Myrtle Beach, SC - The Grand Strand - Vacation Travel Guide

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Myrtle Beach Area Features

Let's Get Wild: Wildlife in Myrtle Beach

  By: Jacquelyn Eurice

One of the coolest things about traveling to another place is the ability to check out wildlife that isn’t found in your hometown. South Carolina is home to a multitude of interesting animals. Each species is unique and has a story with share to those who are interested… Read on to learn about animals that share the land and nearby waters with humans in the Grand Strand.

Brown Pelicans

A success story for conservationists, the brown pelican has surged in population after its species was nearly decimated in the 1970s. It is different from its cousin pelicans in that it is the only one of its species to not have a predominately white body. This beautiful bird can hold three gallons of water in its pouch-like beak while it traps its prey. After a fish is caught, the pelican pours the water out and then swallows its dinner. Brown pelicans are often seen soaring just above the water in groups as they search for their next meal.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Since the late 1970s this species of turtle (as well as other sea-dwelling turtles like the leatherback and green sea turtles) has been on the endangered species list. Found in oceans around the world excluding the Arctic, these reptiles can grow to be three feet in length and weigh over 200 pounds. Because they’re often caught in fishing nets and have had their breeding grounds destroyed, their numbers continue to dwindle despite conservation efforts. A surprising fact about loggerhead turtles is that they can swim up to 15 miles per hour along an ocean current.

Alligators

Definitely watch out for these lurking predators, especially if you’re in an inland natural park like Huntington Beach State Park or by a natural water hazard on a golf course. Alligators prefer marsh environments where they can feed on fish and small mammals. Though they can get to be approximately 13 feet in length, they have rarely caused problems for observant passersby in this region. Alligators have a natural fear of humans and would much prefer to leave us alone. At Murrells Inlet, you can take a one-hour alligator walk to learn about these ancient reptiles.

Great Egrets

A symbol of the National Audubon Society, these beautiful, large, shore birds with S-shaped necks and white plumage are found in marshes and along the shoreline. Like the brown pelican, this too was an endangered species due to the demand for its white feathers. However, this bird persevered and has ultimately made a comeback in population. The adults are monogamous, though a couple will live in trees among other birds of the same type including other egrets and herons. Their strong, pointed beaks allow them to break through crustacean shells and open shellfish.

Jellyfish

Often found in the ocean when the summer sun has warmed the waters, these spineless life forms range from harmless to quite dangerous. The cannonball jelly is the most populous breed of this species and is often noticed by vacationers. To the great relief of swimmers, it has very little venom and no stinging tentacles. However, the most dangerous jelly, the Portuguese man-of-war, has been known to hospitalize careless beach-goers with its tentacles that can average approximately 30 feet in length.

Echinoderms

Usually identified by their telltale five points, echinoderms such as the starfish, sand dollar and heart urchin can be found in Myrtle Beach’s waters. One of the most amazing things about many of these creatures is their ability to regenerate body parts. Starfish will grow new legs and sea cucumbers can regenerate their internal organs. Every once in a while, you might find one who unfortunately washed up from the ocean. Just remember, it’s illegal to take a living creature from the beach as a souvenir.

Sand Fiddler Crabs

If you happen upon a perfectly shaped quarter- to half-dollar-sized hole in the sand, chances are good that you’ve found the home of a sand fiddler crab. The “fiddler” in their name comes from the one large claw on a male crab that looks as though a fiddle is attached. These harmless crustaceans come out of their residences on occasion to look around or kick sand out of their expanding houses. The speed with which they can scurry around  the beach is fascinating and fun to watch.

Dolphins

Many different species of dolphin play and fish for their dinner off the Myrtle Beach coastline. In fact, in this area there are at least nine different species of these cetaceans including the bottlenose, common, Atlantic spotted, short-snouted spinner, rough-toothed, and striped dolphins. Though it varies by species, most adults range in length from six to ten feet and weigh 200–300 lbs. However, the most commonly seen bottlenose dolphin can grow to be much larger. Dolphins travel in pods with just a few members, though scientists have witnessed as many as several hundred dolphins in one pod of varying species. They require large amounts of food to survive and can eat up to 30 lbs. of fish a day. Their skin is at least ten times thicker than that of a human, and to keep it sleek for easy movement through the water, dolphins regenerate a new outer layer every few hours. To figure out which species you saw, pay attention to coloration, length of the snout, the crease between the snout and melon (forehead), and any distinguishing features like spots or raccoon-like masks. Then visit Dolphins-World.com, an educational site, to identify the cetacean you saw while on the beach.

Lionfish

The exotic-looking lionfish are not native to South Carolina’s ocean waters, but their population in the Atlantic has definitely exploded in recent years—and that’s not exactly good news. The warmer temperatures of the Gulf Stream has encouraged the spread of this invasive species that used to be predominately found on the East Coast in aquariums. Because they lay thousands of eggs at a time, lionfish have been seen by divers in groups of hundreds. And recent research has suggested that they’re eating A LOT. These fish are actually fat! Unfortunately, that has had a very negative effect on local fish populations. Fishing for lionfish is therefore encouraged and some Atlantic communities have even set up lionfish tournaments. However, the fish don’t go after bait, so spearfishing is the best way to catch these slow beauties. Just be careful of the spines in their fins—they carry venom that can make a human ill if accidentally pricked.

Carolina Wolf Spider

South Carolina has its own state spider—the Carolina Wolf Spider. This predator pursues its prey by running after it, much like a wolf would to capture its next meal. Ranging from 2-3 inches in size, this usually harmless spider (unless you’re allergic) is often killed because it is mistaken for the poisonous Brown Recluse Spider. It comes out at night when its great eyesight can help it hunt in the cover of darkness.

Lettered Olive Snail

This snail with a unique shell burrows deep into the sand along the Carolina coast. The Lettered Olive’s oblong shell (the state shell of South Carolina) is approximately 2-3 inches long and light in color with two ruddy or brown bands that spiral around its circumference. The lines that make up these bands resemble typed print, which contribute to the snail’s name. It is carnivorous and feasts on small clams like the coquina by holding the prey with its foot and dragging it down into the sand where the snail then enjoys its meal.

 

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