Hurricane Ian Update

New Hanover County is no longer under any storm watches or warnings. Visit for more information.

New Hanover County services and attractions will resume normal operations on Saturday, October 1. Learn more here.

Smith Creek Park Preserve

633 Shenandoah Drive, Wilmington, NC  28411
Driving Directions

Hours of Operation:  8am-Sunset

The Smith Creek Park Preserve is a natural area located adjacent to Smith Creek Park.  The preserve nature trail can be accessed from the park’s paved walking trail (red star on the map).  The preserve is a natural habitat for many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and native plants.  Learn more about them below!



  • 1 mile nature trail for walking and bicycling (no motorized vehicles)

Environmental Education

Scientific Name:  Frontinella communis

The bowl and doily spider is a species of spider found in North and Central America. It is a small spider that weaves a unique web system consisting of an inverted bowl-shaped web suspended above a horizontal sheet web (the “doily”). The spider hangs from the underside of the “bowl” and traps small insects. The webs are commonly seen in weedy fields and in shrubs May through October.

Scientific Name:  Leucauge venusta

The orchard orbweaver is a spider that ranges along the east coast of southern Canada to northern South America, reaching into the central US. The spider is usually seen hanging down in the center of its horizontal web. It is brightly colored, having green legs and sides. It has noticeable silver and yellow markings on its abdomen, and often has neon orange or red markings underneath.

Scientific Name:  Order Opiliones

Commonly mistaken for spiders, daddy-longlegs are relatives of spiders that make their living by eating decomposing vegetative and animal matter. They are also called harvestmen. Unlike spiders, who have two distinct body segments and eight eyes, daddy-longlegs have two body segments fused into one and at most two eyes. They are usually found under logs and rocks, prefer moist habitat, and have eight long flexible legs.  They do not produce silk or make webs, and they do not have venom glands or fangs.

Scientific Name:  Order Ixodida

Ticks are small, slow, teardrop-shaped arachnids. They can be flat or round, depending on when they last fed, and they do not fly or jump. Ticks feed on blood and are often not spotted until they are attached to their host. There are hundreds of species of ticks but few species pose any threat to humans and domestic animals. The deer tick, American dog tick, and lone star tick are some that can transmit disease from one host to the other, and they are all found in this region. Most tick bites are harmless, but if a rash appears near the tick bite or you experience any unusual symptoms please see a doctor as soon as possible.

Check yourself for ticks after you spend time outside. If you find a tick attached to you, use tweezers to remove it- grab the tick with tweezers as close to the skin as you can, and gently pull the tick out. Be careful not to twist or crush the tick. Freeze the tick in a plastic bag in case you need to identify it later, and wash the tick bite with soap and water.

Scientific Name:  Hogna carolinensis

The Carolina wolf spider is the largest type of wolf spider in North America. They vary in pattern and color, from light brown to dark gray. The Carolina wolf spider can be found throughout the United States into Canada and Mexico. Wolf spiders live in small silk-lined burrows as opposed to living in webs and are nocturnal predators. They will run down their prey instead of trapping them in a web. You can find them at night by shining a flashlight into the grass, their eyes are very reflective and will shine right back at you.

Scientific Name:  Nephila clavipes

The golden silk orbweaver, also known as the banana spider, can be found in the southeast United States and all the way down into South America.  The live in forest areas along trails. Their high webs help them catch flying insects, including beetles and dragonflies. The females are 5 to 6 times larger than males and are about 3 inches long on average. Females are mostly yellow with a long abdomen and tufts of hair on their legs. The males are only about 6 mm long and are only noticeable because they are often found on the webs of females.

Scientific Name:  Argiope aurauntia

Also called the yellow argiope or the writing spider, the yellow garden spider looks very similar to the golden silk orbweaver. Both species have larger females with yellow on their abdomen. The yellow garden spider female, however, has more of an egg-shaped abdomen that is mainly black with yellow markings. They do not have tufts of hair on their legs like the golden silk orbweavers. The yellow garden spiders often add stabilimenta, or heavy zig-zagging portions in their webs that make them easy to identify.

Scientific Name:  Lactrodectus sp.

The black widow is one of the most venomous spiders in North America, although their bite is rarely fatal to humans. The females are more distinctive than males. They are close to half an inch to one-inch-long, are shiny black, and have a very round abdomen with a red hourglass shape underneath. After they mate, the females tend to eat the males, hence the name “Black Widow”. Pain from a black widow bite usually lasts 8-12 hours, but they are not aggressive and only bite humans when disturbed. They are typically found in dark, dry areas of shelter.

Scientific Name:  Gasteracantha cancriformis

There are many different species of spinybacked orbweaver, all of which have a hard, broad abdomen similar to a crab shell. They are often brightly colored. In this species, Gasteracantha cancriformis, females are larger with small spines on their abdomen, while males tend to be smaller and do not have spine. Like all orbweavers, their web is circular in shape. The spinybacked orbweaver adds extra tufts of silk to its web, which are thought to serve as warning flags to birds so that they don’t fly into the web and destroy it.

Scientific Name:  Epargyreus clarus

The silver-spotted skipper is one of our largest and most recognizable skippers. This skipper can be found throughout most of the United States and into southern Canada. Skippers tend to look like small brown moths that are active during the day, but luckily the silver-spotted skipper has a large white spot on the underside of each hind wing to help identify it. The upper-side of the wings is brown with a few gold spots. These skippers have a short, rounded tail. The larvae can grow up to two inches long and are mainly yellow with a reddish brown head. During this stage they live in leaf shelters to protect them from predators. As they grow, they feed on the leaves of plants in the pea family (Fabaceae) and a variety of other legumes. Silver-spotted skippers, as well as other species of skippers, have a jerky, somewhat erratic flight pattern. They are found on the edges of forests, brushy areas, and open areas like Smith Creek where nectar plants are found.

