Protected Species

Safeguarding Species

Some plant or animal species are experiencing declining numbers in population usually due to a decrease in available habitat. When the population of a species becomes critically low the Federal or State government may designate the plant or animal as a Protected Species. In Florida, there are several levels of Protected Species including Listed Species identified as Endangered, Threatened or Species of Special Concern or other Protected Species such as migratory birds or over harvested plants. There are a number of Protected Species that may occur on lands within St. Johns County. It is the County’s goal to assist the public and other governing bodies to take the appropriate steps for the safeguarding of Protected Species.

Anastasia Island Beach Mouse

Where Found
The Anastasia Island Beach Mouse (Peromyscus polionotus phasma) is listed as a federally endangered species. They live in the sand dunes of Anastasia Island and on the unnamed barrier island north of St. Augustine Inlet at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.

About the AIBM
They have a light buff-colored back, pure white underparts, and indistinct, white markings on their nose and face. The Anastasia Island Beach Mouse depends on a diet of sea oats and dune panic grass and coincidently inhabits the sand dunes where these species grow. They dig burrows for nesting and food storage and sometimes they will live in an old Ghost Crab hole.

The Anastasia Island Beach Mouse is primarily threatened by beach and residential development, which has eliminated suitable habitat. Predators such as raccoons, skunks, snakes, great-blue herons, dogs, and cats pursue the species. Other predators include house mice and free-ranging house cats. Status: Endangered.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoises
Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are a Florida threatened species which utilize a variety of upland habitats, from beach dunes to upland scrub and pine flatwoods. Gopher tortoises are vegetarian reptiles and regulate their temperature from their environment and dig a deep burrow to avoid the summer heat and allow retreat from the winter cold. Gopher tortoises are considered a “keystone species” because their burrows are utilized by over 300 other species, which do not have the ability to construct the burrow themselves. Gopher tortoises have spade feet, which are excellently adapted for digging, and their holes are easily distinguishable from other burrowing animals by the unique dome-shape. The Gopher Tortoise protected status is due to overharvesting for food and shell-based items. Status: Threatened.

Eastern Indigo Snake

Eastern Indigo snake
Eastern Indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) is a Federally threatened species which are a very shiny, jet-black color and can grow up to six feet long. Indigo snakes live primarily in Gopher tortoise burrows within upland scrub, flatwoods, and beach dune habitats. Like most snakes, they are reptiles that are active during the day preferring to warm themselves in the sun. Indigo snakes regularly feed on mammals, birds, frogs and other snakes. The Indigo snake’s protective status is due to disappearing habitat and overharvesting for the pet industry because their gentle nature made them ideal pets. Status: Threatened.

Florida mouse

Florida mouse
The Florida mouse (Podomys floridanus) also known as the “Gopher Mouse” is a Florida species that lives primarily in Gopher tortoise burrows within upland flatwoods, scrub, with sub-species colonizing beach dune habitats. It is found exclusively in Florida and is the only endemic mammal in the state. Like most rodents, they are primarily nocturnal and prefer to forage at night. Florida mice are omnivorous feeding on seeds and nuts, as well as insects and other invertebrates. Florida mice protective status is primarily due to the habitat loss and the decline of the Gopher Tortoise and introduction of predators such as feral cats and dogs. Status: No longer listed, but part of the state’s Imperiled Species Management Plan.

Listed Birds

Southeastern American Kestrel
(Falco sparverius paulus) – The kestrel is the smallest and most common falcon seen in St. Johns County. It is readily identified by its russet back and tail with the double black stripes on its white face. The bird is about 10 1/2” in length and can often be seen perched on power lines adjacent to open fields. In these fields, they hunt insects, reptiles and small mammals often hovering over prey before pouncing. The male has slate blue on its wings. The call is a shrill killy, killy, killy. They nest in cavities of trees (naturally created or abandoned by woodpeckers). State Status: Threatened. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Little Blue Heron
(Egretta caerulea) – During most of the year, this wading bird is slate blue all over. During the breeding season the head and neck become a reddish-purple. They can be seen feeding in ponds, lakes, rivers and coastal marshes throughout the County. They are very slow methodical feeders and mainly consume fish, amphibians and invertebrates. They are colony nesters and nest with other herons in trees overhanging wetlands. State Status: Threatened. Cornell Ornithology Lab: All About Birds

Tricolored Heron
(Egretta tricolor) – This slender medium sized heron was known for a long time as the Louisiana Heron. It has a white belly and foreneck which contrasts with its dark blue upper parts. Its bill is long and slender. This heron is more commonly found along the salt marsh habitats of the Intracoastal Waterway and creeks. It feeds primarily on fish and invertebrates. They are also colony nesters and nest with other herons in trees overhanging wetlands. State Status: Threatened. Cornell Ornithology Lab: All About Birds

