Everglades National Park is home to a rich and varied more than 1,000 species of seed-bearing plants, numerous epiphytic plant species (bromeliads and orchids, and many others representing more primitive and simply constructed groups, such as ferns, mosses, and lichens.
American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
This large reptile is the "king of the Everglades." Without the alligator, the Everglades might not survive. During the dry season (December through April), alligators dig out pockets, or holes, in the limestone. "Gator holes" are one of the few places in the park where there is standing water during the winter months. These holes become home to many insects, turtles, fish, and wading birds. During the summer wet season, these same animals are spread throughout the "river of grass."
At one time an endangered species, the alligator is now making a come-back. They are common throughout the fresh water marshes of the park, and occasionally enter the brackish waters of Florida Bay. Despite their recovery, "gators" are still threatened. The biggest threat comes from artificially controlled water levels. Female alligators usually begin building nests in mid-June. The nest mounds are usually built on slightly higher banks, or on the edge of small tree islands called bayheads. If a lot of water is released into the park in late June, many of the nests flood and the developing eggs drown.
The best time to see alligators in the park is during the winter dry season. At that time, they get together near the deeper water holes. All sizes and ages, from ten-inch babies to an occasional twenty-year-old, ten-foot-long adult, can be seen lounging on the bank along the Anhinga Trail. Alligators are critical to the survival of Everglades National Park. Without "gator holes," many animals would not make it through the winter dry season. Unless enough water is released at the right time of the year, alligators will not be around to create these "gator holes."
Habitat and Distribution
The range of the American Alligator extends south from coastal swamps in North and South Carolina to the tip of southern Florida, then west along the Gulf Coast to the mouth of the Rio Grande. Alligators range inland throughout the southern coastal flatland.
Alligators live in freshwater lakes, rivers, and swamps. They occasionally live in brackish water.
Size, Age, Weight, and Speed
The largest alligator ever recorded in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches long (5.3 meters). The largest alligator ever recorded measured 19 feet 2 inches (5.8 meters) and was found in Louisiana.
The growth rate of alligators varies with food availability and temperature. At the northern limits of its range, or when food is scarce, alligators grow slowly. In Louisiana, where food is abundant, young alligators can grow about one foot (30 centimeters) per year with the greatest growth in the first year.
The weight of an alligator in relation to its length can vary greatly. One 11 foot 6 inch (3.5 meter) alligator weighed 591 pounds (265 kilograms), whereas another alligator measuring 12 feet 1 inch (3.7 meters) weighed only 460 pounds (209 kilograms).
On land alligators can lumber along dragging their tails, or they can walk on their toes with heels of the hind feet and most of the tail well off the ground. Using this "high walk" alligators can run up to 30 miles per hour (38 kph) for short distances!
Life Cycle, Reproduction, and Nesting
The onset of the breeding season is directly related to air temperature. In south Florida some courtship may begin as early as mid-February, but the main breeding season occurs from mid-April through May and lasts for six to eight weeks.
Alligator courtship consists of a complex and varied sequence of snout-touching, bellowing, "coughing," back-rubbing, circling, bubble-blowing, and swimming together that can last for minutes or hours at a time and is performed repeatedly over the course of the courtship period. Behaviorists have watched courting alligators test one another's strength by trying to gently press each other under water. Eventually the female swims alongside the male and they mate underwater. This is repeated in the final several days of the 6-8 week courtship season.
Nests are constructed by females in June and early July on mounds of high vegetation or raised banks so that the eggs will be above the high water mark. Everglades alligator nests usually contain about 30 eggs. Female alligators do not incubate their eggs by sitting on them as birds do. Instead the construction of the nest helps to maintain a fairly constant incubation temperature and the sex of the babies is determined by the temperature inside the nest during the first 3 weeks of incubation. Eggs at temperatures greater than 91�F (34�C) develop into males. Eggs at less than 85�F (30�C) develop into females. Eggs in between these temperatures develop into either males or females. Hatching occurs in mid-August after about 65 days of incubation.
Throughout courtship and nesting alligators will tend to be protective of their domain. Mother alligators are very protective of their offspring, which may stay near her for over two years, sometimes sitting on her back and head. The babies need all the help they can get, they are eaten by raccoons, otters, herons, snakes, fish, bullfrogs, and even other alligators.
Diet, Predation, and Metabolism
Alligators eat a wide variety of foods including insects, crabs, crayfish, fish, frogs, snails, turtles, snakes, coots, grebes, wading birds, raccoons, otters, deer, and other alligators. Alligators are also known to eat dead animals. Although alligators are carnivorous, they are occasionally seen uprooting vegetation. Evidently they do not eat the plant material, and may be catching crayfish, snails, and insects living in the mud at the bases of the plants. Alligators feed most often when temperatures are between 73-90�F (20-23�C).
If prey is small, it may be swallowed whole. Otherwise the gator will bite down on it repeatedly. Using a combination of sharp teeth and tremendously strong jaw muscles, it breaks bones or shells so the whole item can be swallowed. Large prey may also be shaken vigorously and slapped against the water or shore to rip off swallowing-sized pieces.
Alligators roll underwater with very large prey, submerging the victim and drowning it. The dead prey is dragged around or guarded for several days until the meat rots enough to be ripped apart.
Alligators are cold-blooded, which means that their body temperatures fluctuate in response to the temperature of their surroundings. An advantage of being cold-blooded is that little energy needs to be spent in maintaining a high body temperature, and therefore less food is needed. A healthy alligator can go many months without food. Alligators can survive in water temperatures as cold as 36�F (2�C) and as warm as 98�F (38�C), however they function best within a relatively narrow range of temperatures.
Never get closer than 15 feet (5 meters) to an alligator. If it hisses or opens its mouth in defense, you should back away even farther. The park is a wilderness area. All animals are wild and should be treated with respect at all times.
It is illegal to feed or disturb any animal or plant life within the boundaries of Everglades National Park. It is a violation of Florida state law to feed any alligator. When people feed alligators, they lose their fear of humans.
Out in the sunny glades the broad leaves of the alligator flag mark the location of an alligator hole. This is the most incredible ecosystem of all the worlds within the world of the park; for in a sense the alligator is the keeper of the Everglades.
With feet and snout these reptiles clear out the vegetation and muck from the larger holes in the limestone. In the dry season, when the floor of the glades checks in the sun, these holes are oases. Then large numbers of fish, turtles, snails, and other freshwater animals take refuge in the holes, moving right in with the alligators. Enough of these water-dependent creatures thus survive the drought to repopulate the glades when the rains return. Birds and mammals join the migration of the everglades animal kingdom to the alligator holes, feed upon the concentrated life in them, and in turn occasionally become food for their alligator hosts.
Lily pads float on the surface. Around the edges arrowleaf, cattails, and other emergent plants grow. Behind them on higher muckland, much of which is created by the alligators as they pile up plant debris, stand ferns, wildflowers, and swamp trees. Algae thrive in the water. The rooted water plants might become so dense as to hinder the movement and growth of the fish, were it not for the weeding activities of the alligators. With the old reptiles keeping the pool open, the fish thrive, and alligators and guests live well.
Plants piled beside the hole by the alligator decay and form soil with mud and marl. Ferns, wildflowers, and tree seedlings take root, and eventually the alligator hole may be the center of a tree island.
So, it's easy to see how important the alligator is to the ecology of the park. Unfortunately for this reptile, many people in the past believed only in the value of its hide. Hunting for alligators became profitable in the mid-1880s and continued until the 1960s. In 1961 Florida prohibited all hunting of alligators, but poaching continued to take its toll. Finally, the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1969 protected the alligator by eliminating all hunting and trafficking in hides.
