Seasons of the Everglades

seasonsThe rest of us may have four seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter), but did you know the Everglades only has two seasons? The Everglades seasons don’t go by the temperature, but rather the water levels in the wetland. The two seasons are known as: the Wet Season and the Dry Season.

The Everglades’ wet seasons runs from April to November. During this time, the area experience intense storms and rains. The Everglades gets about 60 inches of rain per year. The Dry Season begins in November and ends in April. There is little rain during the dry season, usually only around a quarter of the yearly rainfall occurs during the dry season.

The Everglades’ water levels aren’t just determined by the rainfall in the Everglades, but in other parts of the state of Florida, as well. Why? Well, there are so many different bodies of water that flow into the Everglades. Rain in Central Florida makes its way down into Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay, which lead into the Everglades.

Since humans have disrupted the natural flow of water in the Everglades (water has been diverted), animal and plant life populations have changed and declined. Naturally, the water levels in the Everglades change month to month, but the animal life and plant life that are native to the area are accustomed to these water changes. In fact, they expect and depend on the water levels to change.

For example, some birds will only nest if the water level is at a certain height; if it’s not, the birds will be hesitant to settle down to nest. There are many reasons birds fly to the Everglades during the winter.  Since it’s the dry season in Florida, it’s not only warmer than the North, but the dry weather makes it easier for the birds and their offspring to find food. Birds, like the Wood Stork and Anhinga breed, need shallow water to find fish and other food sources faster and easier. When the water levels change, the birds will start to look for other places to nest or won’t breed at all.

The ecosystem of the Everglades is delicate. It requires an ideal balance for the animals and plants to be happy and thrive. Unfortunately, humans, storms, climate change, and invasive species can wreak havoc on this balance. If there is too little or too much water in the Everglades, animals will move elsewhere, plants will die off and slowly more and more negative changes will begin to snowball. This water affects breeding, drinking, growing, and provides homes and shelters.

The water in the Everglades even affects humans’ drinking water. As water flows into the Everglades, it gets soaked into the limestone underground and gets stored into aquifers (caves). Aquifers are fresh water sources. The Biscayne Aquifer provides the clean drinking water for southeast Florida.

A proper balance of water is essential in the Everglades, as well as the water’s timing and quality and where it ends up.

If you’d like to get a chance to fly through some of the Everglades’ waterways, book a trip on an airboat with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book an airboat tour adventure today.

Burmese Pythons in the Everglades

burmese pythonOne of the biggest threats to a balanced ecosystem in the Everglades is the Burmese pythons. These snakes are an invasive species in the wetland. The python happens to love the Everglades, but this wetland cannot handle its presence. Pythons prey on almost anything in their path, and have been known to cause a large depletion in the rabbit, opossum, wading birds, racoons and other small populations population in the area. Its only predators are the American alligator and the Florida panther. However, these pythons can put up a fight and a recent video take by someone in the Everglades showed an alligator losing a fight with a python in water.

The state of Florida currently pays $8.10 per hour for people to hunt the Burmese pythons living in the Everglades. Up until June 1, there were 25 hunters killing pythons in the Everglades. These hunters use traps, dogs, public round ups, and radio-tracking implants to find and capture these snakes.  According to the South Florida Water Management District, there could anywhere from 10,000 to even more than 100,000 pythons slithering around the Everglades; they are not easy to find. The District is paying $50 for every snake caught, and an additional $25 if the snake is more than 4 feet in length. In April, the 50th Burmese was caught. The hunt began on March 25.

With each capture, the District and hunters hope the populations of other species from birds and small mammals to deer will begin to rise. Not only to these pythons’ lower animal populations by eating them, but they harm the population who eats them! These snakes’ bodies hold high levels of mercury, which can poison any animal or reptile that eats them. The pythons’ presence in the Everglades is changing the entire ecosystem.

Earlier this year, the 2016 Python Challenge occurred from January 16 to February 14; it was held by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.  106 pythons were turned in.

Unfortunately, these pythons found their way into the Everglades after being released by many people who had them as pets; they are native to Asia. If you want to participate in next year’s challenge, click here. There are plenty of things you need to know and do before going python hunting.

If python hunting isn’t your thing, visit the Everglades in a much more relaxing way… on an airboat tour! This is your chance to see the Everglade’s wonderful wildlife that is still around, despite pythons and climate change issues. To book a tour, click the Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours page or call 239-695-3377.

