Cacti and Succulents of the Everglades

cacti Did you know cacti and succulents grow in the Everglades? Surprising, right? These plants don’t just grow in deserts. In fact, many grow in tropical and subtropical climates. The species, native to the Everglades, thrive off the frequent rainfall and the sunny dates. They require a balance of wet and dry conditions.

In the Everglades, the Simpson’s applecactus (Harrisia simpsonii) is listed as endangered by Florida. This cacti has white, large, night-blooming flowers that are quite fragrant, and it produces a prickly fruit. It is known as “Queen of the Night” because the flowers open only during the night. Bats, moths, and other insects pollinate the flowers. Along with the Simpson’s applecactus, the mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) is also endangered and hasn’t been seen in the park in 12 years after the last plant was destroyed by a hurricane.

Many species of the prickly-pear cactus exist in the Everglades; these cacti is known by its fleshy green pads, large yellow/orange/red cup-shaped flowers and reddish-purple pear-shaped fruits. The fruits it produces are called tunas. Each flower only blooms for one day.

Lastly, the columnar dildo (triangle cactus) is in the Everglades and can grow up to 23 feet; it has large, white flowers that open from midnight to dawn. This plant produces shiny, red fruit.

As far as succulents go, the agave decipiens grows on shells mounts in the Everglades that were created years ago by Native Americans; they are bright green and have spiny leaves. Tequila, mescal, and other drinks come from the Agave. The wormvine vanilla (Vanilla barbellata) is an endangered succulent with a thick stem that stores water; they product beautiful flowers. Shoreline seapurslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) grows on coastal prairies and beach dunes in the Everglades. It has thick leaves and a reddish/green stem with pink flowers that only open a few hours a day. It is a ground-covering species that stabilizing sand dunes, which helps prevent beach erosion.

Check Out These Everglades Plants in Real Life

Looking to catch a glimpse of some of these beautiful cacti and succulents? Well, then it’s time to take a trip to the Everglades. While you’re there, try out an airboat tour. You won’t be disappointed. To schedule an airboat tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

FAQ About Everglades National Park

things to do in the evergladesWant to take a trip to the Everglades? It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. On an airboat tour with Captain Mitch, you’ll be able to get up-close views of the beautiful surroundings, along with the opportunity for many wildlife sightings. However, people often have many questions before entering the Everglades. The National Park Service has many Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on its website to help people be better prepared for their trip to the Everglades. Below, we wanted to share some of these questions with you, so you can have a great time and feel comforted knowing as much as possible before you jump on a tour and explore the wetland.

Q: What time does the park close?
A:
The Park’s main entrance in Homestead and Shark Valley entrance in Miami are open every day, all day and night. It is not staffed after 6 p.m. No one will get locked in the park during the night, and you can enter or exit at any time.

Q: Does it cost to enter the Park?
A: Fees vary. For a pedestrian and cyclist, it cost $8 to enter the park (at all park entrances). Children 16 or younger get in for free.  A motorcycle cost $20 to enter and a car cost $25 to enter. Annual passes cost $40.

Q: Are there places to eat in the Park?
A: The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center bookstore, the Royal Palm Visitor Center bookstore, the Flamingo marina store, and the Gulf Coast Visitor Center has snack foods and beverages. The Buttonwood Café in Flamingo is open from November 15 to April 15. It is recommended by the Park that people bring their own food and drinks during their trip.

Q: Are the crocodiles and alligators aggressive?
A:
  Alligators and crocodiles are unpredictable; crocodiles are known to be a bit more aggressive than alligators when provoked. It’s best to keep a safe distance (15 to 20 feet) when viewing any wildlife. The Park tells visitors to NOT feed wild animals; it is a criminal offense to do so. Since 1990, two people have received injurie from alligator attackers after swimming/splashing in the alligator’s habitat.

Q: Are Pets Allowed?
A:
Pets are allowed in parking lots, campgrounds, boats, maintained ground of a public facility, on public roadways, and on roadside campgrounds and picnic areas. They are not allowed on trails or wilderness areas. They must be on a leash (no longer than 6 feet).

Explore the Everglades

An airboat tour is a wonderful way to experience the Everglades. Book a tour with Captain Mitch today. Captain Mitch has been giving tours in the Everglades for more than 30 years. To schedule a tour, click here to call 800-368-0065.

 

The False Killer Whale in the Everglades

False Killer WhaleWhat is a false killer whale? Well, its name is misleading. The false killer whale isn’t actually related to the killer whale, but rather, it’s a member of the dolphin family. This dolphin is also known as ‘blackfish.’ In mid-January, 95 dolphins stranded themselves on a remote coast along Hog Key in the Everglades National Park.  Despite rescue efforts, 82 of the dolphins died. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this event is the largest mass stranding of fall killer whales ever in Florida.  Many of the whales were deeply stuck in the mangroves and it was extremely difficult for rescue efforts to be successful. The last time a stranding occurred was back in 1986 when 3 false killer whales out of a group of 40 were stranded close to Cedar Key.