As a result of complete protection, the alligator has increased greatly in number. They are no longer an endangered species in Florida, and they can easily be found in gator holes and sloughs. Today alligators are eagerly sought by visitors to Everglades National Park who are anxious to see and photograph this unique creature.
|American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)||American Crocodile (Crocodilus acutus)|
|Broad snout||Narrow snout|
|Blackish coloration in adults||Olive brown coloration|
|Only teeth of the upper jaw visible when jaws are closed||Teeth of both jaws visible when jaws are closed|
|Range: Southeastern United States||Range: In the U.S. found only in the southern tip of Florida. Also the Caribbean, Central and South America. The American Crocodile is an Endangered Species. Only a few hundred remain in the U.S.|
|Nesting: Nest is a mound of vegetation, constructed by the female alligator in freshwater environments||Nesting: lays eggs in a mud or sand nest in brackish or saltwater environments.|
|South Florida is the only place in the world where both alligators and crocodiles can be found together. National Park Service lands are valuable sanctuaries for these fabulous reptiles.|
Reptiles and amphibians are animals whose body temperature changes with their surroundings (cold-blooded). Everglades National Park, with its semi-tropical climate, is an ideal home for these creatures. There are over fifty species of reptiles found in the park, including twenty-six snakes, sixteen turtles, and several lizards. The eighteen species of amphibians found in the park include the smallest frog in North America, the little grass frog.
Of the turtles found in the Park, most live in the fresh water marshes and ponds. The ones you are most likely to see include the striped mud turtle, common along the Anhinga Trail, the peninsula cooter, which is often seen at Shark Valley, and the Florida red-belly, found in fresh water marshes, ponds and solution holes. If you are walking on a trail through the pinelands or a hammock, and you see a turtle crawling along, it is probably a Florida box turtle. You may even come across one that has been fire-scarred or lost one of its legs. The only other land turtle found in the park is the gopher tortoise, and you are likely to see it only if you visit the most southwestern section of the park called Cape Sable. On Cape Sable, you might also see a diamondback terrapin basking along the shoreline. This species likes the brackish water of the mangrove estuary.
At one time, turtles were quite common in the marine environment of Florida Bay. Today, there are fewer marine turtles because their nesting sites have been disturbed. Both the Atlantic hawksbill and the Atlantic ridley are endangered species. The Atlantic loggerhead, which commonly nests at night during the summer along Highland Beach at Cape Sable and Sandy Key in Florida Bay, is a nationally threatened species. If you are walking the beach at night and sight any one of these marine turtles nesting, do not disturb them, they are all protected species.
Many of the snakes found in Everglades National Park are adapted to survive in the water. The striped crayfish snake is considered the best swimming snake in Florida, but you're not likely to see one unless you look carefully among the marsh plants in the northern part of the park. Much more common is the brown water snake which is the most frequently seen snake along the Anhinga Trail. People often mistake it for the poisonous Florida cottonmouth which is found in the same area. The water snake, if cornered or mistreated, will bite, but it is not poisonous. While most of the snakes living in or near the water are adapted to a fresh water environment, some, like the cottonmouth and mangrove salt marsh snake, can survive in the mangrove swamps and salt water marshes.
Some of the snakes in the park are beautifully colored, standing out in their surroundings, while others are drab colored and blend in perfectly with their background. The brightly colored, very poisonous, eastern coral snake, with its red, yellow, and black rings and black snout, warns predators, "stay away from me, I'm dangerous." The black snout is the coral snake's most distinguishing feature. It is found in hardwood hammocks and pinelands under leaves, rocks, and logs. Both the scarlet and scarlet king snake imitate the coral snake in appearance and are found in the same habitat. All three species have red, black and yellow rings, but the scarlet and scarlet king have red snouts. Another difference is that in the coral snake, the red and yellow rings touch. The scarlet and scarlet king snakes have their red and yellow rings separated by black.
Some of the most beautiful snakes in the park belong to a group called the rat snakes. The Everglades rat snake is brilliant orange with four dark stripes; the corn snake has reddish blotches with a black border in a background of grey, tan, yellow, or orange; and the common yellow rat snake has four black stripes on a bright golden yellow background. Unlike the bodies of most snakes which are rounded, the rat snakes are shaped like a loaf of bread. They are very good climbers and may be seen climbing a tree to get to eggs in a bird's nest. They also feed on small rodents, frogs, and toads, which they constrict or squeeze to death.
Snakes are found in nearly every habitat in the Everglades. They range in size from the poisonous pygmy rattler, seldom more than two feet long (60 cm), to the threatened indigo snake, which can grow to be over eight feet long (2.4 m). Some are brilliantly colored, some may be poisonous, while others control the rodent population. Each one has an important role to play in the Everglades environment.
Rustling leaves in the hardwood hammock sound more like a lion than a lizard. But the tiny green anole is responsible. A brown blur, he darts up a strangler fig tree and out onto a big leaf. Within seconds, the lizard transforms into a sliver of green, barely recognizable against the foliage. He lifts and bobs his head, then repeatedly protrudes his bright red throat pouch. The reasons for this display are twofold: to attract a mate, and to advertise territorial ownership to other males.
The lizard's crimson beacon is easily visible from many trees away. As inconspicuous female anoles scurry for a closer view, another hammock resident approaches ...... moments later, the green anole, once a star performer in this tiny verdant arena, is buried within a corn snake's belly.
The native green anole, which many of you know as the chameleon, was once very common throughout the park. Now, it is being gradually replaced in the pinelands and hardwood hammocks by the exotic brown anole which is native to Cuba.
The Florida reef gecko is the only native gecko found in Florida. It is found in the hammocks and pinelands under rocks and leaves, and is the smallest lizard in North America (2 - 2-1/4 inches, or 5.4 cm).
Inland glass lizards are common in fresh water marshes and pinelands that are flooded during certain times of the year. During high water and after fire, you may see them along roads that are next to their habitats. They may be up to two feet long (60 cm).
Several exotic species of lizards have been able to adapt to the Everglades environment. These exotics often compete for food, shelter, and territory with native lizards. Many exotics are pets that have escaped or have been released into the Everglades. You can help protect the native lizards by not releasing exotic pets into the park.
Amphibians are animals who commonly spend the first part of their life in the water, breathing through gills. As adults, they may still live in the water but use lungs to breathe. They include frogs, toads, and salamanders. Many are common, but are more often heard than seen because they are out only at night (nocturnal) or are very well camouflaged.
The Grass Frog
No more than 5/8" long (1.6 cm), the little grass frog is the tiniest frog in North America. Often, people think they are seeing a baby frog when they sight this species. It is found clinging to sawgrass a few feet above the water. Although it is seldom seen, you can hear its breeding choruses at night during the summer.
The Pig Frog
The pig frog's grunt-like call can be heard night or day, year round, at the Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley. It is found through-out the fresh water marshes of the park.
The Everglades Dwarf Siren
The Everglades dwarf siren is a salamander known to be found only in the Everglades. When a plant or animal is found in only one particular place in the world, scientists say it is endemic to that place.
If you come to Everglades National Park's Main Visitor Center during the summer, you are likely to hear large choruses of oak toads. They are found in hammocks, pinelands, and wet sawgrass communities and are often active during the day.
Everglades National Park has many interesting reptiles and amphibians. Each one has an important role to play in the environment.