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.


HM69 Nike Missile Base

HM69 Nike Missile BaseNot only is the Everglades a beautiful landscape to explore, you also can get a history lesson while in the Park. In the park, the Nike Hercules Missile site stands, and it happens to be a relic of The Cold War. Visitors are able to visit the Nike Missile Base by a ranger-guided walk that is offered in the months of December through April. The site is home to 22 buildings and structures.

The Nike Missile Base, also known as Alpha Battery or HM69 Nike Missile Base, is basically the same when it was in use; the site was terminated in 1979. This site was built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and was completed in 1964. At this time, the United States’ priority was national security against a Soviet Union attack, so the Army chose the Everglades as a strategic site to build an anti-aircraft missile site. It is located 160 miles from Cuba.

This base was part of a larger missile defense system that was built in southern Florida, because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are three other Nike Hercules Missile sites across the state. These Florida missile defenses were integrated with HAWK missile sites to provide better defense capabilities around southern Florida. About 140 people operated three missile barns; they were on guard in case Cuban air strikes occurred. The crew at the Everglades site (known as Battery A) received a meritorious unit commendation from President John F. Kennedy; this was one of the few times an award was presented during this war for a deterrence mission.

In 2004, the base was listed on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places as an historic district. All of the buildings and structures are connected to events that made a significant contribution to American history. The structures include: missile barns, a guard-dog kennel, a missile assembly building, and more.

If you’d like to go to visit this historical site, click here for more details or call 305-242-7700.

After taking in this greatness of this site, why not check out the rest of the park? The best way to do this? An airboat ride. An airboat tour can bring you in many areas of the park that you are unable to access in other ways. To book a ride with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800-368-0065.

The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida

MiccosukeeDid you know a Native American tribe resides still in the Everglades? There is, and they are called the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. They occupy several reservations in Florida, known as the Miccosukee Indian Reservation The largest section of this reservation is 333 acres of the north border of the Everglades National Park; in fact, the tribe controls around 200,000 acres of wetland; this land must be used for “the purpose of hunting, fishing, frogging, and subsistence agriculture to carry on the traditional Miccosukee way of life.”

The Miccosukee were originally part of the Creek Nation, who were an association of clan villages in Alabama and Georgia. The Miccosukee come from the Lower Creek region of Creek Nation and speak Mikasuki; they lived with other Lower Creek tribes in harmony as they shared religious and social practices. To survive, they hunted, fished and grew crops, including corn. The Tribe celebrates this new harvest each year still at the Green Corn Dance.

Around 1715, the Miccosukee made their way down into Florida in an effort to escape European settlers, as well as the Upper Creek Nation (who they did not get along with). The remained in the panhandle area for a while, but then ventured to settle around Alachua, which is south of the Tampa Bay area.

After Spain sold Florida to the United States, treaties between Indian leader and the new American settlers were occurring but in 1830 the Indian Removal Act was put into place and the Second Seminole War and Third Seminole War took place. During these wars, the Miccosukees escaped the fighting and hid in the Everglades. The current tribal members are descendants from the 50 members who were not captured in the wars.

In the Everglades, the Miccosukees had to adapt the new environment so they created “hammock style” camps. They fished and hunted to eat. They began to harvest native fruits of the hammocks, but corn, which played an important role in their customs, became difficult to grow.

Over the years, the Miccosukees have adapted to new ways but have always retained their culture. They have kept their language, medicine, and clans. Many still do not live in modern housing and prefer to live in chickees, which are thatched-roof houses on stilts. Since the 9160s, the Miccosukees have their own Constitution and bylaws.

The Miccosukee Indian Village and Airboat Rides is a family camp where there are sleeping, working, and cooking chickees. This village includes a museum, board walk, and alligator arena. People can visit the camp and watch the Miccosukke Indians engage in doll making, beadwork, patchwork, and basket weaving. There are alligator demonstrations, airboat rides, a restaurant, and a gift shop.

This village is a great place and trip to learn all about the culture, lifestyle, and history of the Tribe. The Village is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry costs $10 for adults, children (5-12)$6, and children under 5 are free. Airboat rides around the Village cost $16.

Explore the Everglades

The current population of the Miccosukee service area is 550 members. Membership is open to Indians who are on-held Miccosukee Indian blood and are not enrolled in other tribes. Definitely check out this culturally-rich area and learn more about their history in Florida and the everglades at their Village on Tamiami Trail in Miami.

