Experience Hilton Head

Get to know some of the critters that call the Lowcountry home

A dolphin swims along the side of a boat in Broad Creek on Hilton Head Island. Local wildlife experts and scientists urge people to keep their distance from dolphins and manatees, two mammals frequently seen in local waters. A federal law makes feeding or harassing the sea creatures illegal.
A dolphin swims along the side of a boat in Broad Creek on Hilton Head Island. Local wildlife experts and scientists urge people to keep their distance from dolphins and manatees, two mammals frequently seen in local waters. A federal law makes feeding or harassing the sea creatures illegal. Staff photo

The Lowcountry is a nature lover’s paradise. Water birds, lots of alligators and friendly dolphins are just some of the animals that live in Beaufort County’s rich eco-system.  To learn more, visit the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources website, www.dnr.sc.gov.

ALLIGATORS

The American alligator is a cold-blooded animal. It’s not uncommon to see an alligator sunning itself on the banks of  area ponds and lagoons.  Because alligators are regularly observed lazily basking along ponds and lagoons, many people mistakenly assume that they are docile and harmless. Normally, alligators will stay away from humans because people are too large to be suitable prey.  Their diet consists of whatever they can catch. Babies feed on insects, shrimp, tadpoles, frogs and fish. Adults will eat turtles, fish, raccoons, birds and dead animals. When fed by humans, it can become aggressive. An alligator should never be approached and should never be fed — it’s dangerous and illegal. 

LOGGERHEAD SEA TURTLES

The loggerhead sea turtle is South Carolina’s state reptile. The turtles usually leave the cold coastal waters in the winter to follow the warm Gulf Stream. In the summer, sea turtles nest on beaches on Hilton Head, Daufuskie, Fripp and Hunting islands. Turtles weighing up to 300 pounds emerge from the ocean, dig holes in the sand, and deposit as many as 120 eggs on the upper part of the beach. From May 1 to Oct. 31, a Town of Hilton Head Island “lights out” ordinance prohibits any artificial lights along the oceanfront from 10 p.m. until dawn. Artificial lights can discourage the  turtles from leaving the ocean to lay eggs or disorient adults after they have laid the eggs, or hatchlings leaving the nests, making them unable to find their way back to sea. 

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN

The bottlenose dolphin is one of the most well known species of marine mammals. Bottlenose dolphins tend to migrate into bays, estuaries and river mouths. According to NOAA, feeding or attempting to feed wild dolphins is prohibited and is punishable by fines and/or jail time. 

WADING BIRDS

Wading birds are a common sight on the banks of many Lowcountry ponds, rivers and lagoons. Members of this group include herons, egrets and ibises. These birds tend to have long legs, necks and bills — features that are used for capturing prey while wading in shallow water.  These three species are easily distinguished from each other by size or color of the bill or legs: the white ibis has a scarlet bill and legs; the snowy egret has yellow feet; and the great egret is tall with a yellow bill and black legs.

EASTERN BROWN PELICANS

The eastern brown pelican, once listed in South Carolina as an endangered species, is commonly seen flying in flocks over the ocean, beaches and estuaries. This large marine bird feeds exclusively on fish, and has a unique feeding behavior. It plunge-dives into the water, and while submerged, it uses its expandable throat pouch to take in both water and fish. As the pelican resurfaces, it drains the water from its pouch and then tilts its head upward to swallow the catch.  

OSPREYS

Also called fishing eagles or sea hawks, ospreys are large raptors often seen flying over Lowcountry waters gripping fish in their talons. The birds build large nests on high platforms. Look for their nests on electrical towers, the tops of light posts and tall highway signs. The osprey’s back is a brownish black and it has a white breast with brownish spots. The bird’s plumage is dense and oily and enables it to dive into the water and snatch fish.   

BE SNAKE SAFE IN THE SUMMERTIME

The Palmetto Poison Center is warning people to watch their step and pay close attention while enjoying outside summer activities.  During these warm months snakes are on the move and they will continue their travel through the fall as their mating season ends. 

There are several venomous snakes in South Carolina including the canebrake rattlesnake, pigmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth and coral snake. Snakes generally are not aggressive and bite for two main reasons: to obtain food and to defend against prey. 

Be careful when working out in the yard, especially in dense brush. Snakes blend in very well  to their environment. Many people are often bitten while gardening. The Palmetto Poison center recommends treating all snakes as poisonous and advise against picking them up.

While the majority of poisonous snake bites are not fatal, they can cause major complications.  If you are bitten by a snake here are some things you need to know:

• Remain calm



• Wash the bite with soap and water



• Do not apply a tourniquet or ice



• Do not try to suck the venom from the bite site



• Seek immediate medical attention



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