Birds are some of the most colorful and interesting creatures that share our world. The name "Everglades" has always been associated with birds. The warm, shallow, and vast Everglades "river" attracted mainly wading birds to this region for thousands of years. In the 1800's, the well-known naturalist and artist, John James Audubon, wrote during a visit to south Florida, "We observed great flocks of wading birds flying overhead toward their evening roosts .... They appeared in such numbers to actually block out the light from the sun for some time."
In Everglades National Park, over 350 different species of birds have been sighted. There are many different ways to identify one group of birds from another. In this article, the terms wading birds, land birds, and birds of prey will be used.
Sixteen different species of wading birds live in the Everglades. All have long legs for wading into the water to catch their food. The white ibis is the most common wading bird found here. Unlike many wading birds who prefer to eat fish, the ibis dines mostly on crayfish. This attractive white bird has a long, slender, curved beak which it uses to probe the mud in search of food. Ancient Egyptians believed the ibis to be the reincarnation of their God, Thoth, the God of Wisdom and Learning.
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
There is a bird in Everglades National Park that is an excellent messenger of the past, present, and future. A bird that carries this role an indicator species, because its rather specific habitat requirements are so closely associated with one particular environment. The quality and quantity of that required environment directly determines the well-being and the number of that species. Since it is usually much easier to count and record the biology of one or more indicator species than it is to measure the more complex workings of an ecosystem, close monitoring of the properly selected species will tell us much about the health of the entire system.
In this case, the bird is the wood stork, and the environment is the Florida Everglades. Like the wood stork, the Everglades ecosystem is now endangered. Storks were once more abundant in the southern Florida wetlands than in any other region throughout the southeastern states. The wood stork should thrive in the Everglades and Big Cypress because it is a specialized species that does best in tropical and subtropical zones with distinct wet season - dry season climates. A stork locates food, mostly small fresh water fish, not by sight but by groping with its bill in shallow water. This feeding technique is most effective when water levels are dropping throughout broad marshes as a result of prolonged dry periods, and fish are being concentrated in ever-diminishing pools.
The Everglades of the 1930s, largely undrained and without complex water control structures, supported a nesting population of approximately 4,000 pairs of wood storks. Modern water control programs in south Florida have so greatly changed the flooding and drying patterns of the Everglades, however, that the very survival of stork nesting colonies in the park is in question. Although the number of storks in Everglades colonies remained as high as 2,500 pairs as recently as 1960, accelerated development of water control structures and unnatural water delivery schedules have sharply increased the birds' decline during the past 30 years. By the mid-1980s, only 250 pair of wood storks were still nesting in Everglades National Park!
The stork's indicator role as been dramatically demonstrated, as total numbers of all species of wading birds nesting in mainland Everglades colonies have also dropped during this same 30 years from an estimated 40,000 to 9,000 pairs. Since the 1930s, the decline in all wading birds has eceeded ninety percent!
Clearly, the southern Everglades ecosystem has been incapable of supporting viable populations of wood storks and other wading birds for several decades. While the storks have been chronicling the deterioration in the ecosystem, at the same time they are providing information that is needed for the system's restoration. Our understanding of the habitat requirements of wood storks makes it possible to revise water management practices in order to restore good wading bird feeding conditions. The challenge, however, is to implement these improved water management programs in the face of the rapidly growing human demands for water and space in southern Florida.
Wood Storks have declined from 6,000 nesting birds to just 500 since the 1960s. If recent trends continue, wood storks may no longer nest in South Florida by the year 2000.
Their feeding behavior explains their predicament. Wood storks feed not by sight but by touch "tacto-location" in shallow and often muddy water full of plants. Fish can't be seen in those conditions. Walking slowly forward the stork sweeps its submerged bill from side to side. Touching prey, mostly small fish, the bill snaps shut with a 25 millisecond reflex action, the fastest known for vertebrates. Only seasonally drying wetlands concentrate (mostly in drying ponds) enough fish to provide the 440 pounds (200 kg) a pair of these big birds requires in a breeding season. When natural wetlands cycles are upset by human water management, wood storks fail to nest successfully. The wood stork -- which stands over 3 feet (0.9 meters) tall, has a 5 foot (1.5 meter) wing spread, and weighs 4 to 7 pounds (1.8 to 3.2 kg) -- was placed on the federal Endangered Species list in 1984.
One of the most common herons you would encounter on a visit to the park would be the green-backed heron. A relatively small wading bird, the antics of this fisherman are fun to watch. Slowly stalking in shallow water, or hanging from a low tree branch, its dart-like jab at a fish is rarely off target.
Other wading birds you may encounter on a visit include the great white heron, great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, tri-colored heron, little blue heron, cattle egret, reddish egret, black-crowned night heron, yellow-crowned night heron, least bittern, glossy ibis, and the very colorful roseate spoonbill.
Of the 350+ birds that have been sighted in the Everglades, about 200 are migratory. That is, they spend most of their lives north or south of the Everglades, and visit here when conditions of food and/or climate dictate. Land birds spend most of their lives in drier areas of the park, like the tree islands (hammocks) or the pineland areas. During winter months, migratory warblers are often seen. These very colorful birds are named warblers for their often beautiful singing. Cardinals, bluejays, meadowlarks, bob-whites, and red-bellied woodpeckers are common on dry ground in the Everglades and reside here year round.
Birds of Prey
The term "birds of prey" describes birds that catch their food by using a hooked beak and claws. Hawks, owls, eagles, kites, and falcons are all considered birds of prey.
Some birds of prey of the Everglades include the most common hawk, the red-shouldered hawk. This very vocal bird swoops down to feed on lizards and snakes. The most common owl is the barred owl. If you hear an owl hooting late at night in the Everglades, most likely it is a barred owl. "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all" is one common "English" translation of its call.
Along the mangrove island areas of Everglades National Park, you are likely to see an osprey dive into the water to catch a fish. About fifty pair of bald eagles, who also feed on fish, nest in the park.
Perhaps the most interesting, and one of the most threatened birds in the park, is the Everglades or snail kite. This bird does not have a varied diet. In fact, it feeds almost exclusively on the meat of the large, brown, aquatic apple snail. Skillfully plucking the snail from the water, the Everglades kite will use its specially adapted beak to pry the snail loose from its shell and then devour it. This attractive bird is an endangered species today due to a "human-caused" decrease in apple snail populations. Draining of prime snail habitat kills off adult snails. Improper flooding of areas drowns the pearl-like snail eggs before they hatch from their grassy perch.
Everglades Birds -- Yesterday and Today
In the 1930's approximately 250,000 wading birds nested in the Florida Everglades. In the spring of 1990, scientists estimated as few as 2,200 wading birds nested in Everglades National Park. Ninety percent of our nesting wading bird population is gone. Many will return if water managers and park staff are able to return the flow of fresh water through Everglades National Park to its original condition (and keep it there).
Two main reasons have accounted for this dramatic decrease in the members of the wading bird community, fashion and the draining of the wetlands.
In the late 1800's, fashionable ladies' hats were adorned with lacy feathers called plumes. These were taken mostly from herons and egrets. Plume hunters would often shoot the water birds during nesting and leave the helpless young chicks to die. Plume-hunting has been illegal for many years, but by the year 1900, only a few thousand herons and egrets remained. Many merchants made their early fortunes by buying and selling bird feathers.
The Everglades wetland has been reduced to a small fraction of its original size. All creatures, including birds, need food, water, shelter, and space to survive. Without these essential requirements, birds were unable to survive in altered areas of the Everglades. Each bird relies on a certain type of food and has a special adaptation enabling it to catch its prey. The wood stork is an endangered species today, not solely because of habitat destruction of the wetlands, but also due to irregular water flow into the park. Over the last three decades water managers have, on occasion, dumped too much water into Everglades National Park, flooding out small pools rich in fish, and making it harder for the wood stork to find food to feed its young.