Sleep Under the Stars by Camping in the Everglades

Tent On A CampsiteCamping is one of the best ways to experience the great outdoors. But, did you know you can actually go camping in the Everglades National Park? You can! The park offers camping opportunities in both the front country and back country. Visitors are able to go camping year-round, but the wet season (June through November) is a more difficult and uncomfortable environment for camping. If you’re thinking about experiencing this beautiful wetland through a camping experience, remember to come prepared; the park does not provide any camping equipment for people to buy or rent.

For the front country camping, there are two drive-in accessible campgrounds from the Homestead entrance of the park, which are Long Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground. People can bring both tents and RVs to the sites. These are the only two sites in the front country part of the Everglades.

For the most part, the number of camp sites in these campgrounds meet the demand. In the winter (busy) season, it is recommended to reserve a site for Flamingo. A limited number of group sites (which accommodate up to 15 people) are available. A maximum backcountry stay is 14 days.

With backcountry camping, people can camp at a number of ground sites, beach sites, and elevated camping platforms across the park. These sites can be reached by canoe, kayak, motorboat, and some can be reached by hiking. Most of these sites are in the Ten Thousand Islands and along the rivers that flow into these islands.

For this type of wilderness camping, a permit is required, which a person can pick up the day before or day of his or her trip at the Flamingo or Gulf Coast Visitor Center or the fee station at the Homestead park entrance. The permit processing fee costs $15 and there is a $2 per person per day camping fee.

Visitors are asked to use caution at campsites where alligators and other wildlife have been fed/gained access to human food.

Explore the Everglades

If you plan on exploring the Everglades before you set up camp, an airboat tour is a great way to get around the park. To book an airboat tour, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours by clicking here or calling 800-368-0065.

Plant profile: Pond Apple

pond appleThe Everglades is home to an array of plants that thrive in the wet, subtropical climate. Although mangroves and grasses come to many people’s minds when thinking about plant life in the Everglades, we’d like to profile a plant that many people might not know about that is native to the area: the pond apple.

The pond apple, Annona glabra, is a shrub or small tree with evergreen leaves, white/pale yellow thick-petal flowers and large fruit.  This plant is also known as alligator apple, swamp apple, corkwood, and monkey apple. Along with the Everglades, this plant is also native in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America, West Africa, and South Asia.

They can grow up to 30 to 40 feet tall by 10 to 20 feet wide. As a young pond apple tree, the bark is gray and scale; as the tree gets older, the bark becomes fissured and can turn to a reddish-brown color. These trees can be found along streams and rivers banks, canal banks, slough swamps, freshwater ponds, lakes, and strands. The pond apple is known to flourish around bald cypress trees. They tolerate salt water and cannot grow in dry soil.

In the past, there was a pond apple forest at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee, but due do drainage over the years this habitat was destroyed. Still, the largest numbers of this species of tree are found in the Everglades, but they can also be found throughout other areas of Florida.

Native Indians and settlers to the Everglades ate the fruit off this tree, but it is now considered unsavory for humans to eat. Most of the fruit will mature and fall of the trees in the fall and winter. When they drop, they are green or green/yellow in color. The fruit has a sweet aroma and the pulp is fleshy, mealy, and pithy. The flesh is yellow/orange in color and is filled with more than 100 dark-colored seeds within. The seeds are poisonous, and powder from the seeds have been known to blind people. The seeds and leaves of this plant are known to be insecticidal. More recent studies are showing that the seeds contain anticancer compound, which may be able to be used medically. Birds, raccoons, squirrels, and alligators have been known to eat the pond apple fruit.

Not only does the pond apple provide food for many animals in the Everglades, it also provides shelter and creates a safe haven for many, as well.

Visit the Pond Apple’s Habitat

Explore where this fruit-filled tree thrives while on an airboat ride. An airboat can take you through many places in the Everglades with the opportunity to see this plant, along with hundreds of other species of plants, many of which are unique only to the River of Grass. To book an airboat tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

Trails of the Everglades

trailsThe Everglades is a beautifully mysterious place to visit. So, why not experience it up-close-and-personal? The Everglades National Park allows visitors to explore their surroundings with several hiking and bike trails winding throughout the wetlands.

