If you are standing in scrub, look at the ground around you…what do you see? Or better yet, what do you feel? If it’s a hot, dry day, you may feel the loose sand shifting and sliding under your feet and you are likely to see signs of the reptiles and other animals that inhabit this granular world.

One of the most conspicuous is the gopher tortoise, a gentle, plant-eating creature that uses its powerful front legs to dig deep burrows in the sand. Surprisingly, tortoises are most active on the surface during the hottest part of the day, but their burrows provide a cooler retreat when needed. Many other animals also take refuge in tortoise burrows to escape heat, predators, and the occasional wildfire.

Florida sand skinks are small, delicate lizards that live in the top few inches of sand and eat subsurface invertebrates such as ant-lions. Their bodies are streamlined for “swimming” through sand. They are nearly legless, with reduced eyes and no external ear openings…who could hear with sand clogging your ears? We rarely see sand skinks but we often see their S-shaped tracks, which are actually the collapsed trails they leave behind in the sand.

Although not ground-dwellers, Florida scrub-jays are often seen probing about in the sand. They nest and roost in the oaks and harvest acorns for food. Acorns are available only in the fall, but jays eat them year-round. So where do they store them? In the sand, burying them individually to be recovered later and eaten. The jays rely on this store of nutritious food to get them through the winter, when insects are scarce.

Photo Gallery

Photos by A. Catenazzi, Carlton Ward Jr. and Reed Bowman