Natural History Programs

Heinrich Ecological Services (HES) offers natural history programming for diverse audiences, with special emphasis on training naturalists, land managers and educators. Our programming is based on the belief that education is the foundation of conservation. Slide presentations and workshops are designed to assist participants with improving their natural history knowledge and skills, as well as their ability to make sound conservation decisions.

Please contact us to receive more detailed information or to discuss how HES can assist you with your natural history programming needs.

Slide Presentations

(diverse audiences; 1-1.5 hours)

Florida Turtles: Diversity and Conservation

Florida is home to over 8% of the world's known turtle species and is a significant area for both turtle diversity and habitat. Twenty-five of the 54 turtle species found in the United States also occur in Florida. They are represented in upland communities, such as scrub and sandhill, in rivers, lakes, swamps, and even coastal habitats, such as salt marsh, mangrove communities and marine systems. Certainly, habitat diversity and species richness makes Florida a chelonian hotspot.

Turtles are ancient creatures that walked the earth with the dinosaurs and today are important and visible elements in many ecosystems. Many species that occur in Florida are now in decline and in need of conservation attention. Conservation efforts on their behalf are also beneficial to the ecosystems in which they are found. This presentation focuses on the diversity and conservation needs of Florida's non-marine species, with emphasis on the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) and riverine species.

Gopher Tortoise: Threatened Icon of the Uplands

The gopher tortoise (G. polyphemus) is a species in decline in a vanishing habitat and warrants additional protection rangewide on both state and federal levels. Its burrow system plays an important part in the ecology of the upland ecosystem and provides shelter for at least 363 other species. Consequently, gopher tortoises are often referred to as landlords of the uplands.

An important part of our natural southeastern heritage, these fire-maintained communities support a number of listed floral and faunal species. Protection of upland habitat through land acquisition and sound management techniques (such as prescribed fire) plays an important role in the conservation of the gopher tortoise, as well as numerous other listed species. In addition, uplands play a significant role in the hydrologic cycle, making their protection an important factor in water conservation. This presentation introduces the ecology and diverse conservation challenges related to this flagship species for uplands conservation.

Diamondback Terrapins: Living on the Edge

Although the diamondback terrapin (M. terrapin) lives in brackish ecosystems along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the coastline of Florida represents approximately 20% of the species' entire range. Three subspecies are endemic to Florida, with a total of five of the seven formally described subspecies present. The other states only have one or two subspecies each and considerably less terrapin habitat diversity. Consequently, Florida should be considered the single most important state for terrapin conservation. This presentation introduces the ecology and conservation needs of this coastal species.

Florida's Riverine Turtles: Identification, Natural History and Conservation

Seven species (representing four families) of Florida turtles are principally riverine, including the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), Gulf Coast smooth softshell (Apalone mutica calvata), Gulf Coast spiny softshell (A. spinifera aspera), loggerhead musk turtle (Sternotherus minor), river cooter (Pseudemys concinna), Barbour's map turtle (Graptemys barbouri), and Escambia map turtle (Graptemys ernsti). Furthermore, fifteen species (60%) of Florida turtles are either principally or occasionally riverine. These turtles, as fascinating as they are, probably receive the least attention when it comes to research, management and conservation education. Increased efforts in these areas, particularly conservation education, will go a long way toward conserving these special Florida turtles. This presentation introduces basic identification techniques, natural history and conservation needs of these fascinating riverine species.

Conserving Amphibians and Reptiles of the Southeastern United States

In recent years populations of amphibians and reptiles have declined significantly throughout the world. Habitat diversity and species richness make the southeastern United States a herpetological hotspot. Yet, many herpetofaunal species are seldom seen and consequently are unappreciated. This slide presentation, augmented with live animals, introduces the concept of hidden biodiversity, discusses the ecological role of amphibians and reptiles, and provides an overview of regional efforts to conserve these ecologically important species.

Impacts of Roads and Automobiles on Wildlife Communities

Roads and automobiles impact wildlife in many ways, including vehicle mortality, new development, habitat fragmentation, and introduction of non-native species. This presentation is based on a two-year roadkill study conducted in west-central Florida and discusses the value of roadkills to biologists and road planners.

Using Turtles as a Vehicle for Environmental Education:
Uniting Biologists and Educators

For reasons previously mentioned, turtles are an excellent group to use for teaching ecology and conservation. This presentation discusses the important role of educators in conserving Florida's turtle diversity. A number of ongoing successful conservation education programs are highlighted.


Natural History and Conservation of Florida Turtles

(educators; 4 days)

2012 Program and Registration Material: PDF (400k)

This workshop is designed to provide educators with a good introduction to the natural history and conservation of Florida turtles through both classroom presentations and first-hand field experiences. Participants are introduced to the diversity of Florida turtles, basic identification techniques, natural history, causes of decline, and conservation measures, as well as educational activities and resources. Highlights include field trips to upland, riverine, and coastal habitats where participants have an opportunity to study several species in the wild. Our goal is to provide a lifetime experience that will allow educators to return to their formal and non-formal educational settings and excite others.

This workshop is based on the belief that education is the foundation of conservation. Turtles are an excellent group to use for teaching ecology and conservation and educators play a key role in conserving these ecologically important vertebrates. Now in its 19th year, this four-day summer workshop is offered at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg, Florida. Special arrangements can be made to offer this workshop to groups and organizations elsewhere in the state.