The Park asks that visitors bring plenty of water with them and to pay attention to the weather forecast. If visitors hear thunder, the Park suggests people take cover in a building or vehicle. Being such a warm climate, there will be lots of insects around and visitors should prepare themselves. Pets are not allowed on any of the Park’s trails.

Below is a list of a few trails within the Park that allows people to explore the flora and fauna of the area. These trails can be walked through but there may be some vegetation on the trail.

The following trails are currently not being maintained because there are endangered species nearby.

Coastal Prairie Trail – This trail is 11.2 miles long. This trail isn’t recommended due to its exposure to mosquitos and sun. The marl prairie is a breeding ground for the mosquitos and can be very muddy. It can be a very tiring walk. This trail is a critical habitat for the Cape Sable thoroughwort.

Snake Bight – Snake Bite is a 7.6-mile loop. This moderately-difficult trail leads from the forest to the shoreline of the Florida Bay. Visitors may spot crocodiles, flamingos (in December), mosquitos, and pythons and anacondas. People can walk and/or bike this trail. This trail is very buggy. This trail is considered a critical habitat for the Cable Sable thoroughwort.

Christian Point Trail – This trail is considered challenging; it leads people deep into a mangrove forest along the Florida Bay. After the forest, the trail will lead people to a small prairie and opens up later into a large mark prairie. This trail is a critical habitat for Cape Sable thoroughwort. It is 4.2 miles round trip. It can be very buggy on this specific trail being surrounded by heavy vegetation.

Other Non-Maintained Trails:
Rowdy Bend
Bear Lake
LPK Bike Trail

These trails are maintained:

Anhinga Trail – This trail is an easy trip and is .8 of a mile long. It’s close to the Park entrance, which is why most visitors travel on this trail. Wildlife is easily spotted along this trail, especially alligators and birds. People can look into the vegetation and see much of the wildlife on several observation decks throughout the trail.

Bayshore Loop – Bayshore Loop is an easy to moderate level trail that is 1.3 miles long. This trail is known to be aggressively buggy. This loop brings visitors along the edge of the Florida Bay through the coastal prairie habitat. It passes through the original fishing village of Flamingo, a relic stands where this place used to be. It’s a great bird-watching trail.

Pa-Hay-Okee Boardwalk – The Boardwalk is an easy .2 loop that leads visitors through the “River of Grass” (Pa-Hay-Okee) within the Park for a close look at the area. It leads people to an observation tower.

Other Maintained Trails:
Bear Lake Trail
Bobcat Boardwalk
Gumbo Limbo Trail
Guy Bradley Trail
Mahogany Hammock Trail
Old Ingraham Highway
Otter Cave Hammock Trail
Pinelands Ecotone
West Lake Mangrove Trail

Explore The Everglades Further

These trails offer beautiful views to those within while fully immersing them in the mystical wetlands. For a different look at the Everglades, an airboat tour can bring you around areas of the Everglades that these trails do not reach. Airboats are great especially when your feet get tired from all the walking! To schedule an airboat trip when you’re visiting the Everglades, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377 or click here.

Fun in the Everglades: Hikes, Paddling and Airboat Rides

Tourists Riding An Airboat In The EvergladesWhat’s the best way to see the Everglades? There are several options, and each offers a very different experience. Foot soldiers will enjoy the intricate trail systems spread across the Everglades ecosystem. And for water lovers, the adventures are endless. For a workout, pursue a paddle trail. Or for a more relaxed experience, hop on an airboat. Here’s the low down on each Everglades recreational activity.



If you don’t want to get in the water with the gators, stick to the sidelines. Hiking is a peaceful, slow-pace way to explore the inner workings of the Everglades. Trekking through the wilderness gives you an opportunity to see Florida flora up close and personal. Here are few favored trails and what you might see should you choose to embark on them:

  • Anhinga – This is one of the most hiked trails in Everglades National Park due to its close proximity to the entrance and its short distance. Less than a mile long, the hike showcases lots of Everglades wildlife, including the “King of the Everglades,” otherwise known as the American alligator. The Anhinga Trail is rated easy for all ages.
  • Bayshore Loop – At 1.3 miles, this scenic hike winds along the Florida Bay, exposing gorgeous panoramic views. Rated easy to moderate, the trail suits most hikers. Be sure to stop and admire the many shorebirds that come to feast during low tide.
  • Old Ingraham Highway – The seasoned hiker will relish this moderate to extreme 22-mile trail. Originally used as a highway circa 1922, the crumbling road now serves hikers and backpackers alike. This is not only one of the longest trails in Everglades National Park, but it is also one of the only to host backcountry campsites.
  • Otter Cave Hammock – For a short but rewarding hike, opt for the Otter Cave Trail. Only a mile long, the trail promises scenic pools, glimpses at solution holes and opportunities to see wildlife. This trail is often flooded, so be sure to assess the conditions because setting out.

