More Than Alligators: An Introduction to Florida Animals

Alligator shows are a big draw for tourists heading to the Miami area, but Florida boasts many other interesting creatures at which to marvel. The next time you’re in the Sunshine State, check out the intriguing animals listed here.

Before you head off to see where and how these Florida residents live, though, you’ll need to find your own accommodation. The Miami area has a lot of options for places to stay. For the best Miami hotels, try this website: Venere.com.

Manatees

The most interesting Florida animal after the alligator must be the manatee. Possibly sea-mad sailors’ inspiration for mermaid tales, manatees are curious, rotund mammals that live in just a few places on Earth. Florida’s West Indian manatees are friendly, often playful animals that delight tourists when spotted in shallow coastal areas, rivers and estuaries. Manatees, also unfairly called “sea cows,” are thought to have followed the evolutionary chain in an unexpected way. Scientists believe manatees’ ancestors once had four legs, but, through time, lost the hind limbs in favor of two front flippers. They also believe that manatees still have land-bound cousins: elephants. Catch a glimpse of wild manatees at the Blue Spring State Park near Orange City, the Manatee Observation and Education Center in Fort Pierce, or the Lee County Manatee Park in Fort Myers, among other places.

Turtles

Florida’s warm waters boast a host of turtles. In the sea, you can find loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and green turtles. These Olympic-quality long-distance swimmers lay their eggs in the soft sand of Florida beaches and then take to the open ocean the rest of the year. Some of them swim all the way to Europe and back—or farther. In fresh or brackish water, you can find the spiny-shelled Barbour’s map turtle, chicken turtles (so named for their taste to Florida settlers), and snapping turtles. The best place to see sea turtles in the wild is to go scuba diving or snorkeling off the coast. There are also some state-permitted sea turtle facilities.

Florida Panthers

panther

Although we call it a panther, the Florida panther is a kind of North American cougar. Stealthy and petite when compared to its cougar cousins, the Florida panther lives in the swamps and forests of southern Florida, particularly in the Everglades National Park and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Adult panthers have yellow eyes and tan coats tipped by black fur on tails and ears. They mainly eat small animals like rabbits and mice, but sometimes prey on larger animals such as deer and boar. Alligators are their only natural predator, but human encroachment on panther habitat has also endangered them.

Seminole Bats

Florida nights are warm and steamy, the perfect time of day for many insects to come out. This creates a swarming feast for another one of Florida’s native animals — the Seminole bat. A kind of vesper bat, Seminole bats like to sleep in Spanish moss hanging from trees in the daytime or when the weather turns cold. They have reddish fur. To spot a Seminole bat in the wild, watch the insects buzzing around a lamp or other light source near trees with hanging moss.

Bottlenose Dolphins

dolphin

Sports lovers might enjoy spending time learning about the Miami Dolphins’  mascot while they’re in Florida. Florida is home to several kinds of dolphin, but one of the most intriguing is the bottlenose dolphin. Named for its protruding mouth, bottlenose dolphins are clever, social animals. They live in pods of 10 to 30 members, and can often be seen from boats in Florida waterways and off the coast. There are a few places to see dolphin performances or have dolphin encounters near Miami, for example in Key Largo and on Grassy Key.

Manatee image photo credit: USFWS Endangered Species Foter CC BY

Florida panther image from Flickr’s Creative Commons by Monica R.

Bottlenose Dolphin image from Flickr’s Creative Commons by VSmithUK

About the Author: Louise Vinciguerra is a Brooklyn native dirties her hands in content on weekdays and as a devout nature lover, dirties them in soil on the weekends. When she’s not on Facebook, WordPress or Twitter, she’s traveling in search of fun food, dabbling in urban farming or planning nature trips from her resident city of Rome. When she’s not doing any of the above, she sleeps.