Wildlife in Fort Myers and Sanibel: A Guide to the Local Fauna

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Nature’s beauty abounds in Southwest Florida. Wildlife in Fort Myers and Sanibel includes some of the most unique creatures on the planet. From the once-critically endangered manatee to alligators and birds, you’ll find so much nature to experience here.

Wildlife in Fort Myers and Sanibel includes crabs, reptiles, fish, birds, marine life, and much more. Nature lovers will truly find something special to see no matter whether you’re on the mainland or on the island.

Port Sanibel Marina makes it easy to enjoy nature from an eco charter or from your table at our waterfront restaurant. Let’s dive into the details and learn more about what makes the wildlife in Fort Myers and Sanibel special and what you’ll see when you’re visiting the area.

Where Are Fort Myers and Sanibel Island?

Fort Myers and Sanibel Island are located in Southwest Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Myers is situated on the mainland, while Sanibel Island is a barrier island just off the coast, less than 25 miles from the center of Fort Myers. 

Fort Myers and Sanibel Island are known for their beautiful white-sand beaches, warm weather, and abundance of wildlife, making them a year-round destination for nature lovers and beachgoers alike.

What Animals Live on Fort Myers Beach

What Animals Live on Fort Myers Beach?

The Fort Myers Beach area is home to an abundance of wildlife, including a wide variety of birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals. Some of the most common animals you can expect to see include:

  • Crabs such as leopard crabs, ghost crabs, and hermit crabs
  • Reptiles such as alligators and tortoises
  • Birds such as pelicans, frigate birds, spoonbills, and egrets
  • Fish such as rays, sawfish, mosquitofish, and pufferfish
  • Marine life such as coral, octopus and jellyfish, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, and more.

What Types of Animals are on Sanibel Island?

Sanibel Island is just as diverse as Fort Myers when it comes to wildlife. With more than 6,400 acres dedicated to the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, it’s no wonder that such a vast number of animals love to call this land home. As a result, you can expect to find animals such as flamingos, alligators, manatees, coyotes, bobcats, lizards, bats, raccoons, river otters, pigs, squirrels, and armadillos.

Another kind of animal you’ll see on Sanibel Island are the tiny creatures that live inside live seashells. After these creatures have abandoned their homes, they leave behind beautiful shells to collect. Learn more about Southwest Florida’s best shelling.

Can You See Dolphins in Fort Myers, Florida?

Fort Myers is one of the best places in Florida to see dolphins in their natural habitat! You can often spot them swimming and playing just offshore, or you can take a boat tour, like an eco-tour charter,  for an up-close encounter. 

Are There Crocodiles on Sanibel Island?

There are no crocodiles on Sanibel Island, but there are alligators! Alligators can be found in most of the waterways around Sanibel, and they can often be seen sunbathing on the banks or swimming through the marshes. Be sure to keep your distance if you see one – alligators are known for being very territorial and can be dangerous if provoked. However, they rarely venture out to the ocean, so you’re not going to find any alligators lingering on the beachside.

Where Can I See Wildlife in Fort Myers?

There are many dedicated areas around Fort Myers that make it easy to view the gorgeous wildlife of the area. Check out the following places if you’re interested in seeing wildlife in Fort Myers:

  • Calusa Natura Center And Planetarium:  This 105-acre sanctuary is full of nature to enjoy. You’ll find a natural history museum, interpretive exhibits, walking trails, and more. Bring your binoculars and see all kinds of wildlife and birds as you enjoy the preserve.
  • Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve: This 3,500-acre park allows visitors to explore a variety of ecosystems, including sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, and oak hammocks. There are also several miles of hiking and biking trails for visitors to enjoy, as well as an amphitheater and butterfly garden.
  • Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge: Located on the Caloosahatchee River, the Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. The refuge is made up of more than 40 acres of wetland habitat, which is home to a wide variety of animals, including alligators, otters, eagles, ospreys, and herons.
  • Billy Creek Preserve and Filter Marsh: The Billy Creek Preserve and Filter Marsh is a beautiful place to visit for a relaxing nature walk. The preserve features trails that wind through pine Flatwoods, wet prairies, and the marsh. You can also see various birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians in the creek and marsh areas.
  • Powell Creek Reserve: The Powell Creek Reserve is an excellent place for watching birds, with more than 190 species having been spotted in the area. The reserve is made up of upland forests, bottomland forests, and wetlands, which provide a variety of habitats for the animals that live there. There are also several miles of nature trails to explore by bike or walking.

