Florida Guide > Other Florida
Florida’s Natural History
The Florida I fell in love with in the 1970’s, when I first visited with my parents, was not the one of theme parks or even the expanse of white sandy beaches. It was away from the commercial, sophisticated areas… the waterways of Florida. Many visitors are surprised just how exotic Florida can be away from the tourist locations and commercial towns.
Florida is made up of a vast expanse of water 17, 000 sq kilometres. It is a safe haven for so many exotic creatures – birds, turtles, alligators -there’s even an endangered crocodile – the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus ), dolphins, manatees and many more…. Over 347 species of birds.
The waterways are springs of waters – swamps with water grasses and vines growing, hanging down on the massive Cypress trees – some over 1, 00 years old. This is Florida’s and American’s history.
As you look around the huge expanse of wetlands you’ll see for miles, no hills, huge islands of grasses and sporadic trees growing out of the water. The water is nowhere evermore than two and a half metres above sea level, except in the middle of the Everglades and barely 9 inches deep in many parts. The waters, covered with grass, move extremely slowly to be released into the Gulf Sea. The scenery is amazing – mangrove islands, beautiful cloud formations in glorious skies, stunning, attractive species of birds. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets can be seen.
With mild temperatures throughout the year Florida remains popular with tourists and nature.
Alligators are infamous with Florida – they go back 80 million years and are thought to have not changed that much since then. They lay watching, with just their eyes peeping out of the water. They have huge powerful bodies which are surprising agile in the water. Their legs are gracefully powerful and strong when they glide in the water. But their jaws can be heard snapping as they catch and chew their prey! ‘King of the Swamp’!
The waterways are home to hundreds of birds. Many beautiful birds can be seen. Waders standing and reflecting in the water whilst divers wait, hunting for fish, waders such ducks swimming in the water whilst the sun shines gloriously above them. Others can be seen circling high up in the sky. Varieties of heron, stork, spoonbills, ibis, pelicans, teals, kites,
pintails, sandpipers, terns, woodpecker, swift, hummingbird, kingfisher, swallows, warblers, wrens, hawks, vultures, kestrel, eagles……. and even the common house sparrow! A twitter’s paradise!
Pregnant turtles, for example, green and leatherback species, visit quiet beaches close to the waterways in the dark to lay their eggs. When their young hatch the vulnerable ones, often hatching in daylight, are helped by Florida’s scientists, to reach the safety of the waters. Only one in a thousand will survive to produce more turtles when they reach adulthood.
But there is one very famous mammal of Florida who is little known – the manatee. The manatee is found in warm freshwater, around Crystal River, north of Tampa and northwest of Orlando, ‘the home of the manatee’.
This huge creature is a member of the elephant family, is often referred to as the sea cow, reaching 3 metres in length and weighing anything from 500 – 1000kgs fully grown. They spend half of their day sleeping in the water, surfacing for air regularly, and at intervals of not longer than 20 minutes. Despite their size they can be majestic in the water, gliding, peacefully and gentally as they search and eat for aquatic plants. They can eat up to 15% of their body weight each day!
Despite their size they are very popular mammals often coming up close to see humans. They are inquisitive, curious and very majestic. They are extremely tolerant of people, who in turn are fascinated with them. If safe, a manatee can live into its 60’s. Sadly they have become an endangered species with their numbers dwindling to around 2, 500 as the man shrinks their waterways in the demand for land and water. Manatees can also be injured by boats in the shallow waters they occupy. Fortunately, because they are so loved, rescue centers have been set up to watch and care for them.
So all this is close to your vacation home – a world of nature on your doorstep. If you’re staying in Orlando and would like to get a feel for the wetlands and see an alternative side to Florida, take an airboat ride from Boggy Creek. Tickets can be bought from this site.
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