Sarasota Bay with Ringling Bridge

Habitat & Species

More than 1,400 native species of diverse plants and animals inhabit Sarasota Bay Estuary. The word habitat can be used to describe areas that benefit wildlife or as plant communities such as upland habitat or something more specific like coral reefs.

Coastal ecosystems include marine and estuarine and coastal upland habitats. Estuarine habitat includes mangrove swamps, saltwater marshes, tidal flats, and seagrass beds. Marine habitat refers to ocean environments such as inter-tidal and ocean, hard bottom (coral and rock) and soft bottom substrates (sand and mud). Coastal upland habitat is the beach dune system and maritime forests.

The following is a partial list of plant and animal species living in the Sarasota Bay Estuary. SBEP will continue adding new photos of local species of animals and plants to the gallery below.

Shark swimming in seagrass

Bonnethead Shark – Dotty Motta

Marine and Estuarine Vegetation Species:

Five Types of Seagrass:
Turtle Grass, Manatee Grass, Shoal Grass, Star Grass, and Widgeon Grass.

Three Species of Mangroves:
White, Red and Black.

Salt Marsh Vegetation:
Christmas Berry, Sawgrass, Smooth Cord Grass, Needle/Black Rush, Marsh-Hay, Salt Meadow Cord Grass, Salt Joint Grass, Key Grass, Saltwort, Salt Grass, Annual Glasswort, Coastal Arrowhead, and Perennial Glasswort.

Marine Algae and Plankton:
Sargassum, Dictyota, Sewing Threat Seaweed, Sea Lettuce, Dino Neuro Toxin (Red Tide), Dinoflagellate, Dead Man’s Fingers, Green Agae, Red Algae, Dino Ciguatoxin, and Sea Hair.

Mangrove reflected in the water


Coastal Upland Vegetation:

Trees and Palms:
Cabbage Palm, Silver Palm, Slash Pine, Jamaica Dogwood, Jamaica Caper Tree, Ironwood, Paradise Tree, Torchwood, Red Bay, Live Oak, Myrtle Oak, Chapman’s Oak, Southern Red Cedar, Pigeon-Plum, Bay Cedar, Cat Claw, Poisonwood, Strangler Fig, Butterbough, and Sea Grape.

Narrow Leaf Ground Cherry, Christmas Better, Salt Bush, Gallberry, Inkberry, Saw Palmetto, Seaside Ground Cherry, Saffron Plum, Rosemary, Yaupon Holly, Winged Sumac, Wild Coffee, Shortleaf Wild Coffee, and Florida Privet.

Cactus and Succulents:
Spanish Bayonet and Prickly Pear Cactus.

Sea Oats, Gulfdune Muhly Grass, Beach Cordgrass, Coastal Bluestem, Beach Grass, Shore Grass, Stiffleaf, Seashore Dropseed, and Seashore Paspalum.

Herbs and Vines:
Sea Lavender, Matrimony Vine, Greenbriar, Fox Grape, Beach Sunflower, Sea Daily, Blue Porterweed, Capeweed, Pepper Vine, Poison Ivy, Virginia Creeper, Morning Glory, Beach Morning Glory, Railroad Vine, Beach Pennywort, Sea Rocket, Beach Chaff-Flower, Saltweed, and Sea Purslane.

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

Australian Pine, Coconut Palm, Hawaiian Half Flower, Sea Side Mahoe, Carrotwood, Brazilian Pepper, Asiatic Colubrina, Seville Orange, Key Lime, Guava, Papaya, Tamarind, and Lead Tree.

Invertebrate Species:

Sponges and Corals:
Red Beard Sponge, Vase Sponge, Green Finger Sponge, Purple Sea Fan, Common Sea Fan, Sea Whip, Fire Sponge, and Palmer’s Sea Rod.

Coelenterates and Tunicates:
Portuguese Man of War, Pink-Tipped Anemone, Pale Anemone, Ghost Anemone, Muller’s Sea Pansy, Moon Jellyfish, Comb Jelly, Painted Tunicate, and Mangrove Tunicate.

Sabellariid Worms, Atlantic Tube Worm, Lugworm, Blood Worm, and Parchment Tube Worm.

Starfish in Hand


Spotted Sea Hare, Mud Snail, Coquina Clam, Atlantic Bay Scallop, Whelk, Stiff Pen Shell, Quahog Clam, Queen Conch, Marsh Periwinkle, Eastern Oyster, Keyhole Limpet, Atlantic Long-Finned Squid, Atlantic Octopus, Banded Tulip Shell, Shark’s Eye, Florida Worm Snail, Common Slipper Shell, Angel Wing, Turkey Wing, and Ribbed Mussel.

Common Sea Star, Banded Luidia, Forbes Sea Staf, Banded-arm Brittle Star, Striped Sea Star, Variegated Sea Urchin, Sand Dollar, Long-Spined Sea Biscuit, Common Starfish, and Florida Sea Cucumber.

Ivory Barnacle, Goose-necked Barnacle, Sessile Barnacle, Little Striped Barnacle, Stone Crab, Ghost Crab, Blue Crab, Sand Fiddler Crab, Long-Clawed Hermit Crab, Common Mantis Shrimp, Spotted Cleaning Shrimp, Red-Lined Cleaning Shrimp, Grass Shrimp, Pink Shrimp, Large-Claw Snapping Shrimp, Banded Coral Shrimp, Spiny Lobster, Big-Eyed Beach Flea, Mole Crab, Mangrove Tree Crab, Marsh Fiddler Crab, Land Hermit Crab, Sea Cockroach, and Atlantic Horseshoe Crab.