There is hope for the future that more wetland areas will be protected from "development." Water managers and scientists will then be able to recreate the natural flow of the last remaining natural section of the Everglades river.
If you have never visited Everglades National Park during the winter bird-watching season, you are missing one of nature's finest shows! Seeing close-up the beautiful rainbow colors of the purple gallinule, or the fishing tactics of the anhinga as it spears its prey and swallows it whole, is much better than watching a tape on the TV set.
Experiencing the beauty and ingenuity of birds has inspired people for centuries. Despite the dramatic decline in the population of wading birds, residents of south Florida still live near one of the world's best bird areas.
Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaja ajaja)
Sandy Key, ten miles southwest of Flamingo, is a hub of spoonbill activity during winter. Every evening, a few hundred spoonbills roost in the islands' largest trees. At sunrise, the birds compete with the morning colors as they depart individually or in small flocks for the mainland.
One spoonbill travels northeast and passes directly over Eco Pond. "It's a flamingo!" a few people exclaim from the viewing platform. The bird continues its flight to Mud Lake, a few miles further north, and settles down. It lowers its partially opened bill into the shallow, rust-colored water, and sweeps its head from side to side. Any small creatures, usually fish, which bump the edge of the bird's sensitive mandibles, are captured with a snap of the bill.
Later, ugly grey baby spoonbills, hunkered on their stinky nests, gulp regurgitated food from their parents' throats. Soon, they transform into replicas of the adults, becoming distinguished members of the Everglades community.
The Roseate Spoonbill is found along the south Florida coast from the Florida Keys north to Tampa, with some populations in northeastern Florida and the eastern coast of Texas down to Mexico. A major period of decline for the spoonbill occurred in the early 1800's when the wings of this beautiful creature were made into fans, a "regular article of trade" in St. Augustine, according to John Audubon. The millinery or "hat trade" also took a heavy toll on the spoonbill in the late 1800's. Although their feathers were never in as great of demand as the plumes of the egrets because they faded, spoonbills were still slaughtered along with many plume birds, and their numbers declined. The establishment of Everglades National Park in 1947 seemed to have a positive affect on south Florida's spoonbill population, which began reusing nesting sites that hadn't been occupied since the late 1800's.
In Florida Bay, two hundred plus breeding pairs nest on Sandy Key, Tern Key, and Joe Key, plus other islands, from November through March. During this time it is difficult to find spoonbills roosting near Flamingo, but they may be observed flying overhead to inland feeding areas and flying back to the islands to feed their young. They also visit Mrazek Pond for a short period during winter, when dropping water levels force their food to concentrate there.
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
On a cloudless December morning the sun makes its appearance and bathes everything in its warmth. In great swirling currents, rising warm air entices the Short-tailed Hawk from its roost for a day of hunting.
While hanging on outstretched wings, the hawk scans the forest's edge and eyes a small flock of songbirds. It lowers its tail, crooks its wings, and stoops toward the tree tops, talons extended. A blast of feathers fills the air. The hunter quickly regains composure, and with its meal clenched taught in its talons, soars off to a secret place in the Everglades.
A tropical species found from northern Argentina to Mexico, the Short-tailed Hawk is found nowhere in the U.S. but Florida. Only a few nest in Everglades National Park, but approximately 50-100 can be found in the area from October to late February, while they make a brief southward migration from central Florida.
The Short-tailed Hawk, about the size of a crow, has long, broad wings and a relatively short, broad tail. Often soaring at great heights, it hunts the edges of mature cypress domes, pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and coastal mangrove forests. Although not designed for speed, this unusual bird-of-prey feeds primarily on birds, ranging in size from warblers to meadowlarks.
Short-tailed Hawks occur in two distinct color-phases. The dark phase is more common in Florida. In flight, it resembles a small, stocky Turkey Vulture, with a black head and body and lighter wing linings. The light phase is white below with white wings and dark brown barring on the tail and primary and secondary feathers. A valuable field mark for this phase is the distinctive head pattern--the solid dark head contrasts with the white throat and underparts. The bird looks like it is wearing a dark hood.
Look for this tropical beauty throughout Everglades National Park. It may be seen soaring high over Eco Pond, the Flamingo Campground, and the Visitor Center; it is occasionally observed gliding with vultures.
A Smooth-billed Ani glides into a viney thicket and disappears from view. It carries a clump of grass in its big bill, and tucks it into a bulky nest. Then another ani appears, providing a contribution of twigs. More follow. All told, twelve anis build a single nest.
Later, the group's four reproductive females each lay four or five pale blue eggs in the nest. Most members share in incubating and protecting them during their two-week period of development.
This cooperative association allows more young anis to fledge, but it seems the individual's interests override those of the group, during the next few days, each female will toss one or two eggs (other than her own) from the nest!
The Smooth-billed Ani is a tropical bird found nowhere in the U.S. but south Florida. This strange bird is in the same family as the roadrunners and cuckoos, most of which have long slender bodies and long tails.
The ani's voice is a shrill, drawling "weu-ik, weu-ik," often emitted on the wing. Abundant in the West Indies and South America, the ani has been given several local names, including black witch, black bird, and tick bird, the last from its habit of eating ticks that infest cattle.
Although the ani's diet consists mostly of insects, (including Great Southern White butterflies) it also feeds on lizards, snails, berries and seeds. In addition to picking insects from cattle, anis follow cattle and eat the insects they stir up.
Smooth-billed Anis live in open fields and pastureland, usually near water. They are normally found in flocks of six to twenty birds. Anis have nested at nearby Eco Pond in the past few years. Anywhere from six to eight birds have been sighted there with an occasional Groove-billed Ani. In more recent years, only one Smooth-billed Ani has been seen ("Little Orphan Ani"), but on a regular basis anywhere around the pond. Look for this peculiar tropical influence around Eco Pond at all times of the day. It is the only local bird with black plumage, a long body and tail, short wings, and a high, almost parrot-like bill.
The Turkey Vulture is distinguished by its bald red head and in flight, by the silvery coloration on the undersides of the wings. As it soars, this bird holds its wings slightly upward, giving it a shallow "V" profile. The other vulture in the area, the Black Vulture, has a bald black head, a large white spot at the tip of each wing, and holds its wings more-or-less straight out from its body while in flight.
Vultures are primarily scavengers, feeding on dead animals. As you drive along the Main Park Road, notice how they often soar nearly evenly-spaced from each other, sometimes miles apart. When a vulture sees or smells food, others may be watching and may move in that direction. Soon, a large group of vultures may be circling gracefully over a carcass. Turkey Vultures seem better able to locate food, but once food is found, the more aggressive Black Vultures usually appear and drive the Turkey Vultures off.
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
On a calm, warm day, the waters of Snake Bight blend into pale sky. White profiles of egrets dot the horizon. Their stately movements are accomplished without sound. Turkey Vultures, forever waiting for some biological calamity, soar in stark silence over surrounding forest.
The scene would seem entirely tranquil if not for nine White Pelicans swimming near the bight's edge. They are feeding. They utter no vocalizations; their bodies glide with swan-like grace. But they produce incredible racket. The birds form a semicircle, and move deliberately shoreward. Simultaneously, their four-foot wings pummel the surface. Water churns and sprays as the feathered crescent herds dozens of fish into its center. The pelicans lower their bills and capture some fish in their net-like pouches. Before swallowing, they hold their bills vertically, allowing up to three gallons of water to drain between closed mandibles.