Scientific Name:  Urbanus proteus

This is a hidden gem of the pollinator garden! Like other skippers, they may seem like small, dull insects flitting around, but just wait until they land. Their long tails and beautiful blue coloration on the upper-side of the wings makes them a delight. They are found in much of the eastern and southern United States, and like the Silver-Spotted Skipper, their larvae feed on host plants in the legume family. As larvae they are also leaf-rollers, meaning that they use their silk to wrap leaves around themselves as they eat. The larvae are green with yellow stripes, turning orange on the back end.

Scientific Name:  Hyphantria cunea

A common native moth seen throughout the United States and southern Canada. These caterpillars, which vary in color, feed in colonies on foliage of hardwood trees and spin webs around leaves in the process. After making their cocoon, they will become a small hairy white moth. These webs are located at the outer ends of branches, as opposed to the eastern tent caterpillar, who make their webs where two branches join together. In the Southeast, fall webworms are active April-October and preferred host plants are hardwood species of forest, shade, and fruit trees. The webworm is capable of defoliating and causing damage to trees, but natural enemies like disease and predators help keep their populations in check.

Scientific Name:  Phoebis sennae

A bright yellow butterfly that can be seen throughout the summer, especially in open areas like parks, yards, gardens and beaches. They are fairly large, with a wingspan of two to three inches. The caterpillars are green with yellow stripes down the side, and they use various species in the pea family as host plants. Cloudless sulphurs drink nectar from various flowering plants, although red flowers are preferred. These butterflies are very noticeable in August-October, when they are migrating through to Florida where they will spend the winter until it warms up in the spring.

Scientific Name:  Danaeus plexippus

The monarch butterfly is easily recognized by its distinct orange and black wings. The monarch lives throughout North America. Millions of monarchs that live east of the Rocky Mountains are well known for their migration to Mexico in the fall, where they roost over the winter. Monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed, and the larvae only eat milkweed, making this plant extremely important to the survival of the species. The monarch larvae that eat milkweed are brightly colored, with black, white and yellow horizontal stripes all the way down their body. This is thought to be a warning sign to predators that lets them know not to eat monarchs.

Scientific Name:  Agraulis vanillae

The gulf fritillary is a medium-sized butterfly with elongated forewings. The upper-side of the wings is bright orange with black spots and markings. The undersides of the wings are brown with long silvery-white spots.  At home in open and sunny areas, it is a regular in most butterfly gardens, including gardens in more urban settings. Females lay the small yellow eggs singly on leaves of the passionflower vine, especially purple passionflower.  The larvae are bright orange/red with numerous black spines. These spines are not dangerous and serve to scare off any predators.

Scientific Name:  Hypercompe scribonia

The giant leopard moth is found from southern Canada throughout the eastern United States. The eggs are small, pearly gray spheres and hatch into what many people call a wooly bear caterpillar. The body of the caterpillar can be orange to dark brown and is covered with stiff black, bristly hairs. The hairs do not sting and are not venomous. When threatened, the caterpillar curls up into a tight ball and the stiff spines help to deter predators from trying to eat them. Full-grown giant woolly bear caterpillars are about three inches in length. The caterpillar eats a wide variety of plants, such as dandelion, plantain, violets, cherry, and honeysuckle.  Because it is a moth, the pupae are enclosed in thin, web-like cocoons instead of a chrysalis. The adult is a beautiful large moth with white scales adorned with black circles, bars, and dots. Adults can secrete a drop of liquid when threatened that is bitter tasting for any predators.

Scientific Name:  Actius luna

One of the most well-known moths in our area, the luna moth gets its name from its moon-like spots on its yellow-green wings. They are also one of the largest moths we have, with a wingspan of four and a half inches! In the United States, it is found in every eastern state from Maine south to Florida and west to eastern Texas. The bright green caterpillars hatch out of mottled brown and white eggs. The hungry caterpillar then fills up on walnut, hickory, sweet gum, and paper birch tree leaves. When it is ready to make its cocoon, it wanders off the plant and spins a cocoon wrapped in leaves. These beautiful moths do not have a fully developed digestive system or mouth when they emerge from their cocoon and cannot feed. Because of this, they only live for about one week once they are out of their cocoon. To protect themselves from predators, especially bats, the moths spin their “tails” in circles. This is disorienting to predators and the moths are able to get away.

Scientific Name:  Malacosoma americanum

The eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum, is a pest native to North America.

Their numbers fluctuate from year to year, and outbreaks occur every several years in late spring and early summer. Eastern tent caterpillar nests are commonly found on wild cherry, apple, and crabapple, but can be found on other native trees as well. During an outbreak, tent caterpillars can eat all the leaves off of a tree, but if it is a healthy tree it will usually recover.  These hairy caterpillars are black with a white stripe down the back and usually have a row of blue spots on the sides. Caterpillars hatch out of an egg mass, and will spin a silk tent or nest in the crotch of a tree. They can be up to two and a half inches long when full grown, at which point the caterpillar will wander away from the nest to spin its cocoon. Adults (1-1/2 inches long) are reddish brown moths with two white bands running diagonally across each forewing. Eastern tent caterpillar nests and fall webworm nests look very similar. The location of the nest helps tell them apart- fall webworm nests are located at the ends of the branches and their loosely woven webs enclose foliage while the nests of the eastern tent caterpillar are in the crotches of the tree and do not enclose foliage. Like the fall webworm, natural predators and disease help to regulate the population of tent caterpillars.

Scientific Name:  Papilio glaucus

Found in eastern North America, the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly is one of the most striking and recognizable butterflies in our area. With a wing span of up to four and a half inches, it is also one of the largest North American butterflies. They are yellow with dark tiger stripes, and the bottom edges of the hindwing have colorful blue scales and several orange spots. Males tend to have less blue scales and orange spots than females. There is a dark morph of this butterfly as well, meaning the butterfly is all black instead of yellow with stripes, although the blue scales and orange spots are still visible. Females lay eggs on a variety of host plants, including plants in the magnolia and rose families. Other host plants include the tulip tree, birch, ash, and wild black cherry. Young caterpillars resemble bird droppings to confuse predators and avoid being eaten. As they mature, they turn bright green and have two huge black and yellow false eyespots, right above their true eyes, which are used to make the caterpillar look bigger than it actually is.

