Florida is one of the most popular tourism destinations in the world, and with good reason: our beautiful state offers hundreds of miles of beaches, sparkling natural springs and lakes, ancient forests, and even prairies studded with wildflowers. Of course, a lot of guests come to Florida never suspecting the natural wonders of the state – they’re too busy with our man-made attractions, which are pretty astonishing in their own right.

But Florida’s natural world thrives right against our theme parks and resorts, and visitors to the Sunshine State don’t have to look far to find stunning natural scenes and native wildlife. It’s often right outside their resort window.

At Summer Bay Orlando By Exploria Resorts, we enjoy Florida’s beauty on our doorstep. With our sixty-four acre spring-fed lake as a resort centerpiece, we share our landscape with some native Floridians. Here are a few Central Florida citizens you might glimpse while staying with us here at Summer Bay Orlando:

Sandhill Cranes. Photo: Irene’s Pics on Flickr (Creative Commons license)

At nearly four feet tall, sandhill cranes are hard to miss as they take their stately walks around fields, lawns, and even parking lots. Photo: Irene’s Pics on Flickr

Sandhill Cranes: These magnificent cranes stand as tall as four feet, but they don’t move very fast – our resident cranes tend to walk at a stately slow walk around our lakes and lawns, looking for insects. Sandhill cranes are equally impressive when they take flight, with a wingspan of up to seven feet. They travel in families and return to the same territory year after year, so if you hear their trumpeting call, look outside – you’ll likely see a small flock of these regal cranes soaring over Summer Bay Orlando.

Turtles: Naturally, a warm sunny place with a lot of natural water is going to have turtles. Here in Central Florida we have a variety of turtles, and you’ll often see them basking along the shores of our lakes, or spot their heads poking up above the water. If you spot one with bright yellow stripes along the head, neck, and legs, plus yellow on each section of its shell, you’re probably looking at a Florida Cooter. Stripes plus red on the shell might be a Florida Red-Bellied Turtle.

Since we also have snapping turtles in Florida, make sure you maintain a look-but-don’t-touch relationship with our basking turtles!

On land, you might see a lumbering gopher tortoise making its way through a field or lawn. Gopher tortoises are an endangered species which prefer dry woodlands and fields. They’re named for the large holes they burrow in. Gopher tortoises can range over large territories, which unfortunately sometimes means crossing roads. Floridians often pull over their car to help a tortoise cross the road. If you see a tortoise trying to cross the road in front of you, be wary of traffic, and don’t drop the tortoise into a body of water! Remember they aren’t turtles, and they can’t swim.

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A turtle rests on a log in a pond. Photo: Michael McCarthy on Flickr

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Photo: rusty_clark on Flickr

Lizards: Kids love our lizards; parents, not always so much. Florida’s lizard population is diverse and harmless; some Floridians call the plain brown ones “house lizards” because they get everywhere. The most common lizard is the brown anole. You’ll see these small lizards, with their zig-zag patterned backs, on sidewalks, trees, in the bushes… anywhere outside, really. The color-changing green anole loves trees and can be a little harder to spot, but these lime-green chameleons shift to brown when they’re stressed.

What could stress out a lizard, you ask? Well, they’re very tempting for children to chase. So here’s a reminder to share with your kids: if you grab a lizard by its tail, you will end up with a tail in your hand and a tail-less lizard scampering away. Enjoy Florida’s lizards with your eyes only!

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River otters: cute, but not cuddly. Photo: Jon Clark on Flickr

River Otters: Always a favorite in zoos, in Florida you might see a river otter in the wild. These long-bodied swimmers have a distinctive waddle when they’re running across land, but they’re graceful in the water. Otters have a reputation for being playful and adorable, but that’s a slight mischaracterization: while they love to play with each other, they don’t want to cuddle with humans. A river otter is fun to watch, but don’t approach or try to corner one. Instead, listen for their chirping calls on quiet lake shores, and watch out for them when driving – otters cover a lot of territory, and they don’t look before crossing the road.

American Alligators: North America’s largest lizard has made an amazing comeback from the brink of extinction, making the species one of conservation’s great success stories. Alligators prefer quiet waters and may sun themselves on the shore when the temperature is just right. Known as a powerful hunter, the gator actually only requires a meal every week or so, but they can’t resist snacks from well-meaning humans, making their appreciation for everything from marshmallows to whole chickens their downfall. Alligators will naturally avoid humans, but gators who grow used to being fed treats will lose their fear and become nuisances, possibly threatening people. Nuisance alligators are usually euthanized, which means that throwing a gator a granola bar could literally cost him his life. With this in mind, admire alligators from afar, and never, ever feed them – it’s actually against Florida state law.

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The American Alligator is a common sight in Florida waterways. Keep your distance when observing these native citizens of Florida. Photo: Neil DeMaster on Flickr

If you really want to see a gator up close, check the Summer Bay Orlando activity schedule when you arrive at the resort. Our Gator Adventure Show invites you to get up close and personal with a real alligator – supervised by animal experts, of course!

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A white-tailed deer in the Florida scrub. Photo: US Forest Service – Southern Region

White-tailed Deer: The deer you spot around Summer Bay Orlando may be smaller than the ones you know up north; Central Florida’s white-tailed deer average only around one hundred pounds, nearly half the size of their northern cousins. Deer are most active around dawn and dusk, nibbling on shrubs and trees. You probably won’t get very close to these skittish residents, but if you do spot a fawn hiding in brush, don’t touch it – mother is probably nearby.

These are just a few of our native Florida residents. Central Florida is home to an amazing variety of wildlife, and most of them are very happy to enjoy groomed resort properties just as much as the deep forest. So when you visit Florida, keep your eyes open and your camera ready – you never know what wildlife wonder you’ll spot next!

Ready to plan your next Orlando vacation? Summer Bay Orlando By Exploria Resorts offers the perfect home-base for your entire family, with room to relax, play, and connect. Visit our Destinations tab to explore accommodations, recreation, and amenities at this resort, featuring villas and condos perfect to host your next family vacation.

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