Welcome to Wildlife in Florida. Almost nowhere else in the United States is the diversity of species as pronounced as in Florida.
The Sunshine State is known for its beautiful beaches and many hours of sunshine and is home to many different animal species.
Which animals live in Florida, where the best places are to encounter them in the wild, and which ones you should better not get too close to will learn in this article.
For the less daring among us, Florida also offers guided tours in many parks and tourist attractions, where the animals can be observed even from a safe distance. Enjoy Wildlife in Florida.
Background of the Sunshine State
Which animals can you encounter in Florida?
Florida’s Wildlife – The Best Places at a Glance
Background of the Sunshine State
What species of animals you are likely to encounter in Florida can be easily guessed by its geographic location and climatic conditions. Florida is located in the southeast of the USA and forms the border between the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast of Florida.
Thus, there is no place in Florida where you are further than 60 miles from the ocean. In the south of the peninsula are the famous “Florida Keys.” This paradisiacal chain of islands is connected by 42 bridges and is also the southernmost point of the continental USA.
After crossing all the roads that run directly over the sea, the trip ends in Key West. From there, it is only about 140 km to Cuba. Florida’s tropical to subtropical climate ensures a high humidity and brings temperatures around 36°C.
Even the winters are at about 25°C, relatively comparable to the summers in some other countries. So it’s no wonder that the inhabitants have air-conditioned just about everything. Therefore, when going on a trip to the best places to encounter free-living animals, having enough drinks with you is highly recommended.
Newcomers should also not be too sparing with sunscreen, which ironically was invented in the sunshine state of Florida. Especially in the popular travel season from June to August, the Florida sun should not be underestimated. However, if you don’t let this stop you, you are guaranteed to discover American wildlife.
Because the prevailing climate does not only make you tan faster, it also offers optimal living conditions for numerous animal species. Florida is one of the states with the highest biodiversity in the USA. It is the best place to see dolphins, crocodiles, manatees, snakes, turtles, alligators, panthers, black bears, and dozens of bird species like pelicans or flamingos.
Since water areas comprise about 20% of Florida’s total land area and almost no frost, this creates a favorable habitat for many animals. Thus, more than 50 endangered species call Florida home. The Sunshine State, however, is severely affected by climate change.
Since 1920, the sea level at Miami Beach has risen by about 23 meters. Natural disasters are also not uncommon, especially the nasty fall. Wildlife in Florida is also associated with the weather. Hurricanes and floods are more common, with Florida’s abundant alligators quickly leaving their usual habitat and swimming through flooded streets.
Even without hurricanes, wildlife can sometimes stray onto the nearest golf course or claim their neighbor’s pool for their own. However, besides your neighbor’s pool, other exciting places to spot Florida’s wildlife exist.
Which Animals can you encounter in Florida?
Florida features an overwhelming variety of species. From small to large, underwater, on land, or in the air. Here you can find the multifaceted nature in only one state. You can find out which animals you can see and especially encounter in the wild here.
Yep, that’s not a typo. The first animal may come as a direct surprise to some. You see, the black bear is not only found in colder regions of North America but also in Florida.
However, their fur becomes lighter as temperatures increase, so they tend to be brownish in Florida. This is because darker fur absorbs more sunlight and converts it into heat. However, since there is no heat in Florida, lighter fur, which does not store as much heat, is sufficient for them there. But why are polar bears white, then? Their fur is not white but translucent.
As a result, sunlight is reflected dozens of times and transmitted to the polar bear’s black skin. Learn more about polar bears here. However, there are also white black bears (kermode bears). These are not affected by albinism, as many animal species are, but result from a genetic mutation. They are also affectionately called “ghost bears.”
The American black bear (also called Ursus Americanus) grows to a length of about 140 – 180 cm, weighs 50 – 300 kg, and can accelerate up to 55 km/h. It is a nocturnal, solitary animal. The nocturnal loner belongs to the genus of predators but is rather shy and feeds mainly on fruits, berries, nuts, honey, and insects.
If they sense danger, black bears are much less aggressive than other bear species, such as the more feared grizzly bear. They are more likely to take refuge in trees or run away in hectic situations. So if you ever find yourself in the unlikely position of being chased by a black bear, don’t climb a tree! What crazy Wildlife in Florida.
This is because black bears are highly talented climbers. Their intelligence should not be underestimated either. For example, these cute-looking animals are adept at opening screw caps and unlocking cars or doors. Fortunately, black bears are not endangered.
The best places to see black bears
The best places to encounter Florida’s shy giants are as follows:
– Big Cypress National Preserve
– Wewika Springs State Park (Orlando)
Dense forests in national and state parks are the most likely places to see a black bear.
Fascinating to some, a horror to others. The second animal may not seem as cuddly to many as the previous one. It’s just too bad that it’s significantly more likely to encounter a snake in Florida than a black bear. With more than 45 species of snakes, that seems hardly surprising. However, only six of these species are poisonous to humans and relatively rare. These include the:
– Highland Moccasin,
– Water Moccasin,
– Timber Rattlesnake,
– Dusky Pygmy
– and the Eastern Coral Snake.
Florida’s numerous lakes and swamps provide an optimal habitat for the Water Moccasin. This snake can grow up to 4 m long and is often mistaken for a harmless water snake. In addition to water snakes, Florida is home to choking snakes such as boas and pythons. These invasive species originated in Southeast Asia and have spread to other regions by being sold as pets. This includes Florida, where pythons are still popular pets.
However, the animals are often abandoned because they grow to between 4 and 8 meters in length and can weigh up to 100 kg. Since pythons feel particularly at home in Florida’s natural environment, the snakes reproduce explosively. One specimen lays about 50 eggs, so researchers suspect several tens of thousands of pythons in Florida.
Even king pythons, which grow to about 6 m long, and anacondas, which weigh up to 200 kg, have already been sighted. Rapid reproduction is not without ecological consequences. Animal species that were once among the most common in the Sunshine State have now all but disappeared as they fall prey to the snakes.
For example, pythons have devoured nearly 99% of opossums, rabbits, foxes, bobcats, and raccoons. Those who now think the little animals are also diminishing because of the scarcer prey are mistaken. Undeterred, they seek new, larger prey, such as sheep, guard dogs, or adult deer.
Even from alligators risking their own lives, their appetite does not stop. As a result, the Florida government often pays out premiums for killed pythons to counteract their proliferation. This procedure is reminiscent of the cobra effect, which returns to an event in India. At the time of the British colony, there was a cobra plague, which caused the governor to impose a reward on each killed specimen.
However, this proved ineffective and counterproductive, as the population began to breed the snakes and subsequently kill them to receive the rewards. However, nothing similar seems to be happening in Florida so far.
Where you can see snakes
Snakes can be encountered in a variety of places in Florida. They are sometimes found in swamps, forests, lakes, and even housing developments. The highest snake occurrence is in the Everglades, south of Florida. Beautiful to have this Wildlife in Florida.
However, the animal world in Florida also includes more peaceful species. Among them is, for example, the turtle. A total of 6 species of turtles exist in Florida, all of which are threatened with extinction. This is also true for the Loggerhead turtle, which spends almost its entire life in the water, covering thousands of nautical miles.
The quiet sea dweller ventures ashore only to lay their eggs, usually where they have hatched themselves. Once on shore, the females, which at about 35 cm are on average 10 cm larger than the males, start digging. When the hole is deep enough, they lay 100 golf ball-sized eggs everywhere, fill it back up, and diligently make their way back toward the water.
From May to October, more than 60,000 nests are created on the beaches of Florida. This means the state has 90% of all nests in the USA.
After 60 days of incubating eggs in the sun, the first young hatch and dig their way up from the shell. Because they are protected, sighted nests are often surrounded by barrier tape. Still, from day one, the young must face many enemies, such as birds, crabs, raccoons, and other animals in the sea.
Only about one in 1000 turtles reaches sexual maturity and can maintain their species. It is also worth mentioning that after hatching, the hatchlings orient themselves to the bright light of the sea to reach the water.
For this reason, in many regions, turning on bright lights on the coast is forbidden, as it could confuse the turtles on their way to the sea. A turtle hospital has already been established to help wounded or sick animals. Learn more here. If you would like to follow the young turtles on their journey to the sea and see the hatching process, you can find out more here:
– Turtle Time, Inc. (Fort Myers)
– Little Talbot Island State Park
More places to see turtles
– Melbourne Beach
– Boca Raton
– Key Biscayne (Florida Keys)
– Miami Beach
One of the most famous animals in Florida is probably the alligator. There are about eight species of them, and they belong to the crocodile family. Compared to their relatives, real crocodiles are much more common.
Thus, in the Sunshine State live about 1.3 million alligators and only a few thousand crocodiles. The Mississippi alligator is the most widespread species. Alligators prefer fresh water and live in swamps, lakes, rivers, and canals. However, it is a misconception that armored lizards, which already existed at the time of the giant dinosaurs, also live in sewers. Without sunlight, it would be too cold for them down there.
Alligators can grow between 2 and 6 meters long, weigh 230-450 kg, and are excellent sprinters, even if only over short distances. So it is quite possible to run away from an alligator because it can only keep its speed for a short time. At least this variant seems to be more effective than shooting at the somewhat less aggressive animals. The reptile’s armor could stop medium firearms.
This level of survivability and resilience is also reflected in their life expectancy. Alligators usually live between 30 and 50 years but can live up to 100. With a brood of about 70 eggs per female, their significant presence in the southeastern United States is hardly surprising. After covering their eggs with mud and leaves, they do not move from their nest for ten weeks. Interestingly, the sex of alligator babies depends on temperature. When the temperature is below 31°C, females are born, and when the temperature is above 31°C, males are born.
Because alligators tend to be shy of humans, incidents are relatively rare. Since about 1950, fewer than 300 recorded incidents involving alligators have occurred. A beautiful part of Wildlife in Florida.
Of these, 26 have been fatal. In many cases, it has been possible to determine that the alligator did not attack because it was hunting prey, but because it felt threatened, people had accidentally touched it in the water, or even deliberately provoked it or got too close.
Unique Wildlife in Florida. So if you avoid swimming in unfamiliar fresh waters and keep your distance from the animals, you have nothing to fear. Much more likely and dangerous, on the other hand, are attacks by dogs, car accidents, and, above all, cardiovascular diseases. Our tip, therefore: Do not be put off by known incidents with alligators from the media. These automatically remain stronger in the memory than the actual dangers of our everyday life.
Therefore, pay more attention to a healthy lifestyle and stay alert when driving. This alone can increase your life expectancy immensely. In addition, to further prevent alligator attacks, it is forbidden by law to feed them.
Feeding causes alligators to become too accustomed to humans and approaches residential areas, golf courses, or swimming pools instead of retreating to their natural habitat. If unwanted contact with alligators does occur, there is an alligator hotline to call in Florida.
Best places to encounter alligators
In the wild:
Everglades National Park
Big Cypress Preserve
Many More State Parks like Myakka River State Park or Wakulla Springs State Park
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
Everglades Alligator Farm
Related to the alligators, but much rarer, are the crocodiles. They are outnumbered by a few thousand compared to about 1.3 million alligators. Florida is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live side by side.
About 15 species of crocodiles have been sighted. In Florida, especially, the pointed crocodile is native. This bears the name because of its long narrow mouth. They can become up to 6 m long (mostly, however, maximally 4 m) and weigh between 400 and 1000 kg. The most famous specimen is probably “Gomek.” Gomek was a 5.4m long, 860 kg saltwater crocodile captured in Papua New Guinea and sold to an alligator farm in St. Augustine, FL.
There it was the main attraction for a long time, not only because of its respect-inspiring size but also because it was remarkably tame at the same time. Gomek died at about 70 and can still be viewed in stuffed form since then.
Although crocodiles and alligators look similar at first glance, some differences exist. As mentioned earlier, the crocodile’s mouth is more pointed, whereas alligators have more of a U-shaped mouth. While alligators live in freshwater, crocodiles also feel comfortable in saltwater and usually have a lighter shade of green than alligators. The best way to tell the two lizards apart is by their dentition. If only the upper teeth were visible when the mouth is closed, it is an alligator—crazy Wildlife in Florida.
If the upper and lower teeth are visible, it is most likely a crocodile. The diet of crocodiles is relatively extensive. Crocodiles eat almost everything from insects, fish, crabs, birds, snakes, and turtles to larger mammals. They are characterized by intelligent hunting behavior. Underwater, for example, force a school of fish into a corner, then open their mouth as wide as possible and remain completely motionless. If a fish swims through its mouth, the crocodile snaps at it.
No chance for the fish to escape. In the case of larger prey that stays on the shore or goes into the water, the crocodile shoots out of the water like an arrow, grabs the prey, and pulls it down with it to drown it—observed even already in the hunt in the team. Several crocodiles strike simultaneously and try to tear their prey apart or pull it underwater. However, the pointed crocodile is one of the less dangerous species.
More aggressive, however, are the Nile crocodile and the inguinal crocodile. Cases in which crocodiles have harmed people are still much rarer in Florida than the incidents with alligators. So there is no reason to cancel your vacation in the Sunshine State. By the way, there are also albinos among the crocodiles. Due to the missing pigments, they are entirely white.
Where you can see crocodiles in Florida
Since they are much rarer than alligators, it will be difficult in more northern areas of Florida. However, the probability is highest in the south and especially in the Everglades.
– Everglades National Park
– Gator Park
– St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
– Everglades Alligator Farm
We continue with one of the most aggressive and dangerous animals for humans worldwide. Kidding. Manatees are probably one of the most harmless and peaceful animals in Florida. Unique Wildlife in Florida.
You can approach them without hesitation and even swim with them. Although they have no organs for breathing underwater, they can spend up to 16 min under the water’s surface. The gentle giant, 2.5 to 4 m long and weighing 200 – 600 kg, is distributed from Florida to the Caribbean and Latin America. Since they have no natural enemies, manatees can live up to 60 years. Their high life expectancy and corpulent appearance may also be related to their diet.
The herbivore eats almost a tenth of its body weight daily, feeding mainly on kelp, grasses, and leaves. They live in salt and fresh water and prefer to stay in groups. They can communicate via whistling sounds due to their excellent hearing. Their offspring, born after 12 to 14 months, can already weigh 30 kg and be 1 m long. Although they can swim independently after birth, the young like to be carried on their mother’s back. In addition, they are often breastfed for up to two years.
Since manatees, as mentioned above, cannot breathe underwater, so they often stay on the water’s surface. This has the advantage that they can be seen well, but the tame contemporaries often get under boats. In doing so, they are often injured or killed by the propellers. Hunting manatees was also a problem for a long time. Now they are under protection, and some initiatives try to keep the threats away from the animals.
Where to see manatees in Florida
Manatees are a popular attraction in the Sunshine State. Here are the best places to see many of them. In many places, you can even swim with the manatees.
– Homossa Springs State Park
– Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River
– Blue Spring State Park
– TECO Manatee Viewing Center
– Lee County Manatee Park, Fort Meyers
The dolphin continues the list of Florida’s peaceful animals. It is primarily known for its playfulness and distinct intelligence. Its popularity is reflected, for example, in the name of the football team “Miami Dolphins.” Among the approximately 40 species worldwide, the bottlenose dolphin and the common dolphin are most common in Florida. While these two species live in the sea, there are also dolphins, such as the Amazon dolphin or the Indian Ganges dolphin, that live in freshwater.
Dolphins belong to the toothed whales. In contrast to the baleen whales, they have a set of teeth. However, it is improbable that they use their teeth against humans. Not only do they prefer fish and shellfish on their menu, of which they eat about 6-9 kg daily. Dolphins are also remarkably social animals. For example, they care for injured, sick, or needy conspecifics. The caring nature of the sea dwellers seems to be one of the reasons why they are also used in children’s therapies. In the wild, they live in groups of up to 1000 animals.
As a rule, they grow to between 2 and 4 m in length and weigh 150-300 kg. More rarely, specimens that were up to 6 m long have been sighted and weighed about 650 kg. The mammals spend virtually their entire lives in the water. Strictly speaking. However, they also spend part of their life in the air, as they enjoy jumping out of the water repeatedly. Despite their size, they seem to jump effortlessly up to 6 meters.
By the echolocation of sound waves, they can communicate excellently with each other underwater. Each dolphin also has an individual whistling sound, by which they can identify themselves. Their life expectancy is estimated at 25 years. However, in captivity, some live to be over 50 years old. Learn more about dolphins and the best places to meet them here.
Where to see dolphins in Florida
Because dolphins are relatively common around the Sunshine State, the range of locations, tours, and attractions is wide. Whether in St. Augustine, Miami Beach, or the Florida Keys, you can encounter them almost everywhere along the coasts. If you want to play it safe and get up close and personal with these playful creatures, you can book many boat or kayak tours at the following locations for very little money:
– Biscayne Bay
– Key West
– Fort Meyers Beach
If you want to be impressed by tricks or even swim with dolphins, you will surely get your money’s worth at these places:
– Miami Aquarium
– SeaWorld (Orlando)
– Clearwater Marine Aquarium
– Gulf World Marine Park (Panama City Beach)
Other exciting animals of Florida
Florida can score with many exotic animal species. One of the rarest is the Florida panther. Descended from the cougar, this feline predator, like the black bear, is a solitary animal and critically endangered.
The population is estimated at only about 100 individuals in and around the Everglades. No wonder, then, that the warning signs sometimes surprise even some locals, as they are rarely encountered. This may also be because they are nocturnal and tend to stay away from humans.
Among the 400 species of birds in Florida are owls, pelicans, bald eagles, and flamingos. Armadillos, deer, rabbits, squirrels, foxes, and bobcats can also be seen in the Sunshine State. Conspicuous are the many nets in neighborhoods that enclose terraces, pools, or entire gardens. Florida is also home to countless species of insects, such as mosquitoes and cockroaches. So if you want to do without the surprise in your breakfast cereal, you should never leave your food open anywhere.
Florida’s Wildlife: The Best Places at a Glance
Wildlife habitats in Florida cover large areas. Here we once again compile the best places to encounter wildlife. In addition to Florida’s 171 state parks, the following national parks are particularly worth visiting.
Dry Tortugas National Park
This is one of the best places to swim with dolphins or sea turtles. In the remote and gorgeous national park, not far from Key West, you can also snorkel in the crystal clear water, discover more than 30 species of coral and visit some castle ruins.
Everglades National Park
Whether crocodiles, alligators, snakes, cougars, manatees, or dozens of bird species – the Everglades are famous for their diversity. On hikes or during one of the popular airboat tours – in the over 6000 km² large swamp area, the animal experience is as good as guaranteed.
Biscayne National Park
Not far off the coast of Miami to the Florida Keys stretches the Biscayne National Park. Here numerous fish species, turtles, birds, whales, manatees, and also dolphins have their home. The 700 km² park consists of 95% water areas and therefore offers optimal conditions for swimming and snorkeling.
Big Cypress National Preserve
This is probably the best place to encounter black bears and the rare Florida panther. On paved trails or in the middle of nature, during a free tour or on your own, a day trip or a few days at one of the numerous campgrounds – There is something for everyone in South Florida. Many alligators, rattlesnakes, storks, and flamingos are also waiting for you here!
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