Is there any animal more closely associated with the Everglades than the American alligator? OK, the Burmese python has been the 'glades press "darling" as of late, but invasive, non-natives do not count for the purposes of celebrating the Everglades. While Florida's iconic reptilian king deserves all of the attention it gets, there are plenty of other cool critters that inhabit the Everglades.
In honor of WLRN's month-long TV and radio series, "Guardians of the Everglades," here is a list of nine animals that can be found amidst the River of Grass. With so many interesting species to consider, narrowing the field was no easy feat. Don't see your favorite on the list? Weigh in below.
The flamingo adorns many a plastic Florida souvenir, but it's this native pink bird that is more likely to been spotted during a visit to the Sunshine State. Listed as a Florida species of "special concern," the roseate spoonbill population is currently winding down its nesting season. With the eye-catching plumage and aptly-named bill, it's easy to see why the Great Florida Birding Trail identified the spoonbill as "one of Florida's most distinctive wading birds."
Another species commonly mistaken for its more well-known compatriot, the American crocodile is a "shy and reclusive species," according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. While alligator sightings are a dime a dozen in Everglades National Park, a crocodile will typically require venturing deeper into the park, to the marina at Flamingo Visitors Center.
Sea otters get all of the internet love, but Florida's own playful water-dwelling residents deserve a nod for their innovative work in the field of cute. Curious and gregarious, river otters can be found in lakes, rivers, streams, and coastal marshes throughout the state, excluding the Keys.
Majestic, reclusive, and exceptionally rare, the Florida panther is listed as endangered and its population is closely monitored by state conservationalists. The recent release of a male panther into the wild drew national media attention: read all about it here.
This striking raptor narrowly edges out the endangered Everglades snail kite for a spot on this list, primarily because its distinctive silhouette can stop even devout non-birders in their tracks. The birds have in recent weeks returned from wintering in Brazil and can be spotted "soaring overhead throughout the state between March and August" according to the Great Florida Birding Trail. A cool factoid: They often eat "on the wing."
With its massive wingspan and armored head, the wood stork cuts an impressive, prehistoric figure through the marsh, where it often wades for food. Because the wood stork is so closely linked to the wetlands, they are identified as an "indicator" species of the overall health of the Everglades.
Smaller and less Peter Cottontail-ish than its "more familiar" cousin (the eastern cottontail), this species is a strong swimmer, a prodigious breeder, and proof that there are mammals in the Everglades.
This native species (often overshadowed by non-natives, like the iguana, curly-tailed lizards, and numerous other anoles) is the only native lizard in the southeastern U.S. that can change color, according to the FWC.
With all the talk of the Burmese python, it's easy to forget that the Everglades is home to some native species, not the least of which is the Eastern indigo snake. These threatened snakes are nonvenomous and can grow to be more than eight feet long.