Florida’s Everglades National Park is among America’s greatest natural wonders. Poetically known as “The River of Grass,” the Everglades is actually an extremely slow-moving river, 60 miles wide and more than 100 miles long. This extraordinary mass of water flows southward across much of Florida, until it reaches the sea at the southern end of the state.
Not surprisingly the Everglades are home to abundant wildlife, and student trips to Florida offer a chance to glimpse some of these fine specimens in their natural habitat.
Affectionately known as “gators,” American Alligators are probably the most iconic animals of the Everglades. Adult females can reach up to 10 feet long, and males up to 15 feet, though South Florida gators tend to be smaller than those in other regions. Resting comfortably near the top of the food chain, alligators eat fish, turtles, small mammals, birds and other reptiles.
About the size of a cat, the river otter is actually a member of the weasel family. Otters are great swimmers, and they are not picky when it comes to food. To get at their favorite meal (crayfish), the otter dives to the bottom of a river, does a handstand, pokes its nose into the cracks, and feels around the nooks and crannies with its whiskers. When the whiskers touch something, it’s dinnertime.
The Florida Panther is a subspecies of cougar, and since 1982 it has been the state animal of Florida. Panthers are born with spots, but as they get older the spots fade, leaving adults with a plain tan coat. Females weigh up to 100 lbs, while males can be as much as 160 lbs. They eat hares, mice, waterfowl and larger animals like deer, wild boar, and even the occasional alligator.
The aptly named Roseate Spoonbill is a friendly wading bird with a funny-looking flat round beak that, yes, looks like a spoon. Adult roseate spoonbills have a greenish head and a pink body, not unlike the flamingo. They eat crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, newts and very small fish.
Eastern Indigo Snake
The nonvenomous blue-black Eastern Indigo Snake has the distinction of being the longest native snake species in the United States. A typical adult male measures 7.0-7.7 feet, while the average female grows to around 6.6 feet. The longest recorded Eastern Indigo Snake was 9.2 feet long. The snake’s genus is Drymarchon, which roughly translates to “Lord of the Forest.”
If you go on an air boat trip through the Everglades, you better keep your camera phone ready. You never know what you might see.