Scientific Name:  Megalopyge opercularis

The family name Megalopygidae and genus name Megalopyge are derived from the Greek roots Megalo (large) and pygidium (rump) – probably because of the shape of the caterpillars. The name “puss caterpillar” is likely in reference to the caterpillar’s resemblance to a cat with its soft fur and tail. While it may look cute and fuzzy, do not pet it! This caterpillar is actually one of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States. It has hollow spines each equipped with a venom glad, and it’s sting can be extremely painful, with pain lasting up to 12 hours. The caterpillars feed on a variety of host plants, oaks and elms being common hosts. When it emerges from its cocoon, the puss caterpillar is then known as the southern flannel moth. The moths are small yellow moths with white hairy scales on the wings. Their bodies are covered in fuzzy looking orange scales. The hairs on the adult moth are not venomous. If you get stung by a puss caterpillar, put tape on the affected area and then rip it off. This helps get any spines stuck in the skin out. Apply an ice pack and seek medical help if the pain becomes unbearable.

Scientific Name:  Chiroptera


  • Bats are often mistaken for a member of the rodent family
  • They range in size, but tend to average 2-7.5 inches in length and weigh 12 oz-2 lbs
  • Hair varies from tan to black
  • Commonly hold onto their roost with their hind legs, hanging upside down

Often roost in caves, holes in trees or under peeling tree bark


Fun Facts

  • Bats can survive 20-30 years in the wild
  • Bats use echolocation to navigate and locate prey
  • They have a major impact on controlling insect populations
  • Recently, a protein found in vampire bat saliva has been used to develop clot-busting medication to aid stroke victims

Scientific Name:  Ursus americanus


  • In North Carolina, black bears are usually black with a brown muzzle and sometimes a white patch on its chest
  • All bear species have five toes on each foot
  • Each toe has a sharp curved claw enabling bears to feed on insects and grubs in decaying logs

Bears prefer large expanses of uninhabited woodland or swampland with dense cover.  In the east, lowland hardwoods and swamps provide good bear habitat.  These types of habitat provide the necessary travel corridors, escape cover and natural foods that bears need to thrive.

Acorns, berries, carrion, corn, fish, frogs, fruits, grasses, grubs, honey, insects, larvae, leaves, nuts, peanuts, reptiles, roots, seed, small mammals, soybeans and wheat

Fun Facts

  • The black bear is the only bear species found in North Carolina or anywhere in the eastern United States
  • Black bears are found in approximately 60% of the total land area of North Carolina
  • They rely mostly on their sense of smell and hearing due to poor eyesight
  • They are adept at climbing, running, swimming and digging
  • They have been clocked at speeds of 35 miles per hour over short distances

Scientific Name:  Lynx rufus


  • Short dense, soft fur that is light brown to reddish brown on the back
  • Underside and insides of the legs are white with dark spots or bars
  • Short tail (about 5 inches long) that is dark above and white below
  • About two times the size of a domestic house cat
  • Average Height:  20-30 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight:  10-40 lbs

Bottomland hardwoods, young pine stands and swamps

Rabbits, mice, birds, cotton rats, white-tailed deer, rodents, gray squirrels, raccoons, opossums and snakes

Fun Facts

  • The bobcat gets its name from its short tail
  • Bobcats are active year-round and tend to exhibit crepuscular (dawn and dusk) activity
  • Bobcats are solitary except during breeding season (typically February or March)

Scientific Name:  Canis latrans


  • Similar to red wolves, but smaller
  • Color is typically dark gray, but can range from blonde, red and black
  • Pointed and erect ears and long slender snout
  • Its tail is long, bushy, black-tipped and usually carried pointing down
  • Average Height:  2 feet tall at the shoulder
  • Length:  4 feet
  • Weight:  20-45 lbs
  • About the size of a medium-sized dog

Ranges from agricultural fields to forested regions and suburban neighborhoods

Feeds on a variety of food sources, depending on what is available, including fruit, berries, rodents, rabbits, birds, snakes, frogs, insects, animal remains, roadkill, garbage and pet food left outdoors.

Fun Facts

  • The coyote is native only in North America
  • Arguably the hardiest and most adaptable species on this continent
  • Coyotes are adapting to the urban-suburban environment and are finding food and resources available in these places

Scientific Name:  Sciurus carolinensis


  • Grayish-brown fur, whitish belly and bushy tail
  • Average Length:  15-20 inches
  • Weight:  10.5-25 oz
  • Considerably smaller than the fox squirrel


  • Common in rural, suburban and urban woodlots
  • Most abundant in hardwood forests containing a variety of mast-producing trees

Nuts, acorns, seeds, fruits, mushrooms, tree buds and blooms.  Occasionally they consume insects, bird eggs and young birds.

Fun Facts

  • Most common and frequently observed of NC’s five tree squirrel species
  • Found in every county in NC and was adopted as the state mammal in 1969
  • Very vocal animals that use a variety of calls, including harsh squalls, warning barks, chucks, mews, purrs and tooth chattering to communicate with other squirrels

Scientific Name:  Sciurus niger


  • Typically grayish in color with patches of black on the head and feet, but fur can range from almost totally black to reddish or rust colored
  • White patches on the nose, paws and ear tips
  • Average Length:  20-26 inches
  • Weight:  1.5-2.6 lbs
  • Nearly twice the size of the gray squirrel


  • Mostly open, mature longleaf pine and pine-oak forests
  • Nests are usually found in large old hardwood trees, ancient flattop longleaf pines or dead standing trees and are often located on wetland edges

Pine seeds, acorns, hickory nuts, flowers and buds, fruits, fungi, insects and occasionally bird eggs