What Time of Year do Turtles Hatch in Florida?

What Time of Year do Turtles Hatch in Florida?

Turtle nesting season in Florida typically runs from May through October, with peak hatching activity occurring in August and September. If you’re interested in seeing turtles hatch, there are many turtle walks and programs offered by local organizations during this time of year. Check out the Sanibel Sea School or the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) for more information.

What Kind of Turtles are on Sanibel Island?

There are many different kinds of turtles that can be found on Sanibel Island, including loggerhead turtles, hawksbill turtles, green turtles, Kemps Ridley turtles, and leatherback turtles. You’ll typically see these turtles nesting on the beaches or swimming in the waters offshore. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a turtle while you’re out kayaking on your rental from Port Sanibel Marina.

Where Can You See Turtles on Sanibel Island?

The best place to see sea turtles on Sanibel Island is at the beaches. You can often find them nesting or the eggs hatching, and they are a beautiful sight to behold. With over 18 miles of beaches from Captiva to Sanibel Island Lighthouse, there are many areas to check for turtles. 

The best time of year to see sea turtles on Sanibel Island is during nesting season. Florida beaches turn into sea turtle nurseries during turtle season. You’ll find turtles nesting spring through fall on area beaches. Mother sea turtles come to the beach at night in the spring, dig out a nest, lay dozens of eggs, and then return to see. After incubating for a few months, the baby sea turtles hatch and head from the nest back to the sea by moonlight.

Learn more about sea turtle season in Florida.

What Kinds of Birds are at Fort Myers Beach?

Fort Myers Beach is home to a wide variety of birds, including pelicans, anhinga, herons, falcons, egrets, spoonbills, and ospreys. You’ll often find these birds near the water, as they are all either wading birds or seafood eaters. If you’re hoping to see some of these beautiful creatures up close, visiting the JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge may be your best bet.

All of the birds around Fort Myers Beach mean one thing: the area is famous for bird-watching. Learn more about the best birdwatching spots in Southwest Florida.

What Kinds of Birds are at Fort Myers Beach

Are There Flamingos in Sanibel Island?

Flamingos are not typically found in the wild on Sanibel Island, but they can occasionally be seen at some of the local parks and sanctuaries. They are considered accidental or rare siting since they are not native to the area. So, while there might be a few flamingos on the island, it’s not likely that you’ll see one.

Are There Manatees in Sanibel Island?

Yes, there are manatees on Sanibel Island! These gentle giants can often be seen swimming in the waters around Sanibel Island or grazing on seagrass in shallow areas. If you’re hoping to see a manatee up close, you’ll want to visit during the winter months when they try to find warmer waters to avoid the cold.

When Can You See Manatees in Fort Myers?

Manatees can be seen in Fort Myers year-round, but they are most commonly spotted during the winter months. This is when they leave the colder waters of Tampa Bay and Crystal River and migrate to warmer areas like Fort Myers. You’ll likely have the best chance of seeing them in November, December, January, and February.

Can You Swim with Dolphins in Fort Myers, Florida?

There are no dolphin-swimming programs in Fort Myers. The next closest location to swim with dolphins would be in the Orlando or Miami area. However, just because you can’t swim with them doesn’t mean you can’t see them! Dolphins can be seen swimming offshore. If you’re hoping to get a closer look at these fantastic creatures, consider taking a dolphin-watching tour!

Where is The Best Place to See Manatees in Sanibel?

Where is The Best Place to See Manatees in Sanibel?

The best place to see manatees on Sanibel Island is at Lighthouse Beach Park. This park is located on the east end of Sanibel and is a great place to spot manatees swimming in the waters offshore. With more than 32-acres on this park, Lighthouse Beach Park is one of the best places to go if you’re specifically looking for manatees!

Explore the Wildlife of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island with Port Sanibel Marina

If you’re looking for the ultimate wildlife experience in Florida, visiting Fort Myers and Sanibel is a must. From turtles and manatees to dolphins and flamingos, there’s an incredible variety of animals to see in this area. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning with Port Sanibel Marina!