The Park has decided to leave the carcasses of the dolphins on the beach and coastline; this is a move to preserve the natural ecosystem of the area. By keeping the dolphins there, scavengers like vultures, sharks, and crabs will have an additional food source. Because of this unfortunate stranding, the Park has closed Wood Key Cove and the Hog Key backcountry campsite to ensure public safety while also protecting the area.

The dolphins are the fourth largest species of dolphin and can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh up to 1,500 pounds. They are long, slender, and dark or gray (resembling an orca whale). They have a narrow, pointed head and pointed flippers with an S-shaped elbow and a large falcate dorsal fin in the middle of their body.

False killer whales are fast moving, active, and playful. They can be found in warm to tropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They primarily eat tuna, mahi-mahi, other fish, and cephalopods. Not too much is truly known about this dolphin; it usually stays in deep waters, so it hasn’t been studied a lot.

As of now, there is no definite reason for this most recent stranding, but biologists and responders from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration are conducting forensic evidence to figure out why this may have happened. One theory is the dolphins may have been overcome by the tide and dragged to shore.

Visit the Everglades

The Everglades is home to hundreds of species, including the false killer whale. On an airboat tour, you’ll have the opportunity to see a lot of the different wildlife in the area. To book a trip with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Stargazing in the Everglades

stargazingIn the United States, the National Parks are some of the last places left in the country that provide true, natural darkness at night. This darkness makes for ideal stargazing opportunities. The Everglades is an ideal place to view a starry sky, while also providing a perfect nocturnal habitat for hundreds of creatures. The wildlife relies on the Park’s natural lightscape for navigation, and knowing when to hide from predators.

The Park is dedicated to protecting the natural lightscape. Any lighting placed in the park is determined by the location, energy need, cost, maintenance efficiency, light pollution, and effects on wildlife. The Park Service has installed efficient lightings in new buildings and facilities, including solar-powered light fixtures in the parking lot at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center.  All the new fixtures outside direct light downward, which prevents glare and light pollination.

Every month during and around the new moon, the Everglades is a great spot to view the Milky Way. When viewing the glowing band of light with binoculars, you can better see some individual stars. During the winter season, park rangers lead numerous programs where people can star gaze; telescopes are often available to view the starry night. Visitors are asked to arrive early for their eyes to adjust to  the darkness; they are also asked to bring a flashlight and to dress appropriately for the weather. One such program is a ranger-led moon bicycle ride on the Shark Valley Tram Road. To book or view schedules, click here.

Explore the Everglades

The starry sky in the Everglades is surely a sight to see – breathtaking views of the stars that you cannot see quite like this anywhere else. If you’re planning on staying late in the Park, take an airboat ride during the day to get a whole different view and perspective of the Park. Join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for a fun airboat adventure. To book a trip, clic

Status of the Manatees

manateesWe’re in the midst of manatee season down here in South Florida. The season begins November 15 and goes until March 31. This year, the government will make a decision on whether or not the manatees will still have an endangered species status. Over the years, the manatees numbers have grown, which is why this change of status may occur. Right now, the manatees’ numbers are around 6,300 in Florida; back in 1991, this number was at 1,267. In the last 26 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local governments have helped create more than 50 manatee protection zones, boating rules, and restricted construction of docks in certain habitats.

Around 95 manatees were killed in 2016 by boats and other watercrafts. With such a high number of manatees being killed last year and this season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urges boaters to be extra careful.

There is a proposal to change the manatees from endangered to threatened species. However, many scientists are opposed to it because it would remove federal protection from manatees in the Caribbean, whose numbers aren’t as high as the ones living in Florida. They also think loss of seagrass habitation, climate change, and increases in Florida’s human population will lower the manatees numbers again. They believe there may not be enough progress to demote them to a threatened species. The executive director of the Save the Manatee Club feels the change to threatened from endangered could lead to fewer manatee-safety zones and less caring with boaters.

As of now during the season, slower speed limits go in effect for boaters. Boaters are asked to wear polarized sunglasses to better spot manatees and abide by the speed limits put in place.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, manatees are a “keystone species;” their behaviors can alert researcher to environmental changes. The Everglades Park monitors the manatees by tagging them.

Glide by the Manatees

Although not guaranteed, you may get the chance to see a manatee on an airboat tour through the Everglades. If not, don’t worry there are so many other animals and marine life you can spot on a ride. Book an airboat adventure today with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book your trip.

All About the Gumbo-Limbo Tree

Gumbo-limbo Tree Ever heard of the gumbo-limbo tree? No, it’s not from a fantasy book, it’s a real tree that lives in the Everglades. In fact, it’s one of the best-known trees in south Florida.  It’s also known as the “tourist tree,” because its peeling bark resembles the skin of South Florida visitors.

