A World Heritage Site, a Wetland of International Importance and an International Biosphere Reserve, the Everglades is one of Florida’s most special places.
Covering an area of 1.5 million acres it’s the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and consists of a mix of sawgrass marshes, estuarine mangrove forests, tropical hardwood hammocks and is home to a whole host of exotic wildlife.
If you have had your fill of theme park frolics, it’s well worth heading south and taking in all the wonders of this most unusual of places with its wide array of exotic animal life. However, you need to plan your trip well because there are actually three separate entrances to the National Park and none of them are connected.
Check out some of the largest of the critters you are likely to see:
The American Alligator
These guys are pretty prolific which means you would be hard pushed to avoid them. They play a really important part in the Everglades ecosystem and are literally the keystone species in the park. Their nesting activities are vitally important for the creation of peat in the area and several different types of turtle species incubate their eggs inside both active and old or abandoned nests.
The American Crocodile
The mix of salt and freshwater in the Everglades makes it the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side. Crocodiles are very different to Alligators being lizard-shaped with a long, muscular tail and four short legs that have five toes on the front feet and four on the back feet. Their narrow snout is triangular in shape, and the fourth tooth on both sides of the lower jaw is visible when the mouth is closed. Mind you getting close enough to check that out would probably count as a huge mistake.
Actually native to Southeast Asia, these interlopers have spent the past few decades establishing a successful breeding colony in Southern Florida. One of the largest snake species in the world, their introduction to the park is thought to have mostly been through deliberate release by overwhelmed pet owners. Unfortunately, they are having a devastating effect on some of the existing wildlife, including Alligators. Over 2,000 removals have taken place but this is considered to be only a small fraction of the total population.
The West Indian manatee
These huge lumbering ‘Sea Cows’ are somehow extremely appealing, with their sad puppy dog faces and sluggish manner. They are herbivorous and spend up to eight hours gently grazing the waterways. Although previously on the endangered species list they have now been down-rated to ‘Threatened’, mainly due to the hard work of conservationists in the Everglades.
There are also lots of amphibious species that can be spotted from Toads to frogs and newts and endless varieties of bird and snake life but if you are really lucky you could spot a few of the shy mammals that inhabit this endless exotic wetland; from flying squirrels, Skunks and Red Fox through to Black Bears and the elusive Florida Panther, although with only around 100 left they are pretty difficult to find.
There are plenty of different ways to enjoy the pleasures of this expansive area, although expecting to see it all is probably a reach too far.
• Hiking and Biking trails abound
• Canoeing and Kayaking is a great way to explore the waterways and mangroves
But, if you want to really cover some ground and see as much as possible why not book yourself an Airboat trip and enjoy one of the most thrilling rides around. You’ll still see plenty of wildlife but with the added bonus of having an experienced and knowledgeable guide to help you spot even the shyest and well-camouflaged creatures.