The bounty of this communal effort is enjoyed by another Snake Bight resident. An immature Brown Pelican, still learning to feed with its parents' efficiency, dives into the melee. After several attempts, it flaps away, with a fish flopping madly in its gullet.
Since White Pelicans weigh between 10 - 13 lbs. and have the second greatest wingspan of any bird in North America (9 - 9 1/2 feet), it's hard to believe these monstrosities can soar with the grace of flying ballerinas. Their flights are often highly synchronized.
White Pelicans winter in Everglades National Park. These beautiful creatures begin their long migration to their summer breeding grounds in early April, to freshwater lakes in the interior U.S. and Canada. Before leaving, breeding adults develop a horny plate or knob on their bills, believed to be a target for other adults when they arrive at their communal breeding grounds and fight for territories. It's possible these targets leave the breeders undamaged--otherwise fights among adults could tear their gular pouches and injure them for life. Once the eggs are laid, the horny bill plates fall off.
White Pelicans are not as approachable as Brown Pelicans; they shy away from people and developed areas. In Florida Bay, flocks often hide in coves along the islands. When approached, they move out together, resembling down feathers pouring from a pillow. Look for wintering White Pelicans on the mudflat at low tide (visible from the visitor center breezeway), at the end of the Snake Bight Trail, and elsewhere in Florida Bay.
White-crowned Pigeon (Columba leucocephala)
White-crowned Pigeons nest nowhere in the U.S. but extreme south Florida, mainly in mangrove forests. They also reside throughout the Caribbean islands. These birds move inland daily to feed on the dull yellow, clustered fruit of the Poisonwood tree (closely related to poison ivy). In addition, they eat strangler fig, mastic, pigeon plum, sea grape and other tropical fruits, plus some seeds and insects.
Severe hunting pressure on Bahamian and other Caribbean nesting grounds has reduced White-crowned Pigeon numbers. Fortunately, recent conservation efforts in these areas and the establishment of National Park lands and other protected areas should ensure their survival.
This pigeon is most often seen in flight or perched in trees. It rarely visits the ground. Look for it around Eco Pond, the Bear Lake Road, Snake Bight Trailhead, and Nine-Mile Pond, especially in early morning hours. It is easily identified by its slate gray plumage and white cap.
There are hundreds of insects, spiders, and other small creatures in the park. They range in size from the giant diving beetle to tiny chiggers. Their varied adaptations are true wonders of nature. Butterflies are also among this group of wonders. The park has over fifty species of butterflies, several of which are tropical species. The Atala butterfly (Eumaeus atala) is an extremely rare species, found in the park's pinelands. Here are four of the park's most visible inhabitants to look at.
These curious insects can be seen flying throughout the wetland areas of Florida. They have large, bulging eyes on a head that rotates at angles in many directions. Net-like veined wings are in sets of four and are horizontal most of the time. Body color may range from blue, brown, and a combination of green and black. The dragonfly is a predator that feeds on other insects, especially mosquitoes. The mosquito hawk is another name for this flying wonder that has an adult life-span of six months. They gather food while in flight, using their basket-like legs for capturing prey, often eating their catch while in flight. Females deposit their eggs in the water on aquatic plants. Once the egg hatches, the nymph searches its watery home for food. It has a large appetite and, depending on its stage of development, it may feed on larvae, protozoan, or small fish. The nymph breathes by extracting oxygen from the water through a gill located in the intestine. After a period ranging from three months to five years, depending on the species, the nymph completes its life cycle by crawling out of the water. Once out of the water, it slowly dries its newly developed wings and legs. It is during this drying period that the dragonfly is most vulnerable to predators.
There is no mistaking this two-inch (5 cm) long grasshopper. The adults are yellowish with black markings, and they have a red cast to their wings. Even though they have wings, they cannot fly. Sharp spikes on their hind legs offer an unsavory taste and protection from possible predators. Eighty or more eggs can be laid in the ground anytime from June to August. The eggs hatch in 90 to 120 days. The young are black with red or yellow lines. After hatching, the young can be seen traveling like a small army across Florida roadways. Both the young and the adults feed on a variety of plants. Adults have been seen eating other already dead lubbers. Their life may span up to one year.
Mosquitoes are not considered to be a friend to mankind. But, in fact, they truly are, especially in the Everglades. They are an important part of the food chain in the mangrove estuary. Only the female mosquito bites. After sucking blood from a host, she uses the blood in egg production, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 eggs. These eggs are deposited in the water or a damp place. Soon, the larvae or wrigglers, as they are called, are fed on by fish and other aquatic dwellers. In turn, these fish may be eaten by larger fish, like bream. The bream are eaten by bass, bass are eaten by gar fish, and gar fish are eaten by the alligator. The alligator digs water holes, where
Even though insect infestations aren't usually as severe during the drier, cooler winter months, one should always be prepared for encounters with bugs, especially mosquitoes.
In addition to using repellents (which help but are not 100% effective), several actions can be taken to avoid insects:
This beautiful yellow, white, and black spider spins its golden web into intricate patterns in the hammocks of the Everglades. The fine web traps unsuspecting flying insects. Once trapped in the web, the struggling victim is wrapped in the silken web. The spider may want to wait for the struggling victim to die before it begins feasting on its body fluids. Golden orb weavers clean their webs daily to free them of leaves and small twigs. If left un-cleaned, the web would be easily seen, thus alerting potential victims of the danger that lies in wait.
Liguus Tree Snails
It�s the same story every fall. Drenching summer rains become less frequent, and hot, sticky air turns to a mile 75� F. Thunderstorms taper off, easing into warm breezes. Just as sure as the Cypress trees lose their needles and mosquitoes dwindle, it happens. Summer is over and they start looking for a nice place to stay for the winter. As south Florida enters its dry season, tree snails begin to estivate.
Florida Tree Snails are shelled mollusks which live on the bark of hardwood trees. Their two-to-three inch spiraled shells can be found in some 60 different color varieties, ranging from nearly solid dark brown, to varieties boldly striped with pink, yellow and green, to solid white. Wild Tamarind, the preferred host tree, grows in tropical hardwood hammocks. Hammocks are slightly elevated sections of land which stay above the water level all year, allowing hardwood trees to flourish. Florida Tree Snails spend their summer months traveling along the bark, scraping off meals of fungi, algae and lichen. During the dry season, which begins in November, snails are unable to stay moist, so they stop moving and eating, seal their shell to a tree with mucus, and wait for the next wet season to arrive. This survival practice is called estivation.
Originally from Cuba, these snails arrived in south Florida thousands of years ago on floating logs, blown ashore during hurricanes. They were once found on tree islands from Key West to Fort Lauderdale. In September, the snail crawls to the base of the tree and screws itself into the ground where it lays ten to thirty eggs. After covering the eggs with soil, the adult snail crawls up the tree to find a sheltered spot for winter. The snail emits an ooze, like glue, sealing its shell to the tree's bark. Through this process of estivation, the snail conserves moisture during the dry winter months. With the first spring rain, the adult snail comes out of estivation. This is also when the eggs hatch and the young climb up the tree. All summer, the moist hammock provides the perfect growing habitat for the snails. As they eat, they grow, adding to the size of their shell. Under good conditions, Liguus tree snails live to the ripe old age of eight years.
There was once a flourishing population of tree snails in the Florida Keys. Due to development and spraying for insects, that population has been nearly eliminated. Development throughout South Florida continues to pose a threat to the Florida Tree Snail, replacing tree snail habitat with human habitat.
