Diamondback Terrapin
Malaclemys terrapin

The diamondback terrapin is Kiawah’s only brackish water turtle. Diamondback terrapins can be found throughout the creeks and rivers surrounding Kiawah Island. Most of the time all you will see is a head sticking up above the water, though terrapins can also be seen sunning on creek banks and females will venture on land in the summer to lay eggs.These terrapins grow are usually between five to eight inches long (females are twice as big as males) and weigh between 0.5 lbs and 1.5 lbs. They get their name from the striking diamond-shaped pattern on their top shell. They are typically light brown or gray on top and yellow to olive on the bottom. Their whitish-gray skin is covered with unique black spots and wavy markings.

Conservation Status:

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, terrapins were considered a culinary delicacy and terrapin soup was a common menu item in most fine restaurants along the Atlantic coast.  For this reason, terrapin populations suffered a significant decline due to over-harvesting.  As the taste for terrapin soup diminished, terrapin populations were able to rebound but they continue to face significant threats at the present time.  One of the biggest threats to our local terrapin population is the accidental death of terrapins in commercial and recreational crab traps. Because of this threat a device, known as a Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD), can be installed into the openings of crab traps to dramatically decrease the likelihood of terrapins being accidentally captured and drowned. Property owners and visitors alike are encouraged to utilize BRDs. If you already own a crab trap, you can take it to the Nature Center at Night Heron Park to be outfitted free of charge with a BRD. If you are planning to purchase a crab trap, ask your vendor if they have traps already fitted with BRDs.

Kiawah Island has been a focal point for terrapin research. Researchers have been capturing and marking terrapins in Kiawah creeks since 1984.

Photo by Pamela Cohen

American Alligator
Alligator mississippiensis

Kiawah Island is home to a very healthy population of American alligators.  They can be seen in almost all of the 183 brackish and freshwater ponds which are interspersed throughout the Island. Most of the alligators seen on Kiawah will be between 3-8 feet in length, though larger alligators up to 11 feet are present in some areas of the Island.

Alligators are cold-blooded which means that they cannot self-regulate their body temperature as humans do. For this reason, alligators are most active during the spring, summer and fall. They will often be seen basking on pond edges in the sun in an attempt to warm their body temperature, especially during colder weather.

In January of 2015, the Kiawah Conservancy announced the undertaking of a new Alligator Study lead by Dr. Louis Guillette. Dr. Guillette is the director of Marine Biomedicine and Environmental Sciences Center and a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at MUSC. He is also the endowed chair of Marine Genomics for the South Carolina Center of Economic Excellence. 

By observing local alligators as "sentinel species," Dr. Guillette's research focuses on how chemicals and contaminants interact with the environment in ways that impact human health. His work often has him out in the field, whether doing research on crocodiles in South Africa or local alligators. In his wildlife biology research for the past 20 years, Dr. Guillette has found links between environmental contaminants and infertility and reproductive issues in alligator populations from Florida to South Carolina.

"People don't appreciate how much wildlife and the things living around us can tell us about the health of the environment and actually tell us something about our own health. As we like to say, if the environment isn't healthy for a baby alligator or a baby dolphin, it probably isn't healthy for us as well." says Dr. Guillette.

The addition of Kiawah Island as a study site in his long-term alligator research effort, will provide critical information on how these long-lived reptiles continue to adapt to rapidly changing environments along the southeastern coastal plain. In addition, information ascertained from the study, along with a better understanding of current and changing conditions, will better equip the Kiawah Conservancy in it's habitat and wildlife preservation efforts.

Currently the researchers have captured and studied more than 26 alligators, taking tissue, blood and urine samples from each. These samples will be analyzed for a variety of toxicological data. Trapping is anticipated to continue throughout the summer with a total of 50 alligators being sampled this year. Researchers are eager to discuss their work, so if you see them while your enjoying a leisurely stroll, don't hesitate to stop and talk with them. They're happy to answer any questions you may have.  You're sure to enjoy the experience and learn some new and interesting facts about our modern dinosaurs. Stay tuned for more updates and information on this exciting study.

Photo by Pamela Cohen

Lynx rufus

Kiawah Island is home to a healthy, stable population of bobcats. They can be seen in all parts of the Island, typically during the hours from dusk to dawn. Bobcats pose no threat to humans and serve a vital role in managing populations of rats, mice, and deer on the Island. Because of their vital importance to the Island's ecosystem, many research projects have been conducted to better understand their habitat needs and requirements.

Learn more about the Town of Kiawah Island and Kiawah Conservancy's Bobcat GPS Research at http://www.wildlifeatkiawah.com/2014bobcats.html

Photo by Pamela Cohen

Wood Stork
Mycteria americana

The wood stork is the only breeding stork in the United States.  They are often seen circling high in the air over the marsh or feeding on shallow marsh flats. Wood storks are tactile feeders, probing shallow water habitats for a variety of aquatic animals.

Photo by Pamela Cohen

Painted Bunting
Passerina ciris

The painted bunting, like many other birds, is a neotropical migrant, meaning that they migrate from the United States to the Caribbean and South America for the winter. Many neotropical migrants and other ground nesting birds are declining in numbers due to habitat loss, nest parasitism and predation, particularly by feral cats. Feral cats are capable of dramatically reducing songbird populations if left outside.

Painted buntings are common in the spring, summer and fall and can be found in shrubland, marsh edges and dunes.  They particularly enjoy white millet and will visit bird feeders supplying it.

Photo by Paul Roberts