Turtles of the Everglades

While turtles may not be the most famous reptile that is found in the Everglades, they should certainly not be forgotten. There are over a dozen known species of turtles currently living in and around the Everglades today, and even a few species of tortoise and terrapin as well. Unfortunately, many of the turtle species that can be found in and around Florida waters are endangered or under serious threat of becoming so, and are under special regulation for protection.

Here are four of the most common types of turtles found in the Everglades today:

Atlantic Loggerhead
Sometimes referred to simply as the loggerhead or loggerhead sea turtle, this species of saltwater turtle can be found throughout the world, though it has a strong preference for warmer waters around the equator. While they do spend most of their time in the open ocean, they can be found along coastlines and in brackish estuaries, such as those that occur in the Florida Everglades. And while baby loggerheads are quite susceptible to predators, adults can grow quite large – reaching weights of up to 1,000 pounds while living up to 70 years.

Atlantic Hawksbill
While the hawksbill sea turtle shares much of the same habitats as the loggerhead, with an average size of around 180 pounds it is a much smaller species of turtle. Other than its size, what distinguishes this turtle from others in the areas in which it lives – as well as the reason it got its name – is its distinctive hawk-like beak. Additionally, this interesting turtle species was the first known reptile to show signs of biofluorescence, a characteristic which has made their shells highly collectable and valuable while sadly leading to their near extinction.

Florida Box Turtle
In comparison to the previously mentioned turtles, Florida box turtles are much smaller and more docile. And, interestingly, while this species possesses both sharp beaks and sharp claws, they are actually omnivores with a preference towards fruits, vegetables, and fungi, in addition to small insects. This is one species of turtle that humans are allowed to keep as pets, though no more than two are allowed in a single residence without a special reptile permit.

Florida Red-Bellied Cooter
The red-bellied cooter is another small species of turtle, rarely weighing in at over 10 pounds and with a distinctive red-tinged belly to give it its name. Perhaps what is most interesting about this specific type of turtle is their seeming fearlessness around alligators – they can often be seen sharing logs or other basking areas with alligators, and are even known to lay their eggs in the nesting mounds of these fearsome predators. Like the Florida box turtle, red-bellied cooters are often kept as pets and are commonly exported all around the world.

To see these turtles and more of Florida’s exciting natural residents, consider an Everglades airboat tour adventure for your family this season. As most of these turtles are protected species and must be enjoyed from a distance, an airboat ride is truly the best way to have fun while giving mother nature its much-deserved space and respect.

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Peregrine Falcon

Though the peregrine falcon is certainly not exclusive to South Florida, the species is one of the Everglades’ greatest hunters. The name peregrine falcon literally means “wandering falcon”, and the species has up to nineteen listed subspecies, though one or two of these are currently up for scientific debate. They are members of the raptor family, and though not great in size – caping out at around two pounds and a couple of feet in length – they are one of the most feared and respected birds throughout the world.

This well known bird of prey can be found on six of the seven continents and is quite versatile in its habitat. Because of this, it is one of the most widespread species of all birds, and is only absent from areas of extreme cold, extreme altitude, and extreme rainfall. In fact, only the rock pigeon is more widespread than the peregrine falcon, a species which is actually one of the later’s most desirable prey. Like the rock pigeon, peregrine falcons are becoming more and more common in populated cities, though they do prefer low mountain ranges, river valleys, and open coastlines.

The peregrine falcon is the single fastest species that can be found in the entire animal kingdom. In fact, with the highest measured speed of a peregrine falcon coming in at 242 mph, these amazing birds can beat out most top of the line sports vehicles as well. The peregrine falcon, however, only reaches these extreme speeds during a stoop, which is a hunting tactic in which the raptor first climbs to a high altitude before diving steeply towards its prey. And, for the estimated 1,500-2,000 species of smaller birds that the peregrine falcon feeds on worldwide, being caught in this predator’s line of site while hunting is an almost sure sign of impeding death.

While notable for its great speeds, the peregrine falcon is perhaps most famous for its trainability as a falconry bird. In this hunting tactic, a trained falcon stalks and kills its prey, but instead of eating its capture itself, it returns its victim willingly to its human owner. The earliest accounts of the practice of falconry occurred in 2,000 BC, and are not only evidence of the interesting relationship that has existed between human beings and these birds for centuries, but are strong evidence for the extreme level of intelligence these birds possess as well.