Sand Fiddler Crab

Sand Fiddler Crab

Coastal Insects:
Digger Wasp, Tiger Bettle, Velvet Ant, Black Salt Marsh Mosquito, Seaside Grasshopper, Golden-silk Spider, Dune Wolf Spider, Great Southern White, Schaus’ Swallowtail, Monarch, Gulf Fritillary, Mangrove Skipper, Mallow Scrub-Hairstreatk, Eastern Pygmy Blue, Mangrove Buckeye, Large Orange Sulphur, Cassius Blue, Common Buckeye, Florida Leafwing, Malachite, Rudy Daggerwing, and Emerald Moth.

Asian Tiger Mosquito and Pacific Swimming Crab.

Reptiles & Amphibians Species:

Coastal Amphibians:
Green Treefrog, Southern Leopard Frog, Southern Toad, and Squirrel Treefrog.

Aquatic Reptiles:
American Crocodile, Suwannee Cooter, River Cooter, Common Mud Turtle, Diamondback Terrapin, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Green Sea Turtle, Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Mole Skink, Florida Reef Gecko, Florida Scrub Lizard, Island Glass Lizard, Six-Lined Lizard, Racerunner, Salt Marsh Snake, Marsh Brown Snake, Florida Crowned Snake, Florida Green Water Snake, Florida Swamp Snake, Eastern Coachwhip Snake, and Florida King Snake.

Gator – Marina Scarr

Gator – Marina Scarr

Marine Toad, Cuban Tree Frog, and Curly-Tailed Lizard.

Saltwater Fish Species:

Sharks and Rays:
Southern Stingray, Atlantic Manta Ray, Spotted Eagle Ray, Yellow Sting Ray, Bull Shark, Tiger Shark, Bonnet Head Shark, Small Tooth Sawfish, Nurse Shark, Hammerhead Shark, and Sand Tiger Shark.

Bony Fish:
Sailfish, Great Barracuda, Tarpon, King Mackerel, Atlantic Croaker, Atlantic Spadefish, Spanish Mackerel, Permit, Sheepshead, Cobia, Amberjack, Black Sea Bass, Rock Sea Bass, Red Snapper, Crevalle Jack, and Gag Grouper.

Shallow-water Feeders:
Spotted Trout, Snook, Florida Pompano, Gray Snapper, Mangrove Snapper, and Striped Mullet.



Reef Fish:
Blue Angel, Queen Parrotfish, and Queen Triggerfish.

Bottom Feeders:
Gulf Sturgeon, Gafftopsail Catfish, Red Drum, and Bonefish.

Inland Silverside, Gulf Menhaden, Atlantic Thread Herring, Spanish Sardine, Gulf Killifish, and Pinfish.

Unusual Species:
Lined Seahorse, Striped Burrfish, Atlantic Needlefish, Atlantic Flyingfish, Spotted Moray, and Gulf Toadfish.

Snowy Egret – Barbara Bowen

Snowy Egret – Barbara Bowen

Waterbird Species:

Wading birds:
Wood Stork, Great Blue/White Heron, Tri-Colored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Green Backed Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and White Ibis.

Diving Birds and Waterfowl:
Common Loon, Double Crested Cormorant, Horned Grebe, Red-Breasted Merganser, Ring-Necked Duck, Blue-Winged Teal, American Black Duck, and American Coot.

American Avocet, Ruddy Turnstone, Piping Plover, Willet, American Oystercatcher, Killdeer, Western Sandpiper, and Sanderling.

Sea Birds:
Magnificent Frigatebird, Northern Gannet, Laughing Gull, Great

White Pelican – Ron Wooldridge

White Pelican – Ron Wooldridge

Black-Backed Gull, Ring-Billed Gull, Herring Gull, Royal Tern,
White Pelican, Brown Pelican, and Black Skimmer.

Birds of Prey:
Osprey, Broad-Winged Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, and Black Vulture.

Coastal Upland Species:
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow

Warblet, Black-Whiskered Vireo, Fish Crow, Gray Kingbird, Common Ground Dove, and Mangrove Cuckoo.

Coastal Marsh Species:
Tree Swallow, Marsh Wren, Seaside Sparrow, Sharp-Tailed Sparrow, and Clapper Rail.

Mammal Species:

Osprey – Marina Scarr

Osprey – Marina Scarr

Coastal Marsh and Mangrove:

Florida Saltmarsh Vole, Least Shrew, Round-Tailed Muskrat, Cotton Rat, Marsh Rice Rat, Marsh Rabbit, Cotton Mouse, Mink, Raccoon, and Striped Skunk.

Coastal Uplands:
Eastern Wood Rat, Beach Mouse, Cotton Mouse, Virginia Opossum, Florida Fox Squirrel, Raccoon, River Otter, Key Deer, and Little Mastiff Bat.

Marine Mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin, Short-Finned Pilot Whale, Pygmy Sperm Whale, Northern Right Whale, and Florida Manatee.

Jamaican Fruit Bat, Nutria, Feral Cat, and Feral Pig.