Fun Facts

  • The largest tree squirrel in North Carolina
  • Fox squirrels are diurnal and are generally active for 8-14 hours a day
  • Life expectancy in the wild is generally 6-7 years

Scientific Name:  Urocyon cinereoargenteus


  • Salt and pepper gray fur with a dark streak extending down the back and along the top of the tail
  • Smaller than the red fox and much darker in color
  • Average Length:  30-45 inches
  • Height:  12-15 inches
  • Weight:  7-11 lbs

Gray foxes are present in large, connected tracts of wooded areas and can also thrive in open farmland

Small mammals such as mice, rats and rabbits, birds, insects, native fruits such as persimmons and grapes as well as agricultural crops such as corn and peanuts

Fun Facts

  • The gray fox is the state’s only native fox species
  • Gray foxes have the ability to climb trees
  • Its footprints are similar to domestic cat tracks, except they  have claw marks

Scientific Name:  Vulpes vulpes


  • Reddish-orange fur on its tail, body and top of the head
  • Undersides are light and tips of the ears and lower legs are black
  • Tail is long, bushy and white-tipped
  • Average Length:  36-42 inches from nose to tip of tail
  • Height:  16 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight:  8-15 lbs (males average about 2 lbs heavier than females)
  • About the size of a small dog

Prefer a diversity of habitats, including farmland, pastures, brushy fields and open forest stands


  • Primarily mice, voles and rabbits
  • Will eat insects, birds, eggs, fruits, berries, carrion and garbage

Fun Facts

  • The most widely distributed canid in the world
  • Most red fox activity occurs at night

Scientific Name:  Procyon lotor


  • Grayish brown fur with black-ringed tail and black “mask” around its eyes
  • Average Length:  1.5-3.5 feet
  • Height:  12 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight:  8-25 lbs (males usually weigh 10-15% more than females)


  • Most abundant in habitats associated with water, such as bottomland forests, hardwood swamps and marshes
  • Often occur in urban areas where they can scavenge for food
  • Females prefer hollow trees as dens, but will choose a rocky ledge or empty burrow if needed

Wild berries and fruits, acorns and other nuts, vegetables from gardens,  a variety of insects, frogs, fish, shellfish, small mice, occasional birds and bird eggs

Fun Facts

  • Raccoons are highly intelligent and resourceful
  • Raccoons may enter a deep sleep during winter months, but are not true hibernators (on mild days, they may wake up and search for food)
  • Can live up to 16 years in the wild, but most die within their first two years

Scientific Name:  Didelphis Virginia


  • Fur color ranges from light gray to nearly black
  • Long, pointed nose, black hairless ears, dark eyes and a nearly hairless tail
  • Average Length;  21-36 inches
  • Height:  6-10 inches
  • Weight:  4-15 lbs
  • About the size of a house cat


  • Prefer deciduous woodlands in association with streams
  • Well-adapted to both arboreal and terrestrial habitats

Insects, worms, fruit, leaves, small mammals, young birds, acorns, snails, snakes, lizards, bird eggs, young rabbits, carrion, maggots, spiders, frogs, toads, crayfish and garbage

Fun Facts

  • The only marsupial native to North America
  • Has a total of 50 teeth, more than any other North American mammal
  • The phrase “playing possum” came from the opossum’s habit of feigning death when approached by a potential predator
  • Average life expectancy is 1-2 years, with few living longer than 4 years in the wild

Scientific Name:  Odocoileus virginianus


  • Tannish brown to gray coat with white patch on its neck and large prominent ears
  • Eyes are circled with white and a white band rings its muzzle
  • Belly is white with white running down the inside of the legs
  • Average Length:  about 3 feet
  • Height:  about 3 feet at the shoulder
  • Weight:  male (buck) 100-200+ lbs, female (doe) 80-160 lbs
  • Male deer grow antlers that range in size from little spikes to larger “racks” that branch out to a variable number of points


  • Adaptable to almost any type of habitat
  • They like creek and river bottoms, oak ridges, pine forests, farmlands or any other type of habitat that offers food, water and cover
  • Adapt well to suburban sprawl

Green leaves, succulent plants, tender woody vegetation, grasses, berries, acorns and agricultural crops

Fun Facts

  • Deer can run up to 35-40 miles per hour and are excellent swimmers and strong jumpers
  • Antler size in male deer depends on its age, nutrition and genetics
  • Life expectancy is typically 2-5 years for bucks and 3-6 years for does in the wild
  • Age is determined by examining teeth in the lower jaw bone

Scientific Name:  Agkistrodon contortrix


  • Large, moderately stout-bodied
  • Brown or chestnut hourglass-shaped markings on a brown, tan or pinkish background
  • Its belly is light brown, yellowish or pinkish and may be mottled with gray or black
  • Juveniles have a greenish-yellow tail tip and a conspicuous dark bar from the eye to angle of the jaw
  • Average length is 24-46 inches

Wide variety of habitats from coastal flatwoods to rocky elevations

Insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and small mammals

Fun Facts

  • Approximately 90% of all venomous snakebites in North Carolina are from Copperheads
  • The Copperhead is not aggressive and most bites result from stepping on or touching them

Scientific Name:  Elaphe guttata


  • Dorsal side is orange, reddish, gray or brownish with prominent large reddish brown blotches and smaller lateral blotches bordered with black
  • Its belly is marked with a black and white checkerboard pattern
  • There is usually a blotch resembling a spear point on top of the head
  • Its slender body is shaped like a loaf of bread in cross-section
  • Average Length:  30-48 inches (males are often larger than females)


  • Most common in the pine-wiregrass, flatwoods, and sandhills
  • During the day, they will often hide under loose bark on logs or dead trees, in stump holes or rodent burrows, especially in pine forest


  • Rodents, small mammals, birds and their eggs
  • Juveniles also eat lizards and frogs

