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The Florida Everglades is home to a variety of species that thrive in warm, wet climates. As one of the largest subtropical areas of wilderness in the United States, it contains a high concentration of endangered and threatened species of mammals, reptiles, and fish. Many of these species are major tourist attractions because they have become so endangered that the only place they can be found is Everglades National Park.
The Florida panther is the only cougar found east of the Mississippi, thanks to European settlers destroying their habitats when they started building colonies in the 1600s. Even though the panther is Florida’s official state animal, it is possibly one of the most endangered mammals in the country, with fewer than 200 still alive. The biggest reason why this species has become so endangered continues to be that their habitat is constantly diminishing. They select habitats based on where their prey is most vulnerable, and they require large areas of land with dense vegetation to meet all their needs.
Florida panthers are carnivores that primarily eat white-tailed deer, wild hogs, and smaller mammals like raccoons, armadillos, and rabbits. Because of the rapid urbanization of their habitats, they have also been known to eat unsecured livestock and pets.
- Florida Panther and its Habitat: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides details about the Florida panther and where it lives.
- Florida Panther: Defenders of Wildlife go into detail about threats to the Florida panther and why their numbers are dwindling.
- Florida Panther Facts: This page has details on what is being done to save the Florida panthers and how you can do your part to save the panthers, too.
West Indian Manatee
West Indian manatees are large gray and brown aquatic mammals that are sometimes known as sea cows. They have no natural enemies and spend their days eating, sleeping, and traveling around. They are often found in shallow water because even though they live in water, they frequently have to come up to the surface for air. West Indian manatees are herbivores that eat 15% of their body weight every day in vegetation that grows near the edge of the water. That can be up to 150 pounds of food a day!
West Indian manatees are legally protected, but habitat destruction, collisions with boats, and accidental captures by fisheries do aid in the depletion of the manatee population. Scientists believe that the West Indian manatee is vulnerable to extinction; in fact, it is extinct in some regions the species used to live in. This is why it is important to carefully manage activities that are a threat to this species, so it doesn’t go extinct everywhere.
- West Indian Manatee: The National Wildlife Federation details the diet, characteristics, and conservation facts about the West Indian manatee.
- Marine Mammals: West Indian Manatee: Find fun facts and videos about manatees here.
- National Geographic: West Indian Manatees: View a slideshow of pictures and facts about the West Indian manatee.
- Marine Life: West Indian Manatees: Read marine research on the conservation and lifestyles of the West Indian manatee.
The American alligator is found in the United States in freshwater, slow-moving rivers, swamps, marshes, and lakes from North Carolina to the Rio Grande in Texas. They are carnivorous, with strong jaws that can crack a tough turtle shell and sharp teeth to seize and hold their prey. If you’ve ever seen an American alligator out of the water, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of their sharp teeth, since on a hot summer day, they can be seen on the banks of water basking in the sun with their mouths open. They are cold-blooded, so they cannot regulate their own body temperature: When they warm themselves in the sun, they need to open their mouths to cool themselves off so they don’t get too hot.
At one point, hunters brought the American alligator almost to extinction. They were labeled an endangered species when there were fewer than 200 alligators left, and because of this protection as well as tight regulation of alligator hunting, they have made an amazing recovery and are no longer considered an endangered species.
- American Alligator: The Smithsonian gives detailed information about the habitat, habits, and lifestyle of the American alligator.
- Species Profile: American Alligator: Find pictures and research from the Savannah River Ecology Lab about the American alligator here.
- Armored Giants: The American Alligator: The San Diego Zoo has a page dedicated to facts about the alligator.
Leatherback Sea Turtle
The leatherback sea turtle is the largest species of turtle in the world and the only species of sea turtle that doesn’t have scales and a hard shell. They are actually named for their tough, rubbery skin, which places them in a different taxonomic family than the other species of sea turtles in the world. Also unlike other sea turtle species, leatherbacks do not have crushing chewing plates; they have tooth-like cusps and sharp-edged jaws that help them catch soft-bodied ocean prey like jellyfish and salps.