This tree has a shiny, red bark that has the appearance that it’s constantly peeling. It has green leaves that grow in spirals. It produces fruit mainly in March and April. The gumbo limbo tree is tall (grows rapidly), and it’s wood is easy to carve. It is very sturdy and hurricane resistant. But when they do fall, they can sprout from a broken branch on the ground; clearly, they are a very resilient plant! This tree is also considered a shade tree that thrives with minimal care.

The resin from the tree has medicinal purposes and can treat gout. Tea that is made from the tree’s leave is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.

In the Everglades National Park, there is a Gumbo Limbo Trail that is .4 miles round trip. Bicycles are not allowed on this path. This paved path brings visitors through a shaded, hammock of gumbo limbo trees, along with royal palms, ferns, and air plants. The trail is about 4 miles from the main park entrance. This is considered an easy path. Along this trail, there are signs identifying the trees and explaining how this forest formed. There are some deep holes surrounding the path and it is known to be a bit buggy.

Check Out the Gumbo-Limbo Trees

While you can check out these unique-looking trees on the Gumbo-Limbo Trail, you can also view these trees and even more vegetation on an airboat tour through the Park. Join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for a fun and exciting airboat adventure today. To book an airboat tour in the Everglades, click here or call 800-368-0065.

 

Mercury Poisoning Found in Dolphins in the Everglades

dolphinsAt the end of last year, a study was released revealing that the bottlenose dolphins in the Everglades show signs of mercury poisoning. Florida International University (FIU) scientists have been examining the dolphins, and released the study that stated the dolphins have a high mercury concentration on both their skin and blubber. These dolphins that were examined live around the Everglades National Park, the lower Florida Keys, and Florida Bay. These dolphins have a high mercury concentration them than any other dolphin population in the world. In fact, the level of mercury these scientists found was the highest level ever recorded.

The scientists believe the mercury has come from natural and man-made sources. Mercury is a metallic element, and is extremely toxic. Because of its toxicity, the mercury can affect and harm dolphins’ immune and reproductive systems, which can make them susceptible to catching and contracting illnesses and diseases easier and more often.

FIU has reported that mercury is produced from the mangroves in these areas. This occurs when the mangroves’ leaves fall into the water and come in contact with bacteria; the combination converts into mercury. In this area, pesticides are the culprit for the mercury production.

The Everglades has been known to have high concentrations of mercury, which is alarming to scientists. FIU scientists, along with scientists from the University of Liège in Belgium, the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands and the Tropical Dolphin Research Foundation in the United States,  are working to understand the impact of these contaminations and pollutants on marine ecosystems to better know how to implement conversation efforts. These scientists are trying to find the extent of mercury poisoning in the Everglades, and will also study sharks, alligators, and fish to see if they also have been affected.

Where to See Dolphins in the Everglades 

The bottlenose dolphins mainly reside in the Everglades’ Florida Bay, which is the wetland’s largest body of water. There is about 450 dolphins that live there. Hopefully with attention and awareness on the mercury issue, these dolphins will continue to thrive and live in the Everglades for years to come. Jump on an airboat ride to get a spectacular view of these brilliant, beautiful creatures.

By taking an airboat right with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, you will have the opportunity to see dolphins and lots of other animals, birds, and marine life. To schedule a tour, click here of call 239-695-3377.

Wildlife Viewing in the Everglades

wildlifeIt’s officially the dry season in the Everglades and Florida, which is the best time to head down to the area to view an array of different wildlife species. During this time of year, the good weather combined with low water levels creates the perfect conditions and environment for animals and birds to congregate near bodies of water.

Great spots in the Everglades to view wildlife include: Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail (Royal Palm), Eco Pond (a mile past the Flamingo Visitor Center), Snake Bight (near Flamingo), and Chokoloskee Bay (Gulf Coast).

Visitors to the Park have the opportunity to see alligators, wading birds, freshwater wildlife, and a few other land creatures. Since the animals are in their natural habitat, they are wild and visitors should be respectful to both the animals and the environment in which they call home.

Below, we’ve shared a few rules and tips on viewing the animals in the Park.

  • Keep your space from animals and birds. Remember you’re in their home and shouldn’t disturb them (do not pick up or chase). Binoculars provide a great way to get a closer, detailed look at the wildlife without bothering or spooking them.
  • Back away from animals if you feel they have been disturbed by you and leave the area. Animals and birds may feel threatened and start to act strangely (excessive flapping, pacing, muscle tension, staring, screaming/making frequent noises). Animals, especially when they feel threatened, can be dangerous.
  • Stay away from nesting or den areas. By entering one of these areas, you could potentially drive the parents to leave, which means the offspring will not be able to survive on their own. Stick to the trails to avoid running into one of these breeding grounds.
  • If you see an animal that you think may be sick or abandoned, leave it be; it’s family could be nearby.
  • Pets are not allowed on trails or the wilderness areas of the Park.
  • Refrain from feeding the animals; it’s not a good idea for the animals to become reliant on being fed, unnaturally, by humans.
  • Listen to all safety signs and warning signals in the park.

