Jekyll Island Wildlife species and habitats

The Georgia coast contains many unique habitats. Although the coastline is only 90 miles long it contains a third of all coastal wetlands on the East Coast. Most of these wetlands are found in the region referred to as the Golden Isles which are made up of Brunswick and its four barrier islands; St Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Sea Island and Little St Simons. These islands actually contain 28 percent of the coastal wetlands of the east coast of the united states. Jekyll Island in particular is owned by the State of Georgia, which has created zoning that allows 65 percent of the island to remain in a natural state. I have been fortunate enough to spend some time in this region and it is well worth the 4-hour drive from metro Atlanta to get there.


Driftwood beach. Captured by Lauren Schramm


Driftwood beach on Jekyll Island is among the most well known in the region. Strong currents let to erosion which caused the trees to die, which were then preserved by the salt air. The in the southern part of the beach there are piles of large rocks. In these rocks, you can find sea squirts, blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), and some species of crabs. Be sure to visit the beach at low tide as the critters in these rocks can only be accessed at this time. In addition, as the tide rises most of the beach goes underwater and you will be forced to either walk back in the uplands or in the water. If you walk northward on the beach you can reach a bike path that runs through a salt marsh. If you continue north you will eventually end up in St Simons Sound. This marsh contains a lot of bird species, in fact, e-bird has reports of over 304 species here. If you don’t have an e-bird you can view birds that have been seen on the beach on this inaturalist page.  This is in part due to the fact that the beach serves as a critical stop-over habitat for migrating shorebirds. Highlights include the threatened birds like the piping plover (Charadrius melodus), wood stork (Mycteria americana), golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera), red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis), black-capped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata) and Fea’s petrel (Pterodroma feae).


A wood stork (Mycteria americana)


Three species of crab have been documented on the island and include Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), C, and Atlantic sand fiddler crab (Leptuca pugilator). The Atlantic blue crab was actually a species from Asia and Europe that has been introduced to the East Coast. They are a very common species in estuaries and are a favorite species among crabbers, in fact, there are no limits how many crabs one can harvest. While the Atlantic blue crab’s bright coloration makes it stand out the Atlantic ghost crab has a sandy color which allows it to hide from predators. The sand crab only enters the water to moisten its gills or to lay eggs. Even then they prefer to have waves wash over them and not enter any further. The Atlantic sand fiddler crab also prefers to live outside the water and typically lives in a burrow in the mud of coastal wetlands. During low tide, they will leave their burrows and search for food. They feed by putting sand or mud particles in their mouth, scrapping off any food material and putting the sediment back in the form of a feeding pellet. 


An wood stork (Mycteria americana). Captured by Lauren Schramm. 


A small population of American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) can be found on Jekyll Island. These are typically removed from beaches when that are seen to reduce conflicts with humans. Other less exciting reptiles include 11 species of lizards, 2 turtles, and 29 species of snakes. One of the lizards is the island glass lizard (Ophisaurus compressus). This lizard is actually a legless lizard and can easily be confused with a snake. They are able to drop their tails and live on barrier islands which is why they have been given the name island glass lizard. The plain-bellied water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) is another one of these reptile species found on the island. Thier main diet consists of amphibians and so they prefer to live in wetlands, like the one near the bike path. Here the pond slider, also called slider turtle (Trachemys scripta) can also be found. This species is one of the most widespread turtle species and has three subspecies. One of these subspecies is the red-eared slider which is a common pet species.


An island glass lizard (Ophisaurus compressus)


Unfortunately the island is also home to several introduced species including; Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto), rock pigeon (Columba livia), purple martin (Progne subis), common starling (Sturnus vulgaris), greenhouse frog (Eleutherodactylus planirostris)Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis), Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), house mouse (Mus musculus),  fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), European honey bee (Apis mellifera), brown anole (Anolis sagrei), Mahonia bealei (Beale’s barberry), and house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus).


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