The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) has changed little from its original form some 180 million years ago. Alligators were hunted to near extinction in the 1950's and early 1960's, but protective action by state and federal governments helped keep them from disappearing completely. This type of protection allowed the Alligator population to increase. They were removed from "total protection" status in 1987. The alligator now has a status of "threatened due to similarity of appearance" because of its likeness to other crocodilians worldwide that still receive protection. The removal from total protection status allows Georgia and other southeastern states greater flexibility in managing alligator populations.
The West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), one of only four species of sirenians that exist in the world, is the only member of the order Sirenia that lives in the United States. Large seal-shaped creatures with flippers as forelimbs and paddle-like rounded tails, manatees average 10 feet in length and 1,000 - 2,500 in weight as adults.
American oystercatchers are large, boldly patterned shorebirds that normally grow to 16-17 inches in length. The oystercatcher's dark brown back contrasts with its black head and neck, red eye-ring, and yellow iris to make it distinctive from other shorebirds. A white underside and pale flesh colored legs are also traits of the oystercatcher. A flattened 4-inch blunt, chisel like bill ranging in color from deep orange to red with a yellowish tip completes the look of the oystercatcher.
The eastern oyster feeds on plankton and algae. It has numerous predators, including birds such as the American oystercatcher, ocean dwellers such as sea anemones, sea stars, sea nettles, some parasites, and humans. About seven weeks after hatching, the eastern oyster reaches sexual maturity. Spawning season is from late spring to early fall during warm weather. Females may release more than 100 million eggs during a season. Only about one percent of the fertilized eggs reach the next stage of maturity.
You’ve probably seen them. Nestled among mats of seaweed-looking animals like bryozoans and hydroids, these plump little creatures evoke an irresistible urge to poke at them and make them squirt. But be careful! If you poke them too hard the animal itself might explode and so will end your fun and its existence. The animal in question is Molgula manhattensis, or the Sea Grape. The sea grape is a common constituent of the thriving communities found growing on floating docks, piers and boat bottoms throughout the creeks and rivers of coastal Georgia.
Only seven species of sea turtles can be found in the oceans of the world, five of which are found in the waters off Georgia’s coast. The loggerhead (Caretta caretta) is the only species to nest here regularly on islands such as Jekyll, Sea, Sapelo, Ossabaw and other barrier islands. The other four species, including the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), green (Chelonia mydas) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), prefer more tropical nesting locales yet use the Georgia coast for food and shelter and as a travel corridor to other destinations.
The wood stork is a large, long-legged wading bird about 33-44 inches in height with a wingspan of 59-65 inches, and a large, down-curved bill. The plumage is mostly white, with the wing-tips, trailing edge of the wings, and tail colored black with a greenish sheen. Long black legs lead to pink toes. Adults have black bills, and have no feathers on their head and neck, but instead have black, scaly looking skin. Juveniles are yellow billed and have sparse, hair-like feathers on their head and neck.