We happily share our beautiful island beaches with some downright phenomenal wildlife. Here’s a guide to some of the animals you might see as you sit on the beach or look out your cabin window.
Bottle-nose dolphins: Looking out over the Gulf, it’s not uncommon to see pods of dolphins passing by, their dorsal fins periodically rising up above the waves as they breathe and frolic. In fact, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, founded at nearby Mote Laboratory in 1970, is the longest-running study of its kind in the world.
Anoles: So many lizards! You’ll see Cuban anoles everywhere in a variety of shades, from pale brown to jet black, or native Florida anoles, which are sometimes bright green but can adjust their colors like chameleons. Far from pests, we love the lizards because they eat insects.
Gulls: Among our most prominent shorebirds are seagulls—most notably black-headed laughing gulls with their distinct, fanfare-like chatter, and the slightly larger ring-billed gulls, which have white heads, grey wings, and a black ring on the end of their yellow bills.
Terns: Our many local shorebirds also include a variety of terns, which have longer bills than gulls and often a white face with a black mask and an arrow-like crown of black feathers at the backs of their heads.
Herons and Egrets: The tall, dinosaur-like birds with long bills and even longer necks are egrets (white) and herons (grey or blue). While they like to wade for fish in calmer waters, you can also see them hunting snakes and lizards in grass and bushes.
Osprey: If you see a large, eagle-like bird of prey in Southwest Florida, it’s likely an osprey. These raptors primarily eat fish and build large nests high up in trees or on specially made platforms atop electric poles. While they do have brown wings, you can distinguish them from bald eagles by their white bellies and the dark strips on their heads. Even if you don’t spot the osprey, you’ll probably still hear their cry, which is a steady rhythm of five or six notes, each one higher-pitched than the last.
Sea turtles: Several sea turtle species love our soft white sand as much as we do, and we’re so lucky that they use our beach to create nests and lay their eggs in the summertime. Read more about them here.
Coquina: Among the shells you’ll see as you stroll the shore, right there in the wave wash, are little live coquina, pastel-colored clams about the size of a fingernail. The like to wriggle under the soft mud left by the retreating waves. They were once so prominent on Anna Maria that one of our island’s beaches is named for them.