Everglades N.P., FL 2012

     At the beginning of April, 2012, Becky (my wife) and I were in Florida for the Spring Break when we decided to explore the Everglades National Park.

Map of Southern Florida, Public Domain

The Everglades National Park of southern Florida, (the only sub-tropical preserve in North America), is a vast area of flooded sub-tropical grassland, mangrove and cypress swamps, forested “hammocks,” and hundreds of islands that support a profusion of water-birds and wildlife.    

I’m standing near the Pa-Hay-Okee overlook area in the Everglades National Park, (looking north).

     Water from Lake Okechobee, to the north of the Everglades, drains through the shallow 80 km wide “River of Grass,: creating the perfect habitat for wading birds such as herons and storks, and for reptiles such as Alligators or Softshell Turtles.   

An American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the Everglades National Park

     Pictured above, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), measure 3.4 to 4.6 m in length, and can weigh up to 453 kg.  It inhabits freshwater wetlands, such as marshes and cypress swamps of Florida. It is distinguished from the sympatric American crocodile by its broader snout, with overlapping jaws and darker coloration, and is less tolerant of saltwater but more tolerant of cooler climates than the American crocodile, which is found only in tropical climates.  American alligators are apex predators and consume fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.  The male American alligators use infrasound to attract females.

 The Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox) in the Everglades National Park basking in the sun.

     Pictured above, the Florida Softshell Turtle is a large turtle with a flattened, pancake-like body, a long neck, an elongated head with a long snorkel-like nose, and large webbed feet, each with three claws. While most turtles have hard shells composed of scutes, the Florida softshell has a cartilaginous carapace covered in leathery skin.  It is also the only species of softshell turtle whose range spans the entire Florida peninsula.  The Florida Softshell Turtle is almost entirely aquatic, only emerging from the water to bask or to lay eggs.  In the water, it prefers to bury itself in the sandy/muddy substrate. Like all Soft-shells, it is very fast-moving in water and on land. While this species is omnivorous, its diet consists largely of meat, consuming mainly fish, insects, crustaceans, frogs and mollusks.

An Alligator Hole within the Everglades National Park

     Pictured above, during the dry season (December to April) much of the wildlife is concentrated around alligator holes as the marsh dries out.

The Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) in the Everglades National Park

     Pictured above, the Anhinga, sometimes called snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey, is a water bird of the warmer parts of the Americas.  In this case, Florida. The origin of the name snakebird is apparent when swimming: only the neck appears above water so the bird looks like a snake ready to strike. They do not have external nares (nostrils) and breathe solely through their epiglottis.  The Anhinga is placed in the darter family, and like other darters, the Anhinga hunts by spearing fish and other small prey using its sharp, slender beak.   They come up to handle and swallow fish. Unlike ducks,  which coat their feathers with oil from their uropygial gland, the anhinga does not have waterproof feathers. Their feathers get soaked upon immersion in water. Therefore, they cannot stay floating on water for long periods of time. Their dense bones, wetted plumage and neutral buoyancy in water, allows them to fully submerge and search for underwater prey (pictured below).

An Anhinga diving and swimming underwater in a Alligator Hole at the Everglades National Park

     The male Anhinga is a glossy black-green with the wings, base of wings, and tail a glossy black-blue. The tip of the tail has white feathers. The back of the head and the neck have elongated feathers that have been described as gray or light purple-white. The upper back of the body and wings is spotted or streaked with white.  The female anhinga is similar to the male except that it has a pale gray-buff or light brown head, neck, and upper chest. The lower chest or breast is a chestnut color and as compared to the male, the female has a more brown back. 

I’m standing at the Pa-Hay-Okee overlook area in the Everglades National Park, (looking north).

      Unfortunately, the Everglades’ fragile ecosystem is under threat.  An increasing human population has led to habitat loss, pollution, and diversion of water for drinking and flood control.

The Everglades National Park in Florida, 2012

     Attempts are being made to reconcile the demands of people and wildlife.  As a result, many threatened species are still found here, including the American crocodile, Florida panther, West Indian manatee, wood stork, snail kite, and several species of marine turtle.

Becky is standing near the Pa-Hay-Okee overlook area in the Everglades National Park, (looking north) 2012.

     The Everglades National Park was established in 1947 and has since been designated a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.

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