For your chance of spotting a peregrine falcon in the wild, as well as for other amazing bird-watching opportunities in South Florida, there’s truly nothing better than an airboat tour through the Everglades. No one knows the area better than an experienced Florida swamp tour guide, and you’ll find just that with Captain Mitch and his friendly crew.

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The Dangers of Red Tide

If you live in Florida, there is a good chance you are familiar with red tide – especially if you have been in Florida in the last decade or so, as three major red tides have occurred in recent years along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. This colorful phenomenon is not only highly noticeable when it occurs in local waters, but it also has a large affect on the local ecology and economy as well.

Despite its somewhat morbid appearance, giving seawater the distinct tinge of a deep blood-red, red tide is actually the result of something somewhat unexpected. When certain types of algae, called dinoflagellates, are present in high amounts, it causes what is known as an algal bloom. It’s important to note, however, that not all algal blooms will result in a red tide, as not all types of algae are red or brown in color, and oftentimes their concentration is not actually high enough to cause a change in the water’s appearance.

It also important to note that the title of “red tide” is not entirely accurate, especially as the phenomenon has nothing to do with the tides at all. Furthermore, harmful algal blooms can occur just as easily with dinoflagellates that are not red in color, and which in fact blend in so well with the natural coloring of the water that they are almost entirely undetectable. It is these algal blooms that are perhaps the most dangerous, because their presence is much less obvious while their affects can be just as disastrous.

But what makes algal blooms so dangerous? In terms of direct causes to the local wildlife, the affects can be quite deadly. Karenia brevis, the microorganism which is present in most Florida cases of red tide, produces brevotoxins that are highly poisonous to marine life. These toxins build up in seagrass and sediment, which is then fed on by primary consumers and eventually eaten by predators, negatively affecting and killing wildlife at all stages of the food chain.

While it’s not uncommon for red tide and other algal blooms to kill off large populations of fish and manatees, these harmful affects reach human beings in the area as well. Economically, the affects on marine life cause disruptions to fisheries and local restaurants, as animals containing brevotoxins are unsafe for human consumption. Furthermore, fishermen, beachgoers, and boaters can be affected simply through air exposure, as certain algal blooms can cause eye irritation and respiratory problems, especially in those with respiratory conditions already present.

Fortunately, no major red tides have occurred in South Florida during the 2015 season, and the coastlines and estuaries of the Everglades can easily be enjoyed on an exciting airboat tour. To view the Everglades ecosystem at its best, schedule a Florida swampland tour that the whole family can enjoy today.

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How Do Sharks Survive in Freshwater?

Most people associate sharks with saltwater and the oceans, and rightly so. However, while saltwater environments are certainly where the great majority of shark species can be found, this is not to say that they are completely unable to survive in freshwater environments as well. In the United States alone, sharks have been spotted in the Mississippi river as far north as Illinois, as well as in the ocean-connected rivers that are so prevalent throughout South Florida and the Everglades.

This is not to say that you will find just any species of shark making its way into the world’s freshwater rivers. In fact, there is one shark in particular who seems to be found in these areas more than any other – the bull shark. Furthermore, this fact can be particularly scary when you consider that bull sharks are responsible for more human deaths than any other species of shark in the world. Not only must swimmers be wary of alligators when entering a Florida river, but if said river is also connected to the ocean, swimmers must also be careful to avoid bull sharks as well.

Scientists are still not entirely sure what makes this special characteristic almost exclusive to this single species of shark. All species of sharks must maintain a certain concentration of salt within their bodies, as salt prevents their cells from rupturing which in turn causes bloating and death. As soon as a shark enters freshwater, the salt concentration within their body becomes diluted, which is why the great majority of sharks will never even enter freshwater at all, or if they do, will leave it almost immediately.

The fact that bull sharks can live in freshwater is not because they do not possess the same need to maintain a certain salinity level as other sharks. Bull sharks still need to maintain their salinity levels, but have developed a special ability within their kidneys to continuously recycle and retain the salt that they absorb. And while it is not yet known how or why they developed this ability, it does seem to give them a competitive advantage when it comes to feeding and breeding, allowing them exclusive access to certain prey as well as a safe haven for newborns. However, because freshwater environments still do not appear to be preferable for bull sharks, it is clear that the disadvantages of such environments still outweigh the advantages.

For your chance to see two of planet earth’s most fearsome predators in the same environment – alligators and sharks – take an airboat ride through the