- Grand Strand Weekend
- South Carolina for Kids
- South Carolina Bar-B-Que
- A Midlands Weekend
- Civil War Adventures
- South Carolina Waterways
- Three Days in Horse Country
- South Carolina for Seafoodies
- South Carolina Kitsch
- Gullah and African American History
- Upstate Weekend
- South Carolina’s Top Ten for Golfers
- South Carolina’s Offbeat Festivals
- Southern Comforts
- Lowcountry Romance
Perhaps the most iconic land animal—or semi-land animal, anyway—of South Carolina is the legendary American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), the only species of crocodile native to the area. Contrary to their fierce reputation, locals know these massive reptiles, 6–12 feet long as adults, to be quite shy.
If you come in the colder months you won’t see one at all, since alligators require an outdoor temperature over 70°F to become active and feed. (Indeed, the appearance of alligators was once a well-known symbol of spring in the area.) Often all you’ll see is a couple of eyebrow ridges sticking out of the water, and a gator lying still in a shallow creek can easily be mistaken for a floating log.
But should you see one or more gators basking in the sun—a favorite activity on warm days for these cold-blooded creatures—it’s best to admire them from afar. A mother alligator, in particular, will destroy anything that comes near her nest. Despite the alligator’s short, stubby legs, they run amazingly fast on land—faster than you, in fact.
If you’re driving on a country road at night, be on the lookout for white-tailed deer (Odeocoileus virginianus), which, besides being quite beautiful, also pose a serious road hazard. Because development has dramatically reduced the habitat—and therefore the numbers—of their natural predators, deer are plentiful throughout the area and, as you read this, are hard at work devouring vast tracts of valuable vegetation. No one wants to hurt poor little Bambi, but the truth is that area hunters perform a valuable service by culling the local deer population, which is in no danger of extinction anytime soon—far from it.
South Carolina hosts large populations of playful river otter (Lutra Canadensis). Not to be confused with the larger sea otters off the West Coast, these fast-swimming members of the weasel family inhabit inland waterways and marshy areas, with dominant males sometimes ranging as much as 50 miles within a single waterway. As strict carnivores, usually of fish, otters are a key indicator of the health of their ecosystem. If they’re thriving, water and habitat quality is likely to be pretty high. If they’re not, something’s going badly wrong.
While you’re unlikely to encounter an otter, if you’re camping you might easily run into the raccoon (Procyon lotor), an exceedingly intelligent and crafty relative of the bear, sharing that larger animal’s resourcefulness in stealing your food. Though nocturnal, raccoons will feed whenever food is available. Raccoons can grow so accustomed to the human presence as to almost consider themselves part of the family, but resist the temptation to get close to them. Rabies is prevalent in the raccoon population and you should always, always keep your distance.
Another common campsite nuisance, the opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is a shy, primitive creature that is much more easily discouraged. North America’s only marsupial, a ’possum’s usual “defense” against predators is to play dead. That said, however, they have an immunity to snake venom and often feed on the reptiles, even the most poisonous ones.
Opossums are native to the area, but another similarly slow-witted, slow-moving creature is not: the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). In centuries past, these armor-plated insect-eaters were mostly confined to Mexico, but they are gradually working their way northward. Obsessive diggers, armadillos cause quite a bit of damage to crops and gardens. Sometimes jokingly called “’possum on the half shell,” armadillo, like opossum, are frequent roadkill on South Carolina highways.
While you’re highly unlikely to actually see a red fox (Vulpes vulpes), you might very well see their distinctive footprints in the mud of a marsh at low tide. These nocturnal hunters, a non-native species introduced by European settlers, range the coast seeking mice, squirrels, and rabbits.
Once fairly common in South Carolina, the black bear (Ursus americanus) has suffered from hunting and habitat destruction and is extremely rare in the state.
© Jim Morekis from Moon South Carolina, 4th Edition