Natural History and Conservation of Gopher Tortoises

(general public, naturalists and educators; 4-8 hours)

This workshop includes classroom and field sessions and provides an overview of the natural history and conservation of the gopher tortoise (G. polyphemus) and its associated upland ecosystems. Field activities introduce techniques for burrow classification (i.e., activity, tortoise size), aging, sexing, estimating population density, and scat analysis. An optional classroom session for educators includes an introduction to educational materials and resources, with a complete set of all materials reviewed provided to participants.

Natural History and Conservation of Diamondback Terrapins

(general public, naturalists and educators; 3 hours)

Diamondback terrapins (M. terrapin) were once common in brackish ecosystems along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but have suffered from a long history of human exploitation. Current significant threats to this species include loss of nesting habitat, encounters with automobiles, predation, and incidental drowning in crab pots. This workshop provides an introduction to this little known species and ongoing rangewide conservation efforts. The workshop includes a discussion of survey techniques, an introduction to live specimens and bioartifacts, and a demonstration of a bycatch reduction device for addressing problems associated with crab pots.

Natural History and Conservation of Florida's Riverine Turtles

(general public, naturalists and educators; 1.5 days)

This workshop provides an introduction to Florida's riverine turtles, including basic identification techniques, natural history, major threats, and conservation measures. A classroom session includes a slide presentation and hands-on activities with live animals and bioartifacts. A field trip to Rainbow Run (Marion County) provides an opportunity to canoe/snorkel on this spring-fed river and see several species of turtles and other riverine wildlife.

Identification of Florida's Non-marine Turtles

(naturalists and educators; 4 hours)

This workshop provides an introduction to basic identification techniques of Florida's non-marine turtles and includes a slide presentation and hands-on session with live animals and bioartifacts.

Identifying Road-killed Amphibians and Reptiles

(naturalists, environmental consultants and land managers; 4 hours)

This hands-on workshop introduces the value of roadkills, as well as techniques useful in the collection, identification and storage of roadkilled amphibians and reptiles. Participants have an opportunity to examine a number of preserved specimens and practice their newly acquired skills.

Sheds, Shells and Scat: Activities for Teaching Herpetology

(educators and naturalists; 3 hours)

This workshop introduces elementary activities for teaching herpetology (study of amphibians and reptiles). Three hands-on activities are highlighted and participants learn new skills for interpreting nature that can easily be taught to children. Participants learn how to identify snake sheds found in the woods by examining scales and patterns, making field observations and using field guides. They also learn to interpret turtle shells, feet and skulls, which are often adapted for habitat and diet. A turtle's shell can reveal major life traumas, such as encounters with alligators, automobiles, humans, and fire. Finally, participants learn to determine what a turtle has been eating by examining scat (fecal material) from gopher tortoises (G. polyphemus) and diamondback terrapins (M. terrapin).

Live Reptile Presentations

(diverse audiences; 45 minutes)

Heinrich Ecological Services currently offers two live reptile presentations on the diversity, ecology and conservation of these ecologically important vertebrates:

  • Florida Turtles: includes a Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri), alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii), diamondback terrapin (M. terrapin), and bioartifacts.
  • Florida Snakes: includes a red rat snake (Elaphe g. guttata), yellow rat snake (E. obsoleta quadrivittata), Florida kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula floridana), Florida pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus), and bioartifacts.


Field Herpetology

(students in grades 4-12; 6 hours)

Exciting classroom and field sessions allow students to experience field herpetology (study of amphibians and reptiles). Classroom sessions include hands-on activities introducing how to identify snake sheds, "read" a turtle's shell to determine it's past history (such as gator scars and encounters with fire), study a turtle's mouth to get an idea about what it eats, identify what a gopher tortoise has been eating by looking at its scat, and identify roadkills. Field sessions include activities in gopher tortoise habitat and introduce techniques for aging, sexing, burrow classification (i.e., activity, tortoise size), estimating population density, and scat analysis. Students also visit a Florida softshell nesting site, where they learn techniques for the identification of turtle eggs and discuss problems associated with predation.

Sheds, Shells and Scat: Activities for Studying Reptiles

(students in grades 4-12; 3 hours)

Children are fascinated with lizards and turtles and we all know at least one child that loves to watch nature shows about snakes and alligators on television. This interest is universal in young children and makes herps (amphibians and reptiles) an excellent group to use for learning about ecology and conservation. This class introduces three elementary activities for studying reptiles. Students learn how to identify snake sheds found in the woods, how a turtle's shell can reveal major life traumas, and what a turtle has been eating by examining its scat. This hands-on program provides an opportunity to explore the fascinating world of interpreting nature.

Nature Camps

2015 Summer Nature Camps

Hands-on, science-based nature day camps for children (ages 7-11) with a strong interest in wildlife

Registration Forms

Weedon Island Preserve - St. Petersburg, Florida (PDF 168k)

Brooker Creek Preserve - Tarpon Springs, Florida (PDF 170k)

Herpetology Camp

This popular, weeklong nature camp has the inquisitive child in mind. Campers will explore the fascinating world of amphibians and reptiles side-by-side with herpetologist George L. Heinrich. Through up-close encounters with a variety of animals, such as gopher tortoises, frogs, lizards, and snakes, campers will learn about the ecology and conservation of amphibians and reptiles.

Wildlife Ecology Camp

This summer camp is designed for children with a strong interest in nature. Campers will explore the ecology and conservation of Florida’s wildlife and wildlands with field biologist and environmental educator George L. Heinrich. A blend of classroom and field sessions will include hands-on activities, guest presentations, and exploration of the preserve's diverse habitats, where campers will practice their nature detective skills.