ecosystem at risk. Be careful, but go and appreciate and respect the native species in our own swamps.