Fun Facts

  • Its name is derived from its resemblance to the color and pattern of Indian corn
  • Also called “red rat snake”
  • Corn snakes are constrictors and squeeze their prey to overpower them before eating them
  • The record size corn snake is 72 inches

Scientific Name:  Agkistrodon piscivorus


  • Its name comes from the white color of the inside of its mouth, which is revealed when the snake gapes to defend itself
  • Head is distinctly wider than its neck, with a dark bar on both sides from the eye to the angle of the jaw
  • Body is patterned with dark crossbands invaded by light olive or brown centers;  the crossbands are widest on the sides and narrowest on top (most nonvenomous water snakes are the opposite- the crossbands are the widest at the top)
  • There are nine large scales on the crown of its head and the pupils of the eyes are vertically elliptical
  • Juveniles have bright yellow or greenish tail tips and the crossband patterns are most evident
  • Older snakes are often dark and unpatterned
  • Average Length:  3-4 feet, but are known to reach 6 feet


  • The most aquatic of North American venomous snakes and can be found in most habitats associated with water
  • Cottonmouths bask on branches, logs or stones at the water’s edge

Fish, other snakes, small mammals, birds, lizards, amphibians, turtles, crayfish and insects

Fun Facts

  • The cottonmouth is also known as the water moccasin
  • Like all pit vipers, it has a facial pit for sensing infrared radiation (heat)
  • Its venom toxicity ranks fourth of the six species of NC venomous snakes
  • The record size cottonmouth is 74 inches

Scientific Name:  Terrapene carolina carolina


  • Characterized by its highly domed top shell (called the carapace), which can be brightly colored with a mid-dorsal keel down the center
  • Carapace color can vary greatly with smudges, streaks, blotches or mottling that can be yellow, reddish, orange or brown
  • They have four toes, without webbing, located on each hind foot
  • Males have large, blockier heads with brighter coloration than females
  • Usually, males have orange or red eyes and females have brown eyes
  • Females have smaller, less curved rear claws than males who have stout, curved rear claws
  • Average Size:  Straight-line carapace length of 5-6 inches (males often grow larger than females)


  • Most common in or near wooded habitats
  • During hot, dry weather, turtles will seek refuge in moist or shallow aquatic habitats such as flood plains, bogs and swamps, often burrowing beneath logs or damp vegetation

Berries, fruit, seeds, roots, flowers, mushrooms, grasses, carrion and most any small animal they can catch including snails, slugs, frogs, toads and birds

Interesting Facts

  • Turtles can breed spring, summer and fall
  • Nesting occurs May through July, with eggs hatching in approximately 60-90 days
  • Average life expectancy is 25-30 years in the wild, but have been known to reach 40-50 years old

Scientific Name:  Colinus virginianus



  • Average length:  10 inches
  • Weight:  5-8 oz
  • Wingspan:  9-11 inches
  • Feathers are a combination of brown and black and buff and white
  • Males have a white patch under their necks and a white line above their eyes

Weedy fields and meadows, clear cuts and open woods dense with native grasses

Small seeds, fruit, tender leaves and insects

Fun Facts

  • Males whistle a mating call that sounds like “bob-white”
  • By the mid-1980s, population began to decline due to urban development and former fields reverted to forests
  • Quail nest 1-3 times per summer, laying on average 12-14 eggs per clutch

Scientific Name:  Branta canadensis



  • Average length:  24-48 inches
  • Weight:  2.5-18 lbs
  • Wingspan:  52-75 inches

Canada Geese live in habitats near water, grassy fields and grain fields. Canada Geese are particularly drawn to lawns for two reasons: they can digest grass, and when they are feeding with their young, manicured lawns give them a wide, unobstructed view of any approaching predators. So they are especially abundant in parks, airports, golf courses, and other areas with expansive lawns.

Leaves of clover, grasses, cultivated grains.  Preferred plants:  ladino, alsike, red clovers, barley, wheat, rye, alfalfa, orchard grass, bluegrasses, creeping red and Kentucky fescue.  Preferred grains:  millets, corn, oats, buckwheat, soybeans.

Fun Facts

  • Male is called a gander, female is a goose and young are called goslings
  • Numbers of migratory geese in North Carolina have declined dramatically over the past 60 years with no more than 10-12 thousand geese in the primary wintering area of northeast North Carolina
  • The resident flock of Canada geese in North Carolina likely exceeds 100,000 birds

Scientific Name:  Cardinalis cardinalis



  • Male;  Bright red plumage and a black face mask
  • Female;  Various shades of brown, gray and red
  • Both have strong short bills and a distinctive crest of head feathers


  • Cardinals adapt easily to both city and suburban environments
  • Their nests are usually concealed in hedgerows or vines

Seeds, insects, larvae, sap and many types of fruit

Fun Facts

  • The NC General Assembly of 1943 named the cardinal as the official state bird of NC
  • Both cardinal genders sing (unlike most bird species in which only the male vocalizes)

Scientific Name:  Anas platyrhynchos



  • Average Length:  19.8-27.5 inches
  • Weight:  females 2.5 lbs, males 2.75 lbs
  • Wing Span:  10.4-11.4 inches
  • Male:  green head, brown chest, white neck-ring, gray sides, brown back and black rump
  • Female:  mottled pattern of light and dark brown streaks with a dark brown streak through the eye
  • Both males and females have a violet-blue spectrum on each wing

Prefers shallow wetlands for feeding and resting, but builds nests on dry ground

Insects, aquatic invertebrates, acorns, seeds, tubers and vegetative parts of aquatic plants, and crops, such as corn, soybeans, rice, barley and wheat

Fun Facts

  • Mallards have excellent eyesight and hearing, giving them an advantage when an intruder nears
  • They are more vocal than all other ducks and use a variety of quacks to indicate actions and moods

Scientific Name:  Aix sponsa



  • Average Length:  17-21 inches
  • Weight:  1.5 lbs
  • Male:
    • Its head has a large crown and is colored with iridescent greens, blues and purples
    • Facial pattern includes a white throat with fingerlike extensions onto the cheek and neck
    • Eyes are dark red and beak is red, white and yellow with a black tip
    • Breast is burgundy with a white belly and its back is covered in dark bronze-green and black feathers
  • Female:  Its feathers are brown and gray with a pronounced white patch around the eye, white throat and gray chest

Wooded swamps, beaver ponds, freshwater marshes and along streams and rivers near forests.  Wood ducks nest in natural cavities, like those found in trees.