Beautiful and varied, these mollusks were once a popular collector�s item; overcollection greatly reduced them. To help protect them, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission named the Florida Tree Snail a �Species of Special Concern.� By law, this designation protects them, dead or alive, from collection: a threat more easily controlled than development.
After Hurricane Andrew in August, 1992, much of the protected snail habitat in Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park was devastated. In the areas hit hardest by the hurricane, as much as 80% of the Wild Tamarind Trees were downed. A year later a study was begun to track the recovery of the Florida Tree Snails and their host trees. Though field work was completed in May of 1996, analysis is still in progress, and results have yet to be published. Recently, another study began in Big Cypress National Preserve to identify and locate the existing varieties of Florida Tree Snails. A similar study was conducted by collectors in the 1940s, but only produced partial results. A more complete record will allow researchers to compare the success of different varieties, determining which populations have been reduced or eliminated in the preserve, and which have been introduced.
As we continue learning about Florida Tree Snails, one thing is clear: we share a habitat. Tree snails must now compete for a spot of dry ground with South Florida residents and agriculture, as well as the mass of seasonal travelers. Both people and tree snails need high ground to stay dry, but tree snails need hardwood hammocks, not condos, and Wild Tamarinds, not highways. Habitat destruction due to development is the biggest threat to Florida Tree Snails today. It is important to protect these beautiful, shelled creatures as they are part of a greater life cycle, unique to South Florida.
The Apple Snail
The apple snail (Pomacea paludusa) is found throughout the fresh-water and detritus of the Everglades. This air-breathing snail feeds on algae and decaying matter found on plants and rocks in the water. It has an opening, or door, called an operculum. The operculum opens as the snail's body emerges. As the snail crawls along, it feeds on algae by scraping it from plants and rocks. Every few minutes, the snail returns to the water's surface to breathe air. This is when the snail is most vulnerable. Wading birds, young alligators, and other predators, take advantage of the snail's visit to the surface of the water. The endangered snail kite, a hawk, eats only apple snails. It has a specialized hooked beak adapted for extracting the snail from its shell. If the snail manages to survive the predators of the swamp, it will lay its eggs. The snail lays about twenty-five clustered, pearly white eggs on plant stems about two feet (60 cm) above the water's surface. Approximately three to four weeks later, the eggs hatch and the baby snails crawl down the plant into the water. Water levels play an important role in snail survival. If the water levels rise above normal, the covered eggs will drown. Human interference with the south Florida water systems has often created situations where water was released into the park too fast thus causing damage to the snail eggs and other wildlife.
The Everglades has an interesting variety of mammals. Mammals are distinguished from other animals, such as birds or reptiles, by several unique features. They are covered with hair or fur over much of their body and have mammary glands which produce milk for their young.
Over forty species of mammals are found in Everglades National Park. Many species commonly associated with drier habitats of forest and fields have adapted to the semi-aquatic environment which constitutes much of the Everglades. It is not uncommon to see white-tailed deer wading through the sawgrass prairie, or a bobcat foraging for food in the mangroves.
There is only one representative of the rabbit family frequently found in the park. The marsh rabbit is common in higher fresh water marshes, pinelands, and coastal prairies. It is not uncommon to see the marsh rabbit swimming, for it has adapted to its "wet world." Cottontails do occur in the park, but are very uncommon.
Raccoons and opossums are common creatures to most habitats. These creatures are omnivores and their diets vary, although the raccoon prefers turtle eggs and small aquatic animals. The opossum is the only marsupial (pouched) animal in the Everglades.
The gray fox is most frequently seen near hardwood hammocks. It is the only fox that can climb trees, especially leaning trees. The gray fox likes bushes, and makes its den in the ground under roots and the hollows of trees.
Streamlined river otters are commonly observed in the spring at the Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley. They are long, shiny, brown, seal-like animals which are often called the playboys of the 'glades. Their webbed back feet allow them to swim quickly through the water and they are usually seen feeding on turtles, fish, and an occasional baby gator. Otters, like all plants and animals in national parks, are protected. In the rest of Florida, however, otters are still hunted for their winter hide which is used to make coats.
White-tailed deer are the same as those found throughout the eastern United States, but are smaller because they do not need an extra layer of fat to protect them from the winter cold. The 'glades deer bed in hammocks when they are not feeding in the open saw-grass. Fawns are born in the spring months and are white-spotted for camouflage.
Two mammals worth noting, the Florida Panther and the West Indian Manatee are now on the endangered species list for fear of becoming extinct. Bobcat and bear are also found in the Everglades. While bobcats are seen fairly often, bears are less common.
In purple light of morn a bobcat crouches at the edge of Eco Pond, watching a young coot. The bird nibbles vegetation and advertises itself by twitching its tail and producing inane honking vocalizations.
A flash of brown fur bursts into the pond. Beads of water scatter and black feathers fill the air. The cat crawls ashore, shakes itself dry, and slips into the forest to enjoy breakfast.
The bobcat, unlike the endangered Florida panther, is common in Everglades National Park. Although primarily nocturnal, this small (15 - 25 lb.) short-tailed feline is frequently seen during daylight hours.
Ranging throughout the United States, the bobcat successfully occupies a diversity of habitats. Having no fear of slogging through mangrove forest, an adult may daily cover 5-50 miles in search of prey. Although capable of killing deer, this predator mainly seeks out small mammals, birds, fish, and other delectables. It may be seen walking the Bear Lake Trail, the Snake Bight Trail, and the Main Park Road for easier travel. Look for its scat, usually containing fur and bone, on nearby hiking trails.
How do you describe a manatee to someone who has never seen one? Their wrinkled, whiskery faces, and big paddle-like tails have led some folks to call them homely. And yet there is an endearing charm to these animals that has fascinated many people who have seen them.
The West Indian manatee is a marine mammal that grows to 1,000 pounds and roams U.S. coastal waters from Louisiana to Virginia. Similar to humans, manatees are adapted to the tropics and in winter months must seek warm waters like Florida Bay, where they are often seen by visitors.
Manatees pull up and eat the abundant sea grasses and aquatic plants of the bay, consuming 10 to 15 percent of their body weight a day. Their time is divided between eating, resting and playing. They have limited eyesight but good hearing and communicate with one another in squeaks and squeals.
Research shows the manatee to be a gentle animal with few enemies. So why are they endangered? Unfortunately, most of their problems are human-related. As our cities expand, their natural habitat is decreased. Added to this problem is the establishment of automatic locks and dams which can harm or kill manatees.
But the most critical problem for manatees is boating accidents. They like to rest just below the surface of the water and are often hit by speeding boats. As a result, most manatees in the wild bear prop scars on their backs. For many, the cuts lead to infections which later prove fatal. Broken ribs and punctured lungs resulting from collisions also cause many deaths.
In order to limit injuries to manatees, there are many areas marked with signs indicating "NO WAKE ZONE" in Everglades National Park. Boaters must proceed through these zones at idle speed. If everyone helps by slowing down and watching for them, manatees will continue to be sighted in Florida Bay and other parts of Florida in the years to come. If not, they may become extinct.
The statewide manatee population is estimated through aerial surveys conducted during the winter months when animals are found in the state's warmer waters. Two interagency, statewide aerial surveys of manatees were conducted in January 2000. The highest count was 2,223 manatees.
