The Everglades’ Threatened and Endangered Species

endangered species everglades airboat toursThe Everglades is an amazing and pristine ecosystem that is a unique biome that is home to a huge wealth of different flora and fauna. For nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and adventure seekers alike, the Everglades is a one-of-a-kind place that is unmatched. A lot of people, when planning a vacation to the Everglades, choose to experience Everglades National Park, which is a protected area of the Everglades where plants, animals, birds, and fish are protected and conserved.

One of the most interesting and humbling aspects of visiting the Park is that it (and the Everglades in general) are home to a number of threatened and endangered species of plant and animal. This means that in this environment, you have the opportunity to see truly endangered species that are at risk of extinction. These are species that need to be protected and saved because of their biological diversity and importance to the functioning of the overall ecosystem.

What a rare honor to have the chance to see creatures that may number in just the tens. Sadly, with each passing year, it seems that more plants and animals become threatened, endangered, or extinct, but with preservation efforts like those are many national parks, we can at least hope to save and protect small areas that these creatures can safely dwell within.

There are a number of different threatened and endangered species that you might encounter on a trip to the Everglades. What follows is a brief rundown of the same species that are included on the protected list.

Threatened or endangered species of animal that call the Everglades home include:

  • American Alligator
  • American Crocodile
  • Sea Turtles
  • Manatees
  • Florida Panther
  • Various Bird Species

The park is also home to a variety of threatened and endangered plants that include:

  • Buccaneer Palm
  • Florida Thatch Palm
  • Tree Cactus
  • Manchineel
  • King’s Holly
  • Silver Thatch Palm
  • Bitter Thatch Palm
  • Lignum-Vitae

The protection of these plants and animals is vital and also our responsibility. Man is the reason that these habitats have been continually encroached upon and altered beyond repair. Since the degradation is our doing, we have the moral responsibility to save and protect that which remains. The Everglades National Park is home to a number of threatened and endangered plants and animals that can be seen nowhere else. Visiting the park gives you the opportunity to experience the once-in-a-lifetime honor of witnessing something rare and majestic.

To experience the wonders of this park first hand, jump on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. To learn more, click the Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours page. Click here to book a airboat ride or call 800-368-0065 to reserve a spot today.

The Everglades Snail Kite

snail kite The Snail Kite (formerly known as the Everglades Snail Kite) was listed as endangered in 1967. Fast forward 49 years, this bird is still on the federal endangered species list and state regulators are being accused of not protecting the species properly. In 2000, there were 3,400 kites around and by 2008 there were only 700.

The snail kite is known for its slender, curved bill. This bill is able to extract the apple snail from its shell for the bird to eat. The snail kite is a medium-sized brown/gray raptor that flies slow with its head tilted down often while it looks for prey. They use their feet to capture the snails that are right below the surface of the water.

This raptor lives along freshwater marshes and manmade lakes. They prefer non-dense vegetation areas, because the openness allows them to easily search for the apple snails. Snail kites are considered nomadic in Florida because they move depending on water depths, food availability, hydroperiod, and other changes in the habitat.

The biggest threat to the snail kite is the loss of the wetlands in Florida. When sewage is disposed through septic tanks and runs off into the water and land, the water quality lowers and exotic and invasive plants grow heavily and reduce visibility of the apple snails in the water. In order to keep the snail kite around, the area’s water stages in lakes in canals to be regulated to certain vegetation is there for the bird’s habitat to exist.

In February, a federal official accused state regulators of not properly protecting the snail kite. In January, heavy rainfall occurred in Florida and was overfilling Lake Okeechobee; the U.S. Army Corps released lots of water from the lake which flowed into estuaries. This flowing of water changed the water level in many areas of the state too quickly, which in turn disrupted the nesting sites of the snail kite. If their nests get swept away from the higher levels of water, they are unable to reproduce. This destruction was caused by an act (the dumping of the water) which was illegally done, because no permit was obtained for this flood control act.

Despite the snail kite’s habitat being completely fragile and vulnerable, numbers have been slowly increase in recent years.

Spot the Snail Kite

This majestic creature has been in trouble for decades but continues to hold on. The snail kite’s specific diet of mainly apple snails makes it hard for the bird to thrive in different areas, since it’s dependent on a watershed with a certain water quality and vegetation.  Although this bird is still around, there’s always the chance it could disappear in the years to come. Book an airboat tour today through the snail kite’s habitat within the Everglades to try and catch a glimpse of this precious, endangered bird. To book a tour, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377 or click here.

West Indian Manatee: The Everglades’ Resident Gentle Giant

ManateeThe West Indian manatee is certainly a local favorite, these gentle creatures having affectionately earned themselves the nickname of “sea cow.” The West Indian manatee can be further classified into two subgroups, the Florida Manatee and the Caribbean Manatee, both of which are currently on the endangered species list.

The West Indian manatee is a mammal which has completely adapted to living underwater, and like other manatee species, has no hind limbs. The average adult West Indian manatee is roughly 12 feet long and weighs around 1,300 pounds, with females tending to be larger than males. Although manatees are easily the largest animals found in the Everglades, with the largest Florida manatee on record reaching nearly 4,000 pounds, they are extremely docile creatures, very gentle and very shy.

Manatees are not territorial, and have very few, if any, natural predators. The only aquatic species large enough to take on a manatee – sharks, killer whales – very rarely share habitats with manatees, so in general, manatees have never been known to shown predator-avoidance behavior. Manatees themselves, though they occasionally feed on small fish and crustaceans, are largely a vegetarian species, with sea grass being their largest source of food.

West Indian manatees are extremely vulnerable to their environments, and many die during periods of cold weather because the thermal shock shuts down their digestive systems in temperatures below 68 degrees. Because of this, the loss of warm-water habitats poses the biggest threat to declining manatee populations, though as always, humans have their share in the responsibility as well. If you have ever seen manatees in the wild, then you may have noticed large, deep scars on their backs, the result of being hit by propellers as boats pass over them too closely and too quickly for these slow-moving creatures to avoid.

There are strong efforts today to preserve manatee populations throughout Florida, as these gentle giants have almost become a sort of mascot for the state. A variety of state, federal, and non-profit programs are already set up to protect these gentle creatures, and fortunately, numbers are on a slight rise.

To fully understand the beauty and importance of these animals, many residents and visitors head out on the water for an Everglades tour. From an airboat ride, you and your family can view manatees, alligators, crocodiles, and plenty of fish and birds, and you’ll no doubt be left with a love and appreciation for all things Everglades.