White Ibis
(Eudocimus albus) – This bird is all white in the adult plumage with a very distinct re-curved bill. The juveniles are brown and molt into their adult white feathers typically by the second year. The white adults have dark wing tips and pink facial skin. They are often seen probing for invertebrates along our local marsh habitats. Many people may have seen them on their lawns or at the Castillo de San Marcos foraging for large insects during storm events. State Status: No longer listed. Cornell Ornithology Lab: All About Birds

Wood Stork
(Mycteria Americana) – The largest wading bird in St. Johns County, the wood stork is easily identified by its size alone. Their wing span can be over 5 feet and they stand about 3.5 feet tall. Their white bodies contrast with the black flight feathers and tail. Wood storks can often be seen feeding along ditches and retention areas throughout the County. They are a tactile feeder, holding their mouth open and closing it when contacted by fish or invertebrates. This reaction time is one of the fastest in the animal kingdom. They nest in colonies, typically over large swampy areas. One such colony is located in the Matanzas Forest in St. Johns County. State Status: Threatened. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission


West Indian Manatee

The West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) is a large, gray aquatic mammal that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh between 800 and 1,200 pounds. Due to dwindling populations in the 1970s, the manatee became a federally listed endangered species and is still protected both federally and at the state level. The Florida manatee population has grown to around 7,500 animals and as a result, the species was reclassified from an endangered to a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act in May 2017.

Manatees are found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas especially where concentrations of freshwater vegetation are found. Manatees are a migratory species and during the winter are concentrated in Florida. During the summer months, they can travel as far west as Texas and north as Massachusetts. Manatees are slow-moving creatures and most of their time is spent eating vegetation, resting, and traveling.

They have no natural enemies and have been known to live as long as 60 years. A high number of manatee fatalities are from human-related causes, especially collisions with watercraft. They are also prone to ingesting fishing debris and other litter. However, the most serious threat facing the manatee today is loss of habitat. Status: Endangered.


Report violations online or call 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922). Mobile users can also call #FWC or *FWC.

Manatee Protection Plan

North Atlantic Right Whale

The North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is a large baleen whale hunted to near extinction for their oil by early whalers. Today there are less than 450 individuals making them one of the most endangered marine mammals in U.S. waters. The continental shelf waters off Georgia and Florida are the only known calving area for North Atlantic Right Whales (present November through April).

They can reach up to 55 feet in length, weigh up to 70 tons, and are identified by their lack of a dorsal fin, v-shaped spout, and distinctive patches of rough skin on their head called callosities. If you see a Right Whale please call 1-888-97-Whale.

Nearly all of the few remaining North Atlantic right whales occur off of eastern North America. Two other right whale species occur in the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Hemisphere.

Threats and Conservation
Entanglement and vessel strikes are the leading causes of death for North Atlantic right whales. Entanglement in rope and net from commercial fishing gear causes debilitating injuries, infection, and prolonged death. Modifications to fishing gear, area and seasonal fishery closures, and reducing the amount of fishing gear in the water, especially rope, can help reduce entanglement. Conservation efforts and regulations to reduce fatal vessel strikes include routing of ships and reducing vessel speed in areas when and where whales are known to occur, as well as alerting mariners to the presence of whales.

Observing From a Distance
North Atlantic right whales keep close to the coast. On their migrations between summer feeding grounds in Canada and winter calving areas off Georgia and Florida, the whales pass close to several large metropolitan areas with busy ports. If observing from the beach you are looking for a large long black object moving across the water. This is typically referred to as “gatorin.” Once the whales reach our waters they don’t typically breach because their energy is focused on calving and feeding their young.

Approaching whales or remaining within 500 yards of them is against the federal law.

If you see a Right Whale please call 1-888-97-Whale or 1-888-404-FWCC.


Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are amongst the oldest creatures on earth. Each summer female sea turtles return to their natal beach from many miles away, dragging themselves on to shore they use their back flippers to dig a nest where she deposits nearly 100 soft leathery eggs the size of ping pong balls. After incubating for about two months, the eggs begin to hatch, and the 2 inch long hatchlings emerge from the sand at night. Under natural conditions, the hatchlings use the bright sky to find the ocean. Sea turtles are found in many different oceans around the world except the arctic and can range in size from 3 feet to 9 feet long. They are threatened by beach development, fisheries, and over harvesting of eggs. Meet the Sea Turtles!

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles
The Bald Eagle is the national emblem of the Unites States and has long been a spiritual symbol for Native Americans. Learn more about Bald Eagles

Fox Squirrel

The Florida fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is a distinctive and charismatic creature that stands out due to its size, striking coloration, and acrobatic behavior. It’s an important part of the ecosystem in the southeastern United States, contributing to seed dispersal and playing a role in the food web. FWC Fox Squirrel