Various seeds, fruits, aquatic plants, invertebrates and waste grain

Fun Facts

  • The male duck is called a “drake” and the female a “hen”
  • The female’s drab coloring helps conceal her from predators during nesting and brood rearing
  • Many ornithologists believed the wood duck might go extinct by the early 20th century, but today their populations are stable due in part to the use of artificial nesting boxes, expanding beaver populations and restrictive harvests

Scientific Name:  Bubo virginianus



  • Average Length:  18-25 inches
  • Weight:  52 oz
  • Wingspan:  54 inches
  • Its two prominent ear tufts of feathers, resembling horns, give this owl its common name
  • Plumage is dark reddish brown with heavy stripes all over and feathery edges on its wings
  • Its large glaring brilliant yellow eyes give them a cat-like appearance


Mammals up to the size of a woodchuck or skunk, birds up to the size of a Canada goose and any insects, reptiles or amphibians

Fun Facts

  • It is the largest owl species in North Carolina
  • Its unique construction of feathers enables them to fly with virtually no sound
  • It is a myth that owls can turn their heads all the way around, but they can turn their heads 180 degrees

Scientific Name:  Zenaida macroura



  • Average Length:  11-13 inches
  • Wingspan;  17-19 inches
  • Tail:  5.5-7 inches
  • Gray-brown in color (females are duller in color)
  • Males have purple-pink iridescent feathers on the neck and light pink on the breast


  • Nests in wooded edges of fields, pastures, open areas, forests and suburban areas
  • Favorite nesting trees are loblolly pine and shortleaf pine

Seeds of grass, waste grain buckwheat, peanuts, cowpeas, seeds of pine, dove weed, pokeberry, some insects and snails (98% of diet is seeds)

Fun Facts

  • Its name comes from its long tail and melancholy bird call
  • It is the only game bird to nest in all 48 contiguous states of the US
  • It has been timed at a flight speed of 30-55 miles per hour

Scientific Name:  Pandion haliatus



  • Average Length:  21-24 inches
  • Weight:  2.2-3.9 lbs
  • Wingspan:  59-72 inches
  • They are dark brown above with white stomach and legs;  head is white with dark speckles on the crown and dark brown line through the eye


  • Almost always found near water with abundant fish populations along rivers, lakes and the coast
  • Builds large, bulky nests of sticks in dead trees, on stumps or man-made structures such as channel markers

Diet is almost exclusively fish, but occasionally birds, mammals, mollusks and snakes

Interesting Facts

  • The osprey flies with a crooked “M”-shaped wings
  • It is the only raptor that actually plunges into the water, entering feet first to catch fish with its talons
  • The soles of its feet have sharp spiny projections that allows a firm grip on slippery fish
  • It can dive at 30 miles per hour and has been clocked at 50 miles per hour by the time it hits the water

Scientific Name:  Buteo lineatus



  • Average Length:  19 inches
  • Weight:  1.5 lbs
  • Wingspan:  40 inches
  • Adults have a reddish, barred belly and strongly barred black and white tail and upper wing feathers


  • Favors stream sides with open woods and small clearings to hunt for prey and often perches for long periods in the lower part of a tree canopy waiting for prey
  • Builds its nest of small twigs and branches lined with down, moss and other fine materials in a large tree (often oak or white pine) near some form of water

Small mammals (up to the size of a squirrel or small rabbit), frogs, snakes, turtles, crayfish, some small birds and insects

Fun Facts

  • Females are noticeably larger than males
  • They return to the same territory year after year to breed


Scientific Name:  Picoides borealis



  • Average Length:  7 inches
  • White cheek patch and black and white barred back
  • Males have a few red feathers (called a cockade) on the side of their head that usually remain hidden until disturbed or excited

Mature longleaf pine ecosystem with very little understory

Egg, larvae and adult stages of beetles, ants, roaches, spiders and other insects found in pine trees, fruits and seeds

Fun Facts

  • Listed as an endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • They live in family groups and cooperate to raise young
  • Red-cockaded woodpeckers excavate cavities in live pine trees for roosting and nesting

Scientific Name:  Morella cerifera/ Myrica cerifera


  • Hardy shrub
  • Typically grows 8-10 feet tall, but may reach the stature of a small tree in protected conditions
  • Fragrant green leaves with orange and yellow glands on both sides
  • Females produce small, wax-covered fruits in early fall into winter

Usually found near streams, lakes and other waterways, as well as in boggy grasslands and wet wooded areas


  • Source of food for many species of birds
  • Ornamental
  • Candle Making:  The wax is extracted by boiling the berries and skimming off the floating hydrocarbons.  The fats are then boiled again and strained.  After that the liquid is usable in candle making through dipping or molding.

