Seeing Everglades Animals
Seeing lots of Everglades animals can enhance your visit to Everglades National Park. This page covers some of the most intriguing animals of the Everglades, including where you might want to look for them. I'm assuming you're here on a side trip from Key Largo, and you won't be spending a lot of time in the Park's backcountry.
When most people think of Everglades animals, probably the first that comes to mind is the alligator. Although nowadays alligators are common in the Everglades, at one time they had been seriously thinned out by hide hunters. But laws enacted decades ago have led to an explosion in the alligator population.
Alligators are a Common Sight in the Everglades
You'll generally find alligators the freshwater areas of the Everglades. It is possible to find them in brackish water, but they are essentially freshwater creatures. While visiting Everglades National Park, Anghinga Trail is a great place to see alligators.
Alligators are quite fast on their feet. These big, lumbering creatures can go from lazily snoozing to up on all fours and totally aggressive in the flick of a tail. It's always a good idea to stay far enough away from an alligator so the decision as to whether or not you're attacked rests with you, not the alligator.
One of the most unusual animals of the Everglades is the American crocodile. About 1,000 crocodiles inhabit southern Florida from Biscayne Bay to Cape Sable, and up the west coast as far as Sanibel Island. They inhabit the saltwater regions of the Everglades. The Everglades, by the way, has vast saltwater parts--the mangrove wilderness along Florida's south and west coasts--and expansive freshwater areas such as the sawgrass prairies of the Shark River Slough. In between are areas of brackish water. Whereas alligators prefer freshwater, these crocs like saltwater.
An American Crocodile at Flamingo
Crocodiles differ from alligators in several ways:
Other Everglades animals include those that slither. The Park's venomous snakes can sometimes be seen as they cross the Main Park Road. These snakes include the Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Cottonmouth Water Moccasin, and the Coral Snake.
Of these species, the Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake is responsible for more snakebites than any other in the State of Florida. Dusky Pygmies are normally no more than a foot or two long. Their faint rattle sounds more like the buzz of an insect than an irate rattlesnake, so it's very possible not to heed the warning. What makes the situation worse is that Pygmies are feisty and quick to strike. The Dusky Pygmies I've seen in the Everglades have been on the Main Park Road in Flamingo.
Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in North America, sometimes growing to six feet, even longer. Normally, they inhabit the pine flatwoods, but have even been found swimming miles offshore in Florida Bay. The good thing about Diamondbacks is they tend not to rattle or strike at non-prey (i.e. people) if they are coiled and well hidden. They'd prefer to save their venom for prey, and not waste it on large two-legged predators they'd just as soon avoid. But if they're exposed and in the open, they apparently feel more vulnerable, and are much more likely to rattle and strike. If you're going to see one at all, it will probably be on the Main Park Road.
An Eastern Diamondback Coiled and Ready to Strike
The Cottonmouth Water Moccasin gets its name from its distinct defensive posture. When threatened, this snake opens its mouth wide revealing its very white lining. Cottonmouths grow to about three to four feet normally, but can be up to six feet. They like to live around water, and are often seen sunning themselves on logs or branches. I've found them a few times while I was walking at night along the paved roads in Everglades National Park. The moral of that story is use a flashlight when walking on Park roads on a dark night.
A Cottonmouth Water Moccasin With Its Mouth Open
Coral Snakes inhabit the Everglades and Key Largo, but their color markings may be slightly different than coral snakes found farther north. Except for the yellow band around the head, the other yellow bands may be missing. So, here in extreme South Florida, don't put too much stock in that old saying "Red and yellow kill a fellow, red and back good for Jack." Coral snakes are kin to cobras, and their venom is extremely neurotoxic. Fortunately, they are generally somewhat shy and retiring Everglades animals, and tend to have mild temperaments. I see them a lot in north Florida where I live, but in all my life I've yet to see one in the Everglades.
Although Florida panthers certainly live in Everglades National Park, they are extremely elusive Everglades animals and you can thank your lucky stars if you ever actually see one. In all my years of exploring the Florida backcountry I've seen one panther, and that was in the Fakahatchee Strand, more on the west side of the state. When you finally do see such a sight, your fumbling fingers might not get your camera to focus like you wish it would.
A Florida Panther Crosses a Backroad
Even though your chances of seeing a Florida panther in the wilds are slim, you might see tracks, however, especially on muddy backroads.
Although white-tail deer are common in many places, it's still a thrill to see one. While out walking early one morning, I took this photo of a beautiful buck in Long Pine Key campground in Everglades National Park. Early morning and late afternoons are the best time to see deer.
The Everglades is known for its birds. Unfortunately, there aren't as many now as there were years ago, but there are still lots to see. Birdwatchers will love the Anhinga Trail, especially in the cooler months when wildlife tends to congregate there. You'll probably see anhingas, cormorants, great blue herons, green herons, and a lot more. BRING YOUR CAMERA.
A Green Heron on Anhinga Trail
In Flamingo, you may see some roseate spoonbills. These birds get their pinkish color from eating shellfish.
A View of Florida Bay from Flamingo
When most people think of Everglades animals, they probably don't think first of mosquitoes. But if you're in Everglades National Park in the warmer months, you can't help but think about mosquitoes. They're everywhere--millions of them. And the closer you get to the road's end at Flamingo, the worse they get.
Regarding mosquitoes in the Everglades, the late Archie Carr, a world-reknown University of Florida zoologist, said "The abundance of mosquitoes in June at Madeira Bay (about 14 miles west of Key Largo, as the crow flies) is contolled only by the amount of space there is to hold them."
TIP: To avoid the worst of the mosquitoes, when camping in Everglades National Park in the summertime, camp at the northern campground--Long Pine Key--and not at Flamingo. In winter, mosquitoes usually aren't bad at all.
One August, I went by canoe from Flamingo up to Everglades City, 99 miles to be exact. I can't speak for Madeira Bay, but Archie's words certainly held true for every inch of those 99 miles.
Mosquitoes are worse in the Park because they don't spray for them. The grandeur of this park is found in its ecology, of which even this most disdained of all Everglades animals plays a part. Mosquitoes have their job to do. One--as most visitors soon figure out--is to suck every ounce of life-giving blood out of your veins, and the other is to pollinate plants. Without mosquitoes to pollinate, who knows what ecological fabric would begin to unravel?
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