Paddle Trips

Backcountry campers will love the wide variety of campsites sprinkled about Everglades water trails. Take your kayak, canoe or paddleboard and set off on an adventure like none other. Trails vary from day trips to multi-day endeavors, and you’re guaranteed to see remote areas of the Everglades no matter what. Some sought-after Everglades water trails include:

  • Nine Mile Pond
  • Hell’s Bay
  • Turner River

Airboat Tours

Perhaps the most popular way to see the Everglades is by airboat. While all other Everglades modes of exploration require physical exertion, airboat rides allow you to sit back and enjoy the scenery. This family fun option exposes passengers to a wealth of wilderness. Though it’s not guaranteed, plenty of folks leave their airboat tour having seen a gator or two (from a safe distance of course). Airboats successfully jet through the shallow areas of the Everglades due to their airplane-like propellers. Any ordinary boat could not cruise through the marsh like an airboat can, making it a truly unique experience. To schedule your private airboat ride, call Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.

Florida Black Bears in the Everglades

Black Bear in the EvergladesDid you know Florida is home to over 2,500 bears? The Florida Black Bear, the state’s only resident bear, is Florida’s largest land-based mammal. These gentle giants, ranging from 125-450 pounds, live in seven isolated subpopulations from the Panhandle down to the Everglades.

Why do black bears live in the Everglades?

Florida black bears seek solace in the Everglades because it’s a protected wilderness where wildlife can live free, devoid of most human interference. Most black bears in Florida reside in protected parks where they can live their solitary, reclusive lives in peace.

Florida black bears are unique because they adapted to thrive in a subtropical habitat, something no other black bear subspecies has accomplished. They live in South Florida habitats like sand-pine scrub, hardwood forests, pine rocklands, forested sloughs and oak scrub, all of which exist in the Everglades.

The Everglades is a utopia for a Florida black bear because it’s home to plentiful plant life, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of a black bear’s diet. The sabal palmetto, a native tree in the Everglades, is just one shrub black bears dine on.

Human impact on the Florida black bear

Even with protected wildernesses like the Everglades, Ocala National Forest and Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida black bears experience habitat reduction. In fact, Florida black bears lose 20 acres of habitat an hour. At one time, each of their seven subpopulations all connected from South Florida up to the Panhandle. Now these habitats are isolated due to human development like roads, buildings, etc.

And with these new human developments come more bear deaths. Roadkill is a black bear’s primary cause of death in Florida with traffic collisions responsible for nearly 90 percent of bear deaths. On average, roughly 100 bears die per year due road-related incidents. Stay alert while driving through bear country at night as black bears are most active after sunset.

What to do if you encounter a black bear in the Everglades

While Florida has never seen a predatory black bear attack on humans, people have been injured when a bear feels the need to defend itself, its cubs or its food. It’s important to know how to react if you encounter a bear. Here are some dos and don’ts when you see a Florida black bear:

DO: back away slowly. Never turn your back to a bear. Move slowly backward in the way you came, holding your hands up in retreat. Remember not to make eye contact with the bear, as they often associate this with an act of aggression.

DON’T: run away or climb a tree. Black bears can run faster than you and climb better than you. If you run, they’ll likely perceive you as a threat, or possibly as prey, and chase you – at 30 miles per hour. Florida black bears can climb as high as 100 feet in a minute flat, so keep to lower ground.

DO: make noise. First try blasting a whistle or banging equipment together. Often, this will scare a bear away. If the bear doesn’t leave, speak to it calmly. Even though it can’t understand what you’re saying, it can perceive your tone.

DON’T: feed the bear. The last thing you want is for a bear to associate you with food. Feeding a bear will not only desensitize a bear to you but to all humans. This is one of the main reasons bears become aggressive, which ultimately results in their euthanization.

See Everglades wildlife by airboat

For a chance to see the Florida black bear and other Everglades wildlife, reserve an airboat tour. Everglades airboat tours expose you to the most dynamic flora and fauna the region has to offer. To book your Everglades airboat tour today, click here or call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.