In the classic American song, “This Land is Your Land”, Woody Guthrie sings about a nation that stretches “from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters”. Although unrivaled by any other nation in terms of climate diversity, it is sometimes easy to overlook the tropical Southeast.
Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Collier counties in Florida are home to the third-largest tropical wilderness in the country – the Everglades National Park. This site is an international treasure and has been listed as a World Heritage Site, a Wetland of International Importance, an International Biosphere Reserve, and is specially protected under the Cartagena Treaty. The park is home to a unique ecosystem and several species of wildlife and flora. Home to several birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, a visit to the park is a treat for any wildlife enthusiast. Some of the animals that can be seen in the park include:
Classified as the smallest members of the North American deer, white-tailed deer are plenty in the Everglades. Adult white-tails have a reddish-brown coat in the summer that fades to a duller grayish-brown in the winter. Bucks have a pair of majestic antlers in the summer that grow annually and fall in the winter. Fawns have a distinct white-spotted coat to help them blend in with the foliage. The white-tailed deer in the Everglades are slightly different in size from their counterparts in other parts of the Eastern United States because they do not need an extra layer of fat for warmth in the winter. These deer are crepuscular and can be seen feeding in the open sawgrass or resting in hammocks.
2.Streamlined river otters
This semi-aquatic mammal can be found along the waterways in the Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley. Otters are stocky animals with short legs, a muscular neck, and a long body with broad hips. They also have a thick water repellent coat for protection and insulation. The river otters have webbed feet, adapted for swimming and whiskers for searching for prey in dark waters. Their diet consists of turtles, fish, and surprisingly at times, recently hatched alligators.
3.The gray fox
The gray fox can be found in hammocks in the Everglades. It has gray fur on top and reddish-brown fur on its sides, chest, and the back of its head. It has pointed ears and muzzle and long hooked claws. An interesting fact about the gray fox is that it can climb trees, especially leaning trees, where it rests or looks for food. The gray fox is a solitary hunter, whose diet consists of a variety of small animals such as mice, voles and rabbits.
The Lynx rufus is a wild cat native to North America and can be found in the Everglades as well. These wild cats are stealthy and elusive, making them quite hard to spot. They are about twice the size of your average house cat. Bobcats have brown or reddish fur; a short black-tipped tail and a white underbelly. They have long legs, large paws, and tufted ears. These cats are quite the hunters and can even take down prey that is bigger than them. Bobcats are also adaptable and have been seen in diverse habitats.
The marsh rabbit is found in most parts of the south-eastern United States. They are found in lowland areas near freshwater marshes and estuaries. Due to their semi-aquatic nature, they need vegetation close to a permanent source of water. Features of the marsh rabbits include; medium-size, rounded ears, and small feet. Their fur is dark to reddish-brown, and they have a dark belly. They have sparse fur with long toenails on their hind feet. An interesting feature of the marsh rabbit is that they swim at times.
Perhaps the most known reptile in America, the alligator, is a common feature in the Everglades. They can be found near freshwater rivers, lakes, and swamps. They are similar to the American crocodile but have a broader snout, overlapping jaws, darker pigmentation, and less tolerance to saltwater. Due to conservation efforts, the alligator has moved from being an endangered species to one of the least concern. This is good news for tourists because the chances of spotting one or many are higher.
Confused at times for the American alligator, the Crocodylus acutus is a crocodilian species found in the neotropics. The best way to distinguish it from its cousin is that it has a longer, thinner snout, lighter scale color, and two long teeth that are visible with a closed snout. The American crocodile’s habitat is brackish water and, for this reason, can be found in river estuaries, coastal lagoons, and mangrove swamps. The reptile has salt glands that enable it to be more tolerant of saltwater. This crocodile is quite enormous and can reach up to twenty feet.
8.A variety of birds
The Everglades is best known for the number of birds that call the place home. It is estimated that the park houses close to three hundred and sixty different species of birds. For ease of identification, these were divided into three groups; wading birds, land birds, and birds of prey. In the wading category, you can see birds such as ibis, storks, the green-backed heron, and egrets, among others. Common birds of prey resident to the Everglades include; Cooper’s hawk, Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine falcons, Kites, Caracara, and many others.
The aquatic life in the Everglades is perhaps an essential part of the ecosystems. It is estimated that nearly 300 different species of fish in the rivers, marshes, and mangroves of the national park. Fishing is, however, regulated, and those wishing to engage should be aware of the licenses and regulations involved.
To best view the wildlife, it is advisable to engage in a variety of activities at the park such as fishing, hiking nature trails, cycling, boating, camping, kayaking and canoeing, geocaching, and ranger-led programs. It is also better to visit the park in the winter dry season. This way, you get to experience better weather conditions, and since the water levels are low, wildlife gathers near central water locations. Be sure to be respectable and observe the regulations at the park for a pleasant wildlife viewing experience.