If you thought Florida was just about cartoon mice, white knuckle rides and wall-to-wall sunshine, think again. Boasting three national parks, three national forests, 29 national wildlife refuges and in excess of 150 state parks, Florida is a haven for wildlife. From pelicans to panthers and manatees to Monarch butterflies, the abundance of natural wildlife, set amidst stunning landscapes above and below ground, evolves month to month throughout the year.
For many, alligators and crocodiles are synonymous with Florida. The state’s Everglade National Park is in fact the only place in the United States where the endangered American crocodile can be found living in the wild alongside the American alligator. The Everglades are also home to fellow water-dwellers including the bottlenose dolphin and endangered West Indian Manatee. Despite being affectionately referred to as the sea cow, the manatee’s closest living relative is actually the elephant.
Back on dry land and also on the endangered list is the Florida Panther. After numbers dropped to just 20 in the 1970s, as of 2011, it is now believed between 100 to 160 Florida panthers now exist within the wild. The rarity of the animals makes them a rare sighting for tourists, but for the best chance, head for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Bug Cypress National Preserve or Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.
For twitchers, March to May could be the best time to view nesting roseate spoonbills in the Southern half of the state, before moving to central Florida in April. At the same time nesting brown pelicans can be frequently spotted across both coasts. May brings nesting time for a number of other birds, including ospreys and red-cockaded woodpeckers.
And, no trip to Florida would be complete without the once in a lifetime opportunity to see Loggerhead turtles nesting on Florida’s east coast beaches. An estimated 80% of sea turtle nests laid on the east coast reportedly occur between Mew Smyrna and Boca Raton. The nesting season begins in May and hatching continues until late October. A female loggerhead can lay several nests during one season, but only nests every two to three years, making it a truly memorable experience for anyone lucky enough to witness it.
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