Historical Uses

  • Medicinal:  Can be used as a treatment for a variety of ailments and diseases due to its reputation as an internal stimulant and for its antipyretic and astringent properties:
    • Diarrhea, inflammation and infections of the gastrointestinal tract
    • Headaches
    • Decongestant for colds, flu, cough, throat infections and sinusitis
    • Externally, a decoction made from the herb was used to cover slow healing wounds, hemorrhoids and varicose veins
    • Large doses were once used to induce vomiting as a treatment for poisoning

Scientific Name:  Sabal minor


  • Among the hardiest and most northern ranging palms
  • Low-growing shrub, typically 1.5-6 feet tall
  • Its thick stem usually remains underground
  • Large leaves, similar to those of the Sabal palm, but have a shorter midrib and do not fray into threads
  • Small, fruits, about 6-8 mm in diameter

Low wet woods, swamp and maritime forests


  • Many species of birds and mammals, including robins and raccoons, eat the fruits
  • Basket weaving

Historical Uses

  • Medicinal:
    • Native Americans used juice crushed from the small roots as an eye medicine to relieve irritation
    • Dried roots were taken for high blood pressure
    • A tea from the dried roots was taken for kidney ailments and as a stimulant for “swimming in the head”
  • Food:  Native Americans used fresh roots to bake and served as “palmetto bread.”  They also ate the small fruits, sometimes called “famine food.”
  • The fan-shaped leaves were used to thatch homes
  • The leaves were used to make fans that were carried during certain dances
  • Immature blades from the leaves were prepared by sun-bleaching and then braided into thin strips for use as lashings or sewn together to make baskets and other useful items

Scientific Name:  Vitis rotundifolia


  • Our most common and familiar grape
  • Roundish leaves
  • Tendril vines
  • Very sweet, thick-skinned berries
    • Berries ripen in late summer
    • Unripe berries are green
    • Ripe berries are usually dark purple in the wild
  • Natural climber, but may form dense ground covers in open areas

Adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions

Edible and for making wine

Scientific Name:  Parthenocissus quinquefolia


  • Tall growing
  • Compound leaves with five fingers (sometimes confused with the three-fingered Poison Ivy)
  • Leaves are brilliant yellow to red in the fall
  • Blue-black berries that resemble mini grapes, but are poisonous
  • Branches cling by disk-tipped tendrils with some branches hanging free in graceful festoon

Prefers moist, well-drained soils, but will grow in drier soils and conditions including coastal dune areas


  • Ornamental
  • Many species of birds and other wildlife eat the fruits

Scientific Name:  Ilex vomitoria


  • Glossy, thick, elliptic leaves, about an inch long
  • Brilliant red drupes that last through the winter
  • Can grow 12-45 feet high, but usually no higher than 25 feet
  • Pale gray bark with white patches

Adapted to a wide variety of soils textures, but typically prefers sandy sites


  • Ornamental
  • Many species of birds and small mammals eat the berries
  • Young leaves contain caffeine and are brewed into a tea by some coastal residents

Historical Uses
Native Americans used the leaves and stems to brew a tea, commonly thought to be called asi or black drink for male-only purification and unity rituals.

Scientific Name:  Gelsemium sempervirens


  • Stems are reddish brown and slender, and climb by twining
  • Dark, evergreen leaves
  • Blooms heavily and can climb high and often forms tangled thickets
  • Small clusters of lemon-yellow flowers that create a sweet, intense fragrance
    • Flowers appear in later winter or early spring


  • Wide range of habitats, from swamp forests to dry uplands and thickets
  • Often found in abandoned fields and climbing high into canopies of pine forests


  • Ornamental
  • Beneficial to hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects

Historical Uses

  • Was used medicinally as a topical to treat papulous eruptions
  • Also used to treat measles, neuralgic otalgia, tonsillitis, esophagitis, dysmenorrhea, muscular rheumatism and headaches

Scientific Name:  Aralia spinose


  • Stiff branches at right angles
  • Huge, compound leaves
    • New foliage is bronze
    • Fall foliage is yellow to red-orange
  • Thorny
  • Flowers in late summer that attract bees and tiger swallowtail butterflies
  • Purplish-black fruits that attract birds

Forest or natural area at edge of woods, along streams in moist woods

Poison Part
Unripe berries, bark and roots

Poison Delivery Mode
Ingestion and dermatitis

Minor skin irritation, lasting only for a few minutes


Scientific Names:

  • Poison Ivy- toxicodendron radicans
    • Compound leaves of three leaflets that connect to a single stem
  • Poison Oak- toxicodendron diversilobum
    • Compound leaves of three, similar to Poison Ivy, but its leaves resemble those of the oak tree
  • Poison Sumac- toxicodendron vernix
    • Small tree/large shrub with large leaves (7-13 on each branch) and white fruits

Poison Part

  • All parts of the plants

Poison Delivery Mode

  • Direct contact with the plants is needed to release urushiol oil- the sticky, resin-like substance that causes the rash


  • Itchy, blistering rash that starts 12-72 hours after you come in contact with the oil
  • Swelling is a sign of a serious reaction
Myth Fact
Poison ivy rash is contagious. Rubbing the rash won’t spread poison ivy to other parts of your body (or to another person).  You spread the rash only if urushiol oil- the sticky, resin-like substance that causes the rash- has been left on your hands.
You can catch poison ivy simply by being near the plants. Direct contact with the plants is needed to release urushiol oil. Stay away from forest fires, direct burning, lawnmowers and trimmers when they are being used because they can cause the urushiol oil to become airborne.
Leaves of three, let them be. Poison sumac has 7 to 13 leaves on a branch, although poison ivy and oak have 3 leaves per cluster.
Do not worry about dead plants. Urushiol oil stays active on any surface, including dead plants, for up to 5 years.
Breaking the blisters releases urushiol oil that can spread. Not true.  However, wounds can become infected and make the scarring worse.  In very extreme cases, excessive fluid may need to be withdrawn by a doctor.
I’ve been in poison ivy many times and never broken out.  I’m immune. Not necessarily true.  The more times a person is exposed to urushiol, the more likely they will break out with an allergic reaction.  For the first time sufferer, it generally takes longer for the rash to show up- generally 7-10 days

Scientific Name:  Opuntia


  • Low-growing plants
  • Flattened stems that are formed of segments
  • Stems can also be cylindrical in shape
  • Clustered, minute, bristle-like barbed hairs (called Glochids)
  • Variously colored flowers with many petals
  • Juicy edible fruit, often used to make jelly

