There is hardly a state in the USA with such a diversity of animal and plant species than Wildlife Florida. The Sunshine State´s fauna ranges from primeval alligators and gentle manatees to a colorful variety of birds. And wildlife in Florida is not restricted to the mainland. Off the coast, the waters are teeming with dolphins, sharks, turtles and many other marine animals.
In the following sections, we will present the most important wildlife in Florida that you can see if you are lucky.
Manatees, or sea cows, are among the most famous animals in the southern USA. They are found in states like Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. However, in Florida, visitors have the best chance of seeing Manatees all year round.
Characteristics and Behavior
Manatees can grow to a maximum of 13 feet and weigh up to 1.000 lbs. They are easily recognizeable by their stocky, round bodies and their iconic flukes. With their big snouts equipped with whiskers, manatees navigate in the water, where they mainly feed on plants. Despite their slow appearance, manatees resemble dolphins when it comes to intelligence. The animals possess a particularly good memory.
Manatees lead solitary lives, except during breeding season. Then, the animals gather in groups and multiple bulls compete over the females. The mothers mostly give birth to a single calf, with which they share a strong bond. It is not rare for young manatees to be fed by their mothers for 2 years. Manatees have a life expectancy of up to 60 years.
Threats and Conservation
Manatees are threatened by water pollution, fishing nets, flood gates and boat motors. They are a protected species in the USA, and hunting them is illegal. Today, their numbers in the wild are estimated at around 6.000 – a huge improvement after the species was on the brink of exctinction.
Where can I see Manatees in Florida?
Manatees mainly populate the tropical south of the state and are found off the coast most of the year. You do not even have to visit a refuge or national park: Whether on Sanibel Island, Captiva Island or Pine Island – manatees are regularly sighted in marinas and around fishing piers. One of the best places to see manatees in Cape Coral is Sirenia Vista Park. If you want to observe manatees in Fort Myers Beach, the swampy north coast provides ample opportunity. In addition, the marine mammals are drawn to little islands like Cayo Costa and Cabbage Key.
The best time for manatees are the winter months. Then, the animals swim to warm coastal waters. They also follow rivers upstream and thus can be spotted in the interior of the state. An ideal place to see many of the animals at once is the Crystal River. There, you can also swim, respectively snorkel with manatees. If you want to see manatees in Tampa, you should head for the power plant near Apollo Beach – a favorite spot for manatees thanks to warm water temperatures.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about manatees of Florida
The Sunshine State is home to a primeval reptile that was already around at the time of the dinosaurs: Florida´s alligators live in rivers, swamps and lakes. Sometimes they are even found on walking paths near the water and gulf courses. Alligators in the sewers, however, are only an urban myth.
Characteristics and Behavior
Thanks to their thick, short snout, Florda´s alligators can easily be distinguished from their relatives, the crocodiles. The animals reach an average length of 10 feet and can weigh up to 990 lbs. With their powerful jaws, alligators can even crack tortoise shells. However, the animals are not picky eaters: Fish, snails, little mammals and even birds are part of their diet.
Despite their frightful appearance, alligators are known to be caring parents. An alligator mother will watch her offspring for up to 2 years. They mostly build their nests on river banks and do not take kindly to intruders. In general, it is a good idea to stay on the marked paths in alligator areas. What is more, you should not enter the water where it is not explicitely allowed. During breeding season in spring and early summer, alligators are often spotted on land. However, the reptiles rarely attack if they are not provoked.
Threats and Conservation
Since the hunt for alligators was outlawed, the population has increased a lot. Today, there are an estimated 1.3 million animals in Florida alone. Unlike in the mid 20th century, the American alligator is longer a threatened species.
Where can I see Alligators in Florida?
The animals are found all across Florida. However, their habitat is restricted to brackish water, as alligators cannot deal with salt water for long. When alligators are sighted in the ocean, they have either got lost or are crossing open waters on their search for a new territory.
The mangrove forests near South Florida´s cities like Cape Coral and Fort Myers offer a perfect refuge for the reptiles. If you want to have a high chance to see alligators, you should go kayaking in Lovers Key State Park or the lagoons of Cayo Costa State Park. With an estimated 300 animals, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is another worthwhile destination. All those with more time on their hands, can go alligator watching in the Everglades. The “River of Grass” is home to thousands of alligators and crocodiles.
However, Florida´s iconic reptiles do not only live in the wild. They are also bred in captivity. The biggest Alligator Farm is located in Homestead, 34 miles south of Miami. Here, you can watch 2.000 animals being fed in front of spectators. Alligator Wrestling is another highlight on the farm, but not one for the faint of heart. During these shows, the trainers literally put their head between the jaws of the animals.
If you are looking for an alligator park in Florida, we can recommend the Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach. There, you can feet the animals with bamboo poles. In addition, you can hold little alligators for a photo. Do not worry – the baby reptiles have their jaws taped shut as a safety measure.
Even though alligators are the far more prominent reptiles in the Sunshine State – Florida is also home to crocodiles. These are, however, much rarer: Only 2.000 specimens remain in the wild.
Crocodiles can be distinguished from alligators by their fairer skin and thinner snouts. The animals are also bigger and heavier then their relatives. They populate the coastal areas of South Florida. Only the north of the state is too cold for the reptiles. Unlike alligators, crocodiles are well adapted to salt water.
In theory, you can see crocodiles along Florida´s entire west coast up to Tampa Bay. Due to their dwindling numbers, however, you will need a lot of patience. You have a better chance spotting crocodiles in the Florida Keys. The Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay are also worthwhile destinations. In the Everglades, you can even see crocodiles and alligators in the same habitat.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about alligators and crocodiles in Florida
No boat trip in Florida would be complete without seeing the Sunshine State´s iconic marine mammals: Bottle-nosed dolphins populate the entire coast of the state where they hunt for fish in the warm water.
Characteristics and Behavior
Dolphins usually weigh 330–1.400 lbs and can reach up to 13 feet in length. Dolphins in the wild have a life expectancy of about 25 years. In captivity, however, the animals can get twice as old. Like all marine mammals, dolphins give birth to live young. After a gestation period of 12 months, baby dolphins stay with their mothers for about 3 years.
The extraordinary intelligence of dolphins is widely known. In addition, they are very social creatures. On boat trips in Florida, one can often see huge groups of dolphins called “pods”. Each member produces an individual whistling sound to communicate, and the animals are known to care for their injured and sick breathren.
Threats and Conservation
Dolphins are highly adaptable animals, and luckily, they are not threatened. Hunting dolphins in the USA is illegal. From time to tome, however, the animals get trapped in fishing nets. The pollution of ocean waters is another risk for dolphins.
Where can I see Dolphins in Florida
The answer will delight fans of Flipper and Co: almost everywhere off the coast. Sometimes you can observe dolphins directly from the beach. And do not be surprised if you see silvery silhouettes in your boat´s wake: The clever animals like to follow boat motors as an efficient way to travel.
A perfect place to watch dolphins is Sanibel Island. Around its shores, gigantic pods of up to 1.000 animals can be observed. Estero Bay between Estero Island and the mainland is another refuge for the marine mammals – just like the coastal waters of Captiva Island, Cayo Costa and Pine Island. On Cabbage Key, you can even see the animals directly from the boat dock. Dolphins feed on fish, so it is a good idea to head for South Florida´s most popular fishing spots: e. g. Blind Pass between Sanibel and Captiva, Redfish Pass or Matanzas Pass. Those who want to travel further south are lucky: In the Florida Keys dolphins are a common sight.
Tip: “It pays to get up early, as the animals are particularly active hunting fish at the break of dawn.”
Of course, you can also see dolphins in captivity: for instance, in zoos and aquariums like the Miami Seaquarium or the Clearwater Marina Aquarium. In addition, swimming with dolphins is offered at many places in the Sunshine State. At the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, you can even paint with dolphins, as the animals know how to skillfully use a brush.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about dolphins in Florida
Many different kinds of sharks live in Florida, among them tiger sharks, bull sharks, nurse sharks and the iconic hammerheads. Even Great White Sharks can be spotted with a bit of luck. Sharks on the beach are a rare sight in Florida. The animals seldom swim close to the shore, making the risk of an attack minuscule. When accidents occurr, the specimens involved are usually small, relatively harmless blacktip sharks.
However, if you are on the lookout for sharks: At the Ponce de Leon Inlet near Daytona Beach, the predatory fish are often sighted. They also hunt for prey in the coastal waters of Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach – and become the hunted: Sharks are among the most common catch off the coast of Sanibel and Captiva.
Diving with sharks is a popular pastime in Florida. In the Florida Keys, for instance, you can step into the water with them. If you would rather watch the animals behind glass walls, you can do so at aquariums like the Miami Seaquarium, Tampa´s Florida Aquarium or the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about sharks by Florida
Sea Turtles are among the Sunshine State´s threatened species, and so these grazers are a rare sight. Every year from March to October, however, hundreds of thousands of females flock to Florida´s beaches to lay their eggs. If you want to see a real turtle nest, you should steer your boat to Pejuan Point on Cayo Costa. There, these nests are marked by animal conservationalists. The beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Island are sought-after nesting grounds, too. The females like to lay their eggs at night. However, if you arrive by boat early in their morning, you might still see their tracks in the sand.
By the way: Far more common then their aquatic relatives are Florida´s tortoises: You can see them, for instance, at the Matanzas Pass Preserve near Fort Myers Beach, or at Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island. On the small island of Cabbage Key, these reptiles can even weigh up to 11 lbs.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about turtles in Florida
With their flat bodies and long tails, stingrays are easily recognizeable. These fish can often be observed near the shore – especially between May and October when water temperatures have reached their maximum. Then, the animals dig into the sand to seek shelter from predators. Here, contact with humans cannot always be avoided.
Even though their stings are seldom deadly, they sure are painful. Therefore, you should do the “Stingray Shufle” when wading in shallow water: Stir up the sand with your feet so the animals know you are there and can swim away.
Tip: “If you want to know more about this fish species and pet harmless rays, you should visit the Discovery Cove in Orlando.”
A highlight on every diving trip are big manta rays that can have a wing span of up to 23 feet. These majestic fish are commonly found around coral reefs and are completely harmless for humans.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about rays in Florida
Florida is home to more than 500 species of birds, so it pays to bring binoculars on your boat trip.
The mangrove forests you find on Sanibel, Captiva and Estero Island, for example, are teeming with water birds that are perfectly adapted to this habitat: Among them are herons, cranes and different kinds of ducks. Birds of prey include fish eagles, hawks and buzzards. Even America´s heraldic animal, the Bald Eagle, can be spotted with a bit of luck, as its numbers are increasing. In addition, a multitude of song birds like sparrows, chickadees and finches populate Florida´s nature.
One savannah-dweller has found a new home in urban areas, especially in Cape Coral: The city on the Gulf boasts Florida´s biggest population of burrowing owls: This smallest owl species in the world is active during the day and builds burrows underground. Many house owners erect wooden poles in their garden to help the owls find food.
Directly on the beach, you will often see seagulls and stints. Pelicans hunt for fish off the coast, but also like to sit on jetties and piers. There they wait for the remains of fishermen. Unfortunately, pink flamingos are a rare sight today. Hunted to the brink of extinction, the birds can only be seen at the southern end of the Sunshine State.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about birds in Florida
Even though the risk of an accident is small, you should know these venomous animals in Florida:
There are 45 kinds of snakes in Florida. However, only 6 of them are venomous:
The most dangerous species, albeit a rare one, is the diamondback rattlesnake with her black, brown and white pattern. Mostly living in forests, this snake leads a secluded life and flees from people when she notices their vibrations. However, if you hear an angry rattling sound, you should back off in order to not get bitten.
Another venomous snake is the water moccasin that is often found on river banks and on the water. When threatened, the animal raises itself and displays its open mouth. If you leave her alone, however, the water moccasin snake flees from humans most of the time.
Unmistakable due to her black, red and yellow scales is the eastern coral snake, a relative of the cobra. Unlike her Old World breathren, however, a bite of the coral snake is seldom deadly. The animal lives in remote areas and only defends itself with its teeth when threatened.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about snakes in Florida
Among the venomous spiders in Florida, two species are particularly dangerous for humans:
The brown recluse spider measures 0.2–0.8 inches and likes to hide in piles of leaves, but also in clothes and shoes that lie around unused for a long time. Its bite is painful and can lead to necrosis and even sepsis. Luckily, the brown recluse spider is relatively rare and only bites if she feels threatened.
A more common species is the black widow, unmistakable due to her round, black and red body. Her bite is hardly painful in the beginning, but leads to unpleasant cramps and muscle pains. Healthy people rarely die from it. The black widow is often found in shacks, barns and other places where she can build her web undisturbed. Most bites occur when the spider hides in old work gloves or on high shelves and is startled by people who grope around and touch her by accident.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about spiders in Florida
Jellyfish and Portuguese man-o’-wars populate Florida´s coastal waters, where they also swim near the beach. Both species have an almost transparent body and long tentacles. Unfortunately, they are quite hard to spot and almost always travel in groups.
If a swimmer comes in contact with the tentacles, they inject a venom that causes intense pain and circulation problems. Luckily, accidents rarely end in death. In case you are stung, you should treat the wound with vinegar and remove the stingers with a pincette. Afterwards, apply hot water for 45 minutes to ease the pain.
Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about jellyfish in Florida