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Wildlife in Florida - A Short Guide
Florida’s wildlife covers a huge spectrum, from birds and butterflies to panthers and alligators.
The most common birds include snowy egrets and ibis, which can often be seen wandering across your lawn in Florida, long necked herons and spoonbills. Frequently seen passing our own villa are sandhill cranes, majestic on any day but more so in April when their chicks are born. Pelicans are abundant on the shorelines of Florida and can frequently be seen sitting atop breakwater pilings and on guard rails next to waterways, probably looking for food whether it be natural or handouts from humans, which is not recommended but does happen.
A relative of the Pelican is the frigate, which can be seen during the summer months. These birds do not land on flat ground, as their wingspan, that can reach over two meters, prevents them taking off unless conditions are ideal. They can stay aloft for a week or more, eventually landing to roost or breed on rocky outcrops or in trees. Neither do they land at sea, as they secrete very little oil to protect their feathers. However their huge wingspan and deeply forked tails make them unmistakeable if you see them in flight.
Two species of the crocodilian family are native to the United States. The American Crocodile and the American Alligator. However if you see a crocodilian in Florida it is most likely to be the latter as crocodiles are rare in this state. Alligators have broad snouts compared to the more tapered and triangular snout of the crocodile. Male ’gators can grow to between 9 and 12 feet long, with females being 3 to 4 feet shorter, however the largest recorded alligator found in Florida was a massive 17 and a half foot long. ‘Gators tend to inhabit lakes, marshes, swamps, creeks, ponds, canals and rivers. In fact Floridians will tell you that ‘where there’s water, there’s ’gators! A slight exaggeration – but one worth keeping in mind when travelling through less populated areas. Feeding alligators is strictly forbidden as it can lead to alligators approaching humans rather than turning tail, and if this happens they will have to be killed.
Another famous resident of Florida is the manatee, which is as gentle as it is enormous. Measuring from 10 to 12 foot and weighing between 1200 and 2500lbs they are grey and wrinkly, much like their cousins the elephants. They can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes and somehow survive on a diet of vegetation, which when in ‘captivity’ (usually recuperation or longer term residential facilities for injured animals) mainly consist of lettuce. In the summer months they mainly inhabit the coastal waters, but from November to March swim up river to springs, such as that in Blue Springs State Park, where the waters are at a constant year round temperature.
The Florida panther is probably the most endangered mammal in the world with a population believed to be less than 100. Once wide-ranging they are now mainly found in the southern tip of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River, although some young males have been known to roam as far as northeast Florida.
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