Whether adorable or fearsome, furry or feathery, and living or found on land or in the sea, a large variety of wildlife call South Carolina “home.” All of these creatures can be fascinating, and visitors to the Grand Strand love to see and learn about them. Read on about some of the wildlife that can be found on the South Carolina coast.
Existing since the time of the dinosaurs, alligators still prefer to live in marsh environments where they can feed on fish and small mammals. Visitors definitely need to watch out for these lurking predators, especially if they’re at an inland natural park like Huntington Beach State Park or by a natural water hazard on a golf course. Though gators can grow to 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.
Off the shores of the Grand Strand, you’ll probably see dolphins swimming in the sea. Most likely they are the bottlenose or common dolphins, but there are at least nine different species of dolphin that play and fish for their dinner here. The dolphins you spot could be the Atlantic spotted, the short-snouted spinner, rough-toothed, or striped dolphins. Most adults range in length from six to ten feet and weigh 200–300 lbs. However, bottlenose dolphins can grow to be much larger. 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. Typically, dolphins travel in pods with just a few members, however, scientists have witnessed the unusual grouping of as many as several hundred dolphins of varying species in one pod. To differentiate between the species you might see, 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.
Brown PelicansThe saga of the brown pelican is now being called a success story after a surge in population following the species’ near decimation in the 1970s. The brown pelican 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. If they’re not perched on a pier post, 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.
The saga of the brown pelican is now being called a success story after a surge in population following the species’ near decimation in the 1970s. The brown pelican 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. If they’re not perched on a pier post, brown pelicans are often seen soaring just above the water in groups as they search for their next meal.
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.
Like many urban areas in America, coyote populations have been rising in Myrtle Beach. Since their natural habitat has continued to shrink, these beautiful animals are venturing into places that are unheard of including when one entered the Myrtle Beach Airport in 2015. They are smaller than their wolf cousins and most weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. The coyote’s coat also varies from white to black with most having a grey and somewhat reddish overall coloring. They typically feast on small animals including squirrels, rabbits, amphibians, reptiles and even fish, but sometimes they will dine on fruits and vegetables. It is important not to leave food out, enticing them to residential areas where small pets may be in danger.
Sand Fiddler Crabs
The “fiddler” in this crab species name comes from the one large claw on a male that looks as though a fiddle is attached. 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. 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.
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.
Keep your eyes peeled for these and other residents of Myrtle Beach!