It is illegal to feed or harass animals in the Everglades. You’re in THEIR home, and the Park asks that you respect them. If you’re looking for a way to see wildlife in the Everglades, an airboat tour is a great way to view animals and birds from afar without worrying about bothering them or putting yourself in a dangerous situation.  To book an airboat tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800368-0065.

The Pinelands

The Pine Rocklands, pinelandsalso called the Pinelands, are a disappearing habitat in the Everglades and all South Florida. These rocklands are found on limestone substrates. These Pinelands once covered around 185,000 acres in Miami-Dade County, and by 1996 only 2 percent of this forest remained in the urbanized areas of the county and outside the border of the Everglades National Park. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has recently proposed a list of four more plants in the Florida pine rockland ecosystem to receive federal protection. Three at risk species include: The Everglades bully, the Florida pineland crabgrass, and the pineland sandmat; one species is being considered as endangered: the Florida prairie-clover.

According to the Southeast regional director of the FWC, these four plants have declined by 80 percent in the last two decades. The primary threats these plants are facing are habitat loss and modification from sea-level rise, wildfires, and urban development. However, the pine rockland ecosystem is well adapted to fire that helps it survive better in the presence of fire that isn’t too intense.

The Everglades bully, a tall shrub with white flowers, only exists in 10 populations; the Florida pineland crabgrass, a blue-green perennial grass, is only found in the park and preserve; the pineland sandmat, a small perennial shrub, grows up to six feet, is found in the Big Cypress Preserve and 7 other locations in Miami-Dad county. The reason these plants have a high extinction risk is because the small populations have a limited to no chance for recolonization if hit by wildfires or extreme weather.

Hundreds of specials have been waiting for protection but these four are finally getting protection to survive and recover. It’s important to keep these plants alive and well as they help making up a nesting habitat for many species.

Visit the Disappearing Habitat

Although there are many efforts to save the Everglades, the area is still at high risk from disappearing from the Earth. The Everglades is a truly majestic place and needs to be seen in person for a person to fully embrace its beautiful. One great way to get a glimpse of the Everglades is on an airboat tour. To book a tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Tegu Lizards in the Everglades

tegu lizardsBurmese pythons are well-known to be a major problem in the Everglades; however, there are other invasive species in this vast wetland that are a problem to the local ecosystem. One such species is the tegu lizard, which originated in South America. In fact, they are on the state’s list of most aggressive invasive species. So, how did the tegu lizards end up in the Everglades in Florida? They either escaped or were released from people who owned them as pets.

The tegu lizard is a threat to native birds, alligators, sea turtles, small mammals, and crocodiles; biologists from the University of Florida said it is believed this lizard could be as destructive as the Burmese python. This lizard is still currently sold in pet stores in the state. As of right now, trapping and selling them is legal. State workers, members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and biologists from UF have seen these lizards in places they haven’t been before, which means there is a growing number of them.

Tegus live in burrows and forage around water; they eat fruit, seeds, eggs, dog or cat food, insects, and small mammals. They are active during the day and can often be spotted on roadsides and other disturbed areas. During the colder months, they stay covered or in a burrow. Since they are able to withstand colder temps (as low as 35 degrees), biologists believe they can threaten more species than the pythons can.

The can grow up to four feet long and are black and white with a banding pattern on the tail. Gold tegus and Red tegus have also been found in South Florida. The gold tegu grows to two to three feet and has black and gold stripes while the red tegu can grow up to four-and-a-half feet in size and the males have large jowls.

Right now, black-and-white tegus and gold tegus are breeding in parts of Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties.

Right now, officials are trying to capture as many tegus as possible so that the population does not replenish itself; there are a lot more tegus in the Everglades than they thought. In 2015, they captured around 500 and in 2009 they captured only 13 tegus. Some tegus are being tracked, so biologists can better understand their patterns for trapping efforts to go more successfully.

The biologists are trying to compile convincing evidence of the tegu’s impact on mammals like the python’s, so that hopefully the state will create a plan on how to deal with this invasive species in the future.

If you see a tegu in the Everglades, take a picture and report your location and sighting at 1-888-IVE-GOT1, IveGot1.org, or the IveGot1 app.

Explore the Everglades

The Everglades is a beautiful place full of some amazing creatures; unfortunately, from climate change and invasive species, the Everglades is at risk of shrinking and even disappearing. See this breathtaking wetland while you still can. A great way to explore this Park is on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. To book a tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.