These turtles are considered endangered and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. They face threats both on beaches and in marine environments due to the harvesting of eggs and adults as well as accidental capture in fishing gear.
- Leatherback Turtle: The NOAA Fisheries website has fun facts and details about the leatherback sea turtle and its conservation.
- Leatherback Sea Turtles: Learn more about leatherback sea turtles here, including their habitat, diet, threats, and more.
- Leatherback Sea Turtle (Atlantic Population): See pictures and details about the population of the leatherback sea turtle and find out how you can help if you think one may be in danger.
The Everglade snail kite is a mid-sized raptor that feeds exclusively on apple snails, which they find and capture near the surface of the water. They are able to hunt for these snails by flying slowly over lake shores and marshes and then using their feet to grab the snails. The snail kites eat the apple snails by using their unique curved bill to pluck the snails out of their shells.
The Everglade snail kite is protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Florida Endangered Species Rule, which recommends staying at least 500 feet away from areas marked as an active snail kite nest.
- Snail Kite Identification: Pictures and details from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can help you learn how to identify a snail kite.
- Everglade Snail Kite: Read a brief overview of what the Everglade snail kite is and how its population has declined.
- Everglade Snail Kite: Learn about the behavior and appearance of the snail kite.
Marsh rabbits are found in lowland areas near freshwater marshes and estuaries. They are semi-aquatic and require vegetation near water. What distinguishes them from all other cottontail rabbits is the dark color of the underside of their tail. Marsh rabbits also have sparse amounts of fur and have long toenails on their hind feet.
Lower Key marsh rabbits are endangered because of habitat fragmentation. Conservation efforts have been made to reintroduce some species of marsh rabbits to help redistribute them throughout the Lower Florida Keys.
- Animal Diversity: Sylvilagus Palustris: Read a detailed profile of the marsh rabbit courtesy of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
- Wild Florida: Marsh Rabbit: This page outlines where marsh rabbits can be found and what they look like.
If you’ve ever heard the common rhyme “red touching yellow can kill a fellow, red touching black is a friend of Jack,” it might help you differentiate between different types of snakes! Coral snakes have red and black blocks of color separated by yellow bands, while scarlet king snakes have similar colors but do not have the same venomous bite. Coral snakes do have a powerful neurotoxin, but they are not as dangerous as other venomous snakes because they have short fangs and a reclusive nature; they are more reluctant to bite than other species of snakes.
Coral snakes live in Florida and can also be found in southeastern North Carolina, parts of Texas, and parts of northeastern Mexico. They are usually found under debris and in trunks of trees and will live in a variety of habitats, from dry areas to swamps.
- Micrurus Fulvius: The Coral Snake: The Florida Museum uses pictures and diagrams of the venomous snake to describe its size and colors and how to watch out for it.
- Coral Snakes: Brightly Banded and Highly Venomous: How Stuff Works details what coral snakes eat and how venomous they truly are.
- Coral Snake: Read a quick guide to facts and characteristics of the coral snake.
Alligator gars are prehistoric fish that have a head and snout that resemble that of an alligator. They have a wide mouth with two rows of teeth that line their jaws and scales that are shaped like diamonds and are just as hard as them. These fish are usually found in the southeastern United States in freshwater lakes and rivers with warm water and low oxygen levels, since they can diffuse the oxygen they receive from air through the tissues of their swim bladder.
Alligator gars were considered a nuisance species for years and thought to be detrimental to sport fisheries, so they were targeted by state and federal authorities up until the past decade, when there has been a more focused emphasis on the importance of these fish to their ecosystem.
- Alligator Gar (Atractosteus Spatula): This page provides a detailed overview of the history and habitat of the alligator gar.
- Alligator Gar: A quick overview of the habitat and behavior of the alligator gar can be found here.
- Alligator Gar: Florida’s Monster Fish: Untamed Science discusses this ancient fish and its traits.
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