Opportunities to see Florida panthers are uncommon, even for the researchers who track them. With an estimated wild population of only 30 to 50 animals, Florida panthers are perhaps the rarest and most elusive native animal of the region. Known locally as panthers, these large, tawny cats are actually a subspecies of mountain lion, an animal that once had the broadest distribution of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. After two centuries of intensive hunting and habitat loss, mountain lions are still found in many western states, but the only known population east of the Mississippi River now makes its last stand in south Florida.
The panther needs large wilderness areas for its survival. Federally listed as endangered since 1967, the Florida panther is down to 30 to 50 individuals. These few animals are threatened by further habitat loss, collisions with cars, the ill effects of inbreeding, and high levels of mercury in their prey.
Many of the remaining panthers live in or near Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. The National Park Service is cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Natural Resources, and other organizations to try to bring about recovery of the Florida panther. Efforts are centered on research, captive breeding, and public education. Radio-collaring of several panthers has shown what areas and habitat types they use. Other studies have identified the principal prey, white-tailed deer. Publicity has made the public more aware of the panther's plight and alerted people to watch out for them on the highway. But with the numbers so low and suitable habitat in south Florida so restricted, captive breeding and reestablishment in other areas will be crucial for turning the population decline around.
|Oppossum (Didelphis marsupialis)
Locally common in hardwood hammocks, pinelands and developed sites.
House mouse (Mus musculus)
Exotic species from Europe. Common in developed sites, drier freshwater marshes and pinelands.
|Short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda)
Locally common in hardwood hammocks, pinelands, and freshwater marshes.
|Atlantic bottlenosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Common in marine and estuarine areas. Frequently seen off Flamingo, Cape Sable, and the Gulf Coast.
|Least shrew (Cryptotis parva)
Locally common in hardwood hammocks, pinelands, and freshwater marshes.
|Short-finned or Pilot whale (Globicephala marcorhyncha)
Uncommon in marine areas, especially off Cape Sable and west coast.
|Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus)
Hypothetical; an early record near Royal Palm; occurs in the Miami area.
|Grey fox (Urocyon cineroargenteus)
Rare in park pinelands. Most frequently seen near eastern Long Pine Key.
|Seminole bat (Lasiurus seminolus)
Hypothetical; has been found in Miami.
|Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Exotic and rare in park, infrequently seen in the Long Pine Key area.
|Florida yellow bat (Lasiurus intermedius)
Hypothetical; has been found in Miami.
|Domestic dog (Canis familiaris)
Rare exotic. Feral or abandoned individuals rarely occur in the park, but are common nearby.
|Evening bat (Nycticeius hymeralis)
Hypothetical. Has been found near Homestead and in the Big Cypress National Reserve.
|Black bear (Ursus americanus)
Previously occurring along the east coast. Is now rare in the park. Has been seen near Flamingo, Shark Valley and the Long Pine Key area.
|Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)
Hypothetical. Locally common in southern Florida, especially in developed sites. Unidentified free-tailed bats have been recorded at Royal Palm.
|Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Common in most habitats. Frequently in developed sites and along roads at night. Two subspecies occur in the park.
|Florida mastiff bat (Eumops glaucinus)
Hypothetical. Occurs in Miami.
|Coati (Nasua narica)
Exotic species from Central and South America. Abandoned individuals have rarely been seen in the park.
|Nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)
Exotic species. Somewhat common near Everglades City and Long Pine Key area.
|Marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris)
Common in higher freshwater marshes, pinelands and coastal prairies. Black individuals are not uncommon.
|Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)
Rare in pinelands near Long Pine Key. Most commonly seen near Pine Island.
|Everglades mink (Mustela vison)
Uncommon along the northern boundary of the park. Most commonly seen along the Tamiami Trail and at Shark Valley.
|Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
Rare in park, but locally common near Royal Palm and Long Pine Key.
|Long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata)
Hypothetical. Has been found near Collier-Seminole State Park.
|Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)
Formerly occurred near Royal Palm and eastern parts of the park. Now are found along the west coast in mangroves, pinelands and cypress swamp.
|Eastern spotted skunk (Spirogale putorius)
Hypothetical, has been seen near park entrance station.
|Southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans)
Uncommon in pinelands of the park.
|Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Rare on Long Pine Key
|Rice rat (Oryzomys palustris)
Common in freshwater marshes and cypress.
|River otter (Lutra canadensis)
Uncommon in freshwater marshes. Most commonly seen in the Spring at Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley.
|Cotton mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus)
Common in pinelands, hardwood hammocks and drier freshwater marshes.
|Florida panther (Felis concolor)
Endangered subspecies (F.c.coryi) is rare in pinelands, coastal marshes and freshwater marshes.
|Cotton rat (Sigmodon hispisus)
Common in pinelands, hardwood hammocks and dry freshwater marshes. Frequently seen feeding along roads and in developed sites.
|Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Common in pinelands, coastal prairies and hardwood hammocks.
|Roundtail muskrat (neofiber alleni)
Locally common in colonies in freshwater marshes and coastal prairies. Muskrat homes can be seen in the Shark Valley area.
|Domestic cat (Felis domesticus)
Rare exotic. Abandoned or feral individuals infrequently seen, especially along the main park road.
|Roof rat (Rattus rattus)
Exotic species from Europe. Locally common in developed sites. Has been established near Flamingo for 50 years. Uncommon in coastal prairies, mangroves and hardwood hammocks.
|West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus)
Endangered species locally common in marine and estuarine areas. Frequently seen in Whitewater Bay, Hells Bay and along the west coat.
|Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus)
Hypothetical. Exotic species from Europe. Occurs in Miami.
|Domestic pig (Sus scrofa)
Exotic species from Europe. Rare in freshwater marshes and cypress. Seen occasionally in various parts of the park.
|White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginia)
Common in pinelands and freshwater marshes at Long Pine Key and Shark Valley.
There are thirty species of fish native to fresh water in Everglades National Park. Fish are very important to the Everglades environment. They are the main source of food for larger fish, wading birds, and even alligators. Native fish also do a great job of controlling the insect population. During the summer (wet) season, the water level in the park is high and fish are scattered. In the winter, when it is dry, the fish move into deeper water and "gator holes," where standing water is still available.
The Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) is a long, slender, predatory fish with sharp teeth and an armor of thick scales. The Florida gar (up to three feet or 0.9 meter in length) is often seen near the water's surface swallowing air. If it cannot come to the surface, it will suffocate. Gar are not very good parents. Once they lay their eggs, they abandon them. Fortunately for the gar, their eggs are poisonous to warm-blooded animals, and they are not preyed upon.
Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) are the most common freshwater fish in the Everglades. Once the water level rises (May or June), this two-inch (5 cm) insect-eater rapidly begins to reproduce throughout the park. It is even found in the salt water of Florida Bay. Aquatic invertebrates are its favorite food. Birds and larger fish feed on mosquito fish.
The Least Killifish (Heterandria formosa) is one of the smallest fish species (one inch or 2.5 cm long) in the United States. Most fish lay eggs, but least killifish, like mosquitofish, bear live young. They are so small, they can only have one baby at a time. It makes up for that by having one baby a day throughout the few weeks of its adult life. A very efficient assembly line! It has to be productive, because the least killifish is a favorite food of birds in the sawgrass and spike rushes. The least killifish feeds on tiny insects and plant material.
The Sailfin Molly (Poecilia latipinna) is a small (5 inches or 13 cm long) live-bearer that lives in both fresh and salt water. It is the only true herbivore (plant eater) of the freshwater fishes. Some of you may have one in your aquarium.
Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) are a favorite among fishermen. In the park, fishing is allowed in some of the fresh water areas. Fishermen should first review a copy of the fishing regulations. Scientists have recently discovered that largemouth bass have a lot of the metallic element, mercury, in their bodies. They are not sure where the mercury is coming from, but they do know it is poisonous to humans and wildlife. In some areas, exotic species of fish are crowding out the bass.
All of the fish in the Everglades need clean water to survive. During periods of long drought, up to 90% of the fish in the park may die. If the fish die, there is no food for the birds and they die, as well. You can help. Conserve water, and do NOT release exotic fish from your aquariums into the canals.
Tarpon (Megalops atlantica)
Tarpon are found on both sides of the Atlantic and range as far north as Nova Scotia (although they usually don't occur north of Cape Hatteras), and extend southward to Brazil.
Spawning may occur in Florida from May to September in shallow estuarine waters. One of the most prolific of fishes, a large female may contain up to 12 million eggs.
Although predatory, feeding on mullets, silversides, marine catfishes and blue crabs, tarpon are often caught by anglers using dead fish. These spectacular gamefish reach very large sizes. One Florida specimen was 8 feet long and weighed 350 pounds.
Obligatory air breathers, tarpon are often seen surfacing. Look for the "silver king" around both the Florida Bay and Whitewater sides of the marina and in the bay in front of the Flamingo visitor center.
Written by Shirley Beccue
Threatened, endangered and extinct are words that have become all too common in our 20th century vocabulary. The natural process of species evolution, taking hundreds and thousands of years, has accelerated rapidly since the turn of the century. Today because of man's desire for land and raw materials, his continued pollution and indiscriminate hunting many plant and wildlife species are on the brink of extinction.
Drainage of wetlands, alteration of overland water flow and hunting have all contributed to species decline. The Everglades, once known for its abundant bird life, has seen its wading bird population decline drastically since the turn of the century. The Florida Panther once common throughout the state, today is on the verge of extinction. Within the four National Park areas of Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and Fort Jefferson National Monument there are 16 endangered and 6 threatened wildlife species. The mere physical boundaries of a National Park do not guarantee a species survival.
Maintaining harmony between "20th century progress" and wilderness areas requires research, legislation and public awareness. For the last decade the South Florida Research Center, Everglades National Park, has been studying how changes occurring outside the parks influence the fragile areas within their boundaries. Research going on today may lead to a brighter future for many species.
Legislation such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 has also afforded some measure of protection for wildlife. The Act provided for the classification of wildlife species as "endangered" or"threatened," and mandated legal protection for species so listed. In justification for such protection, the Act also recognized that the various species of fish, wildlife and plants have aesthetic, educational, historical and scientific value.
Public support is also vital for species preservation. "What can I do?" you might ask. You can:
Today it is not enough to merely appreciate nature, we have to actively work to protect it. What we do today toward that goal is the legacy we leave our children and their children. The extinction of a species is forever ... and the decision is ours.
If you see any of the wildlife on this list or those you believe to be rare please fill out a wildlife observation card at any visitor center or report it to a ranger.
Endangered Species in Everglades National Park:
What is an endangered species?
All of the endangered species in the Everglades are threatened by loss of habitat and alteration of water flow.
What is an endangered species? Why are some species considered to be endangered? How do species become endangered? What contributes to this process? These basic questions must be considered by the youth of today if we are going to preserve our natural environment.
An endangered species is a species of plant or animal that, throughout all or a significant portion of its range, is in danger of extinction. Everglades National Park is, or was at one time, home to fifteen endangered species. A sixteenth species, the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, disappeared from the park in the 1940's.
All of the rare and endangered species are threatened by loss of habitat and alteration of water flow to the park. The survival of these species is a major focus of the park's research effort. When active population management (such as captive breeding or reintroduction) is necessary, the Park Service joins forces with other wildlife agencies.
The continued survival of the Everglades depends on careful, complimentary management pograms.
|Rodents:||Key Largo Cotton Mouse|
Key Largo Wood Rat
West Indian Manatee
Arctic Peregrine Falcon|
Cape Sable Sea Side Sparrow
Snail (Everglade) Kite
Southern Bald Eagle
|Reptiles and Amphibians:||
Atlantic Ridley Turtle
The Panther originally occurred throughout most of the southeastern United States, but due to expanding urban development, it has been virtually eliminated. Panther sightings have been reported in some southeastern states, but probably do not exist in any of the eastern states except Florida. The Florida panther is a large, long-tailed, pale brown cat, which may be up to six feet (1.8 m) in length. The panther families usually contain only two or three young, and panthers breed only once every two or three years. Panthers are nomadic animals that have the ability to travel up to twenty miles (32 km) in one journey. They feed primarily on deer and wild hogs; however, some, particularly the younger cats, feed on smaller animals.
State and Federal agencies have initiated studies to determine protection necessary for their survival. The Florida Panther Inter-agency Committee (FPIC), charts progress for protecting this animal. In 1986, scientists began collaring panthers with electronic tracking equipment to study their patterns. It was believed that in 1990, there were less than fifty surviving Florida panthers.
They found that habitat destruction has been only partially responsible for the decline of the panther. The panthers' decline can also be attributed to genetic inbreeding, shootings, mercury poisoning, and the fact that many are killed along our highways due to high speed travel.
The Manatee, or sea cow, is a massive, thick-skinned mammal with paddle-like forelimbs. It is grey-brown in color, weighs between 790 and 1,190 pounds (360 - 540kg), and is eight to fifteen feet in length (2.4 - 4.6m). Manatees inhabit slow-moving rivers, shallow estuaries, and salt water bays where they feed on aquatic vegetation. They are essentially gentle animals and have been used as agents for aquatic weed control.
The survival of the manatee has been threatened due to propellers of boats, vandal attacks, poaching, and habitat destruction. Manatees are protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, although neither law protects them from boat propellers or vandals.
The Wood Stork is a large, long-legged wading bird about 35 - 45inches long (89 - 114 cm) with a wing span of 60 - 65 inches (152 - 165cm). It is considered to be an "indicator species" in the Everglades. Why? This bird has rather specific habitat requirements and is closely related with the habitats of other species. Quality, quantity, timing, and distribution of water in its environment directly determine the well-being and number of this species as well as other species. Monitoring this selected species will reveal much about the health of the entire environment in which it lives.
The wood stork is now endangered. It locates food with its bill by groping for small fresh-water fish in shallow water. This method of feeding is best when low water periods develop and the fish concentration increases. Although, due to modern water control programs, excessive drying patterns have created difficulties for the bird. By studying the wood stork, scientists have found that there is a decline in all wading birds in the park since the 1930's by at least 90%.
The American Crocodile is a lizard-shaped reptile which ranges in length between nine inches (at hatching) to fifteen feet (23cm - 4.6m). The crocodile is slimmer than the alligator, and has a longer, more tapered snout. The crocodile feeds primarily on fish, although it is an opportunistic feeder and will eat almost any animal that comes into its territory. Crocodiles in Florida inhabit the coastal mangrove swamps, brackish and salt-water bays (including northern Florida Bay), creeks, and coastal canals.
Most crocodiles, and their habitat from Biscayne Bay northward, have been lost due to human development along the coast and Keys. It is unlikely that many crocodiles will remain outside Everglades National Park in another ten years. These crocodiles can be maintained as long as there is proper protection and management by the National Park Service.
Although only several of the endangered species in Everglades National Park have been mentioned, there is a common link between them. Man is partially responsible for their decline! The continued survival of the Everglades now depends on careful, complimentary management programs carried out by the National Park Service and other agencies. The public must also cooperate to make these programs a success. We must become aware and get involved!
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