Poison Part

Poison Delivery Mode
Contact with the glochids and ingestion

Painful skin and eye irritation

Scientific Name:  Juniperus virginiana


  • Small evergreen tree
  • Grows to 40 feet or taller in sheltered areas, but remains dwarfed on exposed sites
  • Juvenile leaves are prickly, but adult foliage is soft and scale-like
  • Females produce aromatic, blue-green “berries” (they are actually fleshy cones)

Wide distribution, but does best on dry soils in full sunlight


  • Provides food for at least 68 bird species
  • Health & Wellness:  An essential oil can be made from the Eastern Red-Cedar that has several benefits
    • Can cure and lower inflammation
    • Used as an antiseptic and to alleviate congestion
    • Aromatherapy benefits include calming and soothing the mind, relieving anxiety and tension and promoting restorative, healthy and sound sleep
  • Bug Repellent:  Moths avoid the aromatic wood, making it a good lining for clothes chests and closets (often referred to as cedar closets and cedar chests)

Scientific Name:  Pinus taeda

  • Important commercial timber tree
  • Prefer lowland conditions, but are adaptable
  • Grows quickly
  • Range:

The word “loblolly” originally meant a thick porridge or gruel served to English sailors. When Europeans first came to settle the southeastern United States, they used that word to describe some of the local swamps where they found mud with the same thick, gooey consistency. The term also came to be applied to some of the plants that commonly grew in these areas, which is how loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) got its common name.

Today loblolly pine, is the most important commercial timber in the southeastern United States. Over 50% of the standing pine in the southeast is loblolly. The specific epithet, taeda, comes from the Latin word for torch and refers to the resinous wood.

This is an easily-seeded, fast-growing member of the yellow pine group and is an aggressive invader in fallow fields. It is widely grown in plantations for commercial timber production, but also has been planted to help stabilize soil and reduce erosion or as a noise and wind barrier. Loblolly has also been planted in mine reclamation areas and due to its high litter and biomass productivity, loblolly pine is being studied as a possible alternative source for energy.

Loblolly pine stands are important for numerous wildlife species. The trees provide habitat for many animals, including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, gray squirrels, rabbit, quail, and doves. Many songbirds feed on the seeds and help propagate the trees through seed dispersal. Red crossbills depend on loblolly pine seeds for up to 50% of their diet. Other birds who frequent the trees include pine warblers, Bachman’s warblers, and brown-headed nuthatches. Osprey and bald eagles often nest in tall loblolly pines. Two endangered species that also use these pines are fox squirrels, which eat the cones, and red-cockaded woodpeckers, which will sometimes nest in old growth trees.

The wood of this tree, which is marketed as southern yellow pine, is of lower quality than that of longleaf or shortleaf pines in terms of lumber and is therefore primarily used for pulp and paper products. However, it is possible for use as lumber or plywood.

Scientific Names:  Pinus palustris

  • Prefer upland conditions, but are adaptable
  • Can live over 300 years
  • Fire is very important in the Longleaf Pine’s success by allowing seeds to germinate and reducing competition
  • Historic Range:
  • Threatened Longleaf Pines, which once covered an estimated 90 million acres, now cover less than 3% of their original range

Longleaf pine forests need forest fires to thrive.  Historically, leaf litter and debris were cleared away by forest fires that were sparked during lightning storms. The vegetation associated with longleaf pine reflects the frequency and severity of burning. In the North Carolina Coastal Plains, wiregrass (Aristida stricta) is the most common ground-cover in Longleaf forest When fire is suppressed, ground cover buildup prevents seeds from reaching the soil, and they can’t germinate.

Those seeds that are able to take root undergo an interesting life cycle that differs from most other conifers. Rather than spending its first few years growing in height, the longleaf pine goes through a grass stage. From the surface, the grass stage plant appears to be a large clump of needles that grows very little. The real work, however, is going on underground. During the grass stage, the longleaf pine starts to develop its central root, called a taproot, which will be up to 12 feet long at maturity. After going through the grass stage, longleaf pines begin to grow in height. Both mature trees and grass stage specimens are fire resistant.

With a reduction in fire occurrence, hardwoods and other pines encroach on the longleaf forest. Longleaf pine is intolerant of competition, whether for light or for moisture and nutrients.  Within the range loblolly and shortleaf pines (P. taeda and P. echinata as well as hardwoods gradually replace the longleaf, eventually resulting in Loblolly Pine-Hardwood or occasionally Loblolly Pine-Shortleaf).

Hardwoods most closely associated with longleaf pine on mesic Coastal Plain sites include southern red, blackjack, and water oak (Q. nigra); flowering dogwood (Cornus florida); blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica); sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua); persimmon (Diospyros virginiana); and sassafras (Sassafras albidum). The more common shrubs include inkberry (Ilex glabra), yaupon (I. vomitoria), southern bayberry (Myrica cerifera), shining sumac (Rhus copallina), blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), and blackberry (Rubus spp.). On xeric sandhill sites, the most common associates are turkey, bluejack, blackjack, sand post, and dwarf live oaks (Quercus laevis, Q. incana, Q. marilandica, Q. stellata var. margaretta, and Q. minima).

Longleaf pines, which once covered an estimated 90 million acres, now cover less than 3 percent of their original range. This tree was once so abundant that it seemed like an inexhaustible resource to early settlers. Forests of longleaf pine were cleared to make space for development and agriculture. The lumber, which is of exceptional quality, was used for building ships and railroads. Most of the longleaf pines were gone by the 1920s.  Rather than replanting the longleaf pines, foresters replaced them with faster-growing pines that would produce more short-term economic benefits.

Restoration of longleaf pine forests has become a major conservation priority in recent years, though. Over 30 endangered and threatened species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers and indigo snakes, rely on longleaf pine for habitat. Additionally, longleaf pines are more resilient than other southeastern pines to the negative impacts of climate change. They can withstand severe windstorms, resist pests, tolerate wildfires and drought and capture carbon pollution from the atmosphere.


NHC Parks & Gardens Office: 896 Airlie Road, Wilmington, NC 28403 • Phone 910-798-7620 • Fax 910-798-7621
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