Genius Preserve Fauna

The Genius Preserve is active with myriad species of animal despite the limiting factor of its small size. The Preserve functions as primary habitat for several small species of animal and as an ecological Stepping Stone for migrating and moving species. The lakeshores provide habitat for aquatic mammals as well as many wading birds. Mammals identified on the preserve include nine-banded armadillos, gray squirrels, raccoons, marsh rabbits and river otters, who most likely nest along the lakeshore. A family of red foxes—including four kits born in the spring of 2006—inhabit the remnant citrus grove.

Many reptiles have been sighted on the Preserve and lakeshores: American alligators, common cooters, Florida softshell turtles, black racers, yellow rat snakes, Eastern garter snakes, cottonmouth snakes, and a variety of lizards. There is also a gopher tortoise population on the Preserve; at least three active burrows have been identified, indicating that other burrowing animals might also be present.

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

size at maturity The red fox typically reaches a length of about 3 feet from nose to tail and weighs only about 10 to 15 pounds.

habitat The habitat of the red fox varies; they prefer open areas of oak habitat as well as neglected or abandoned citrus groves. The den is usually between 20 and 40 feet long and is used primarily for breeding. Sometimes the fox will take over an abandoned burrow from another animal such as an armadillo, but the fox will add tunnels and exits to make it easier to thwart a predator if necessary. Once the breeding season ends (usually in late August), the den is abandoned until the following breeding season.

diet The red fox subsists mainly on a diet of small mammals, however, they will also eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fruits. Red foxes are predators, however, they are also opportunistic and will eat whatever is available.

description The red fox’s back and top of head are rusty; the underparts are white, as are the neck, throat and the tip of the tail. The ears are distinctly pointed and outlined in black. The feet and front legs are also typically black. The coat is very fluffy, giving the fox the appearance of being much heavier.

Red foxes are solitary creatures, however they tend to mate with the same partner for life, returning to the same den for each breeding season. They are difficult animals to observe in the wild as they are shy, cautious and nocturnal, resting during the day and prowling for food at dusk, dawn or throughout the night.


NORTHERN RIVER OTTER (Lutra canadensis)

size at maturity Male river otters typically grow to about 4 feet in length from nose to tail, and weigh up to 40 pounds; the female otter is slightly smaller.

habitat River otters live along clean, forested rivers and lakes. They create permanent nests in banks with entrances aboveground and underwater.

diet River otters eats a variety of aquatic and terrestrial organisms including fish, crustaceans, amphibians, small reptiles, birds, insects and occasionally small mammals.

description River otters have thick dark brown to blackish fur; their bellies are lighter—usually yellowish, but also can be silvery or grayish brown. The tail is long and pointed at the tip. They are mammals, however, much of their life is spent in the water. They have special adaptations—a streamlined body, webbed feet, a rudder-like tail, eyes and ears that form a seal to keep out water, and the ability to hold their breath for up to four minutes—that allow them to thrive in the aquatic environment. They are also proficient divers and swimmers; the young are borne on land and therefore must be taught to swim by their mothers. River otters are often seen swimming or floating with their heads upright and above water. They are known for their engaging playfulness.


GOPHER TORTOISE (Gopherus polyphemus) 

size at maturity On average, the gopher tortoise reaches about 12 to 24 inches in length, with a width of about half the length.

habitat The gopher tortoise is a terrestrial tortoise, preferring to excavate burrows in sunny areas of well-drained, sandy soils where the water table is not an issue. These burrows offer the tortoises a place to sleep, hibernate and remain protected from predators and harsh weather. The burrows extend up to 20 feet down and 40 feet long. Active burrows are elliptically shaped with an apron clear of debris; often, there are visible tracks going into the entrance. Abandoned burrows are usually covered with debris such as leaves and twigs and are sometimes caved in. Inactive burrows have an appearance somewhere in between active and abandoned, depending on how recent the gopher tortoise residence. The gopher tortoise typically lays its eggs in a hole within the burrow, but sometimes will lay its eggs away from the burrow or deep within.

diet Gopher tortoises mainly eat low-growing vegetation such as wiregrass, gopher apple and soft-leaved forbs; they also prefer prickly pear cactus, saw palmetto berries and other fruits and have been known to eat insects as well.

description The carapace of the mature gopher tortoise shell is grayish to light brown and elliptical to oval with grooved geometric rings. The plastron is flat and pale yellow. Their front legs are flat like shovels, but their hind legs are short, round and stocky. Gopher tortoises can live to an age of over 60 years.

The gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species because so many other animals utilize its burrows. It is estimated that between 250 and 350 species of animal utilize the burrows in addition to the tortoise; some actually share the burrow with the tortoise while others move into abandoned burrows. Gopher tortoises are also helpful in disseminating seeds through their excrement.


Other fauna identified on the Genius Preserve


Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis)

green tree frog (Hyla cinerea)

pig frog (Lithobates grylio)

slimy salamander (Plethodon glutinosus)


nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris)

raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)


American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

black racer (Coluber constrictor)

common cooter (Pseudemys (Chrysemys) floridana)

cottonmouth snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

Eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius)

Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

Florida soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx ferox)

ground skink (Scincella lateralis)

green anole (Anolis carolinensis) 

ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus)

rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus)

yellow rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta)