Florida’s wetlands provide the ideal habitat for hundreds of different species of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. While humans keep developing formerly wild environments in Florida, the wetlands in the south of the state have become a last refuge for many endangered animals.
These rivers, swamps, and mangroves draw so many different kinds of animals because they offer something for every class of animal: shallows for fish spawning, ideal nesting conditions for birds, and a robust food chain to support large predators.
Here are some of the more exotic animals you might spy on a trip to Florida’s wetlands.
Florida’s most recognizable animal, the alligator can grow up to 15 ft in length and weigh around 1,000 lbs. They are more tolerant to cold weather than other crocodilian reptiles, so you can find them throughout the state of Florida year-round.
You will most likely spot them sun-bathing on the shore of a lake or river, but you can also find them swimming in the water if you have a sharp eye.
The American crocodile is the largest predator in the state of Florida, with the males measuring a staggering 20 ft and 2,000 lbs. when full-grown.
Though you might not be able to tell the difference between the American crocodile and alligator, they are easy to tell apart once you know what to look for. The crocodile has a much narrower and pointier snout, and only lives in the southern tip of the state near saltwater or brackish environments.
It is hard to mistake the manatee for any other creature because there’s just nothing else like it in fresh water. The Florida manatee is a large, grey, round animal with a paddle-shaped tail and flippers, and it slowly cruises around springs, rivers, and mangroves chewing aquatic plants. They are one of the few species of mammals that spends their whole life swimming in water.
Though they can hold their breath for an impressive 20 minutes, they regularly come up to breathe and sometimes swim at the surface of the water, where you can best spot them.
Florida’s wetlands are some of the best bird-watching sites in the world, as exotic birds from the north along with native Florida birds share the same habitat during the winter. One of the most interesting birds to watch is the wood stork, the only species of stork that breeds in North America.
Watch this impressive white-feathered bird with a black head wade in the shallows looking for prey as it lowers its bill into the water, waiting for fish to bump into it. Once it feels the prey, it swiftly snaps its bill shut in the blink of an eye.
Lake Kissimmee Wildlife Airboat Tour
The Everglades National Park isn’t the only place where you can find these exotic animals and others; you can watch alligators, wood storks, bobcats, bald eagles, and more exciting native wildlife right in Central Florida at Lake Kissimmee.
Come to Grape Hammock Fish Camp for the best airboat tour on Lake Kissimmee, and our guides can take you to the best wildlife watching spots in the area.