The Cypress Wetlands support abundant populations of native wildlife. The forests, fresh and salt marshes, cypress swamps, and ponds provide habitat for a diverse community.
Over two hundred species of birds have been seen in the Port Royal area. Watch for signs of wildlife such as river otter, mink, white-tailed deer, marsh rabbit, oppossum, raccoon, gray squirrel, and small rodents.
There are approximately one hundred and ten species of reptiles and amphibians in Beaufort County, and many of them can be found in Port Royal. Diverse turtles, lizards, and snakes can often be spotted if you look carefully in the wetlands and woods along the trail. The most common are cooter and slider turtles, green anoles, lined and ground skinks, and non-poisonous snakes like the rat, brown water, and garter snakes. Central newts live in the open water and aquatic vegetation of the Cypress Wetlands, and a veriety of frogs and toads are common in other wetland and forested areas.
Alligators have lived here for millions of years. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, habitat loss and overhunting for their skin for shoes, purses, and belts almost drove them to extinction. Protestations in 1967 led to an increase; by 1987, their population had rebounded to healthy levels. The Chinese alligator is the only other type of alligator and they are critically endangered.
Alligators patrol the open water, hunting animals who would eat the baby birds from getting to the islands. They dig wallows in the marsh during dry periods, and these holes provide an oasis for fish, amphibians, and others who need that water to survive droughts.
During the late winter and spring, you may hear a male (bull) alligator calling to female (cow) alligators and warning male alligators that this is his territory. Mother alligators lay their eggs in the early summer and protect their nest for two months until it is time to help their hatchlings out of the nest to the water. The mothers stay nearby to protect them for up to three years. When threatened, the hatchlings call for their mother who will ferociously defend them.
Alligators in the Cypress Wetlands eat turtles, frogs, small mammals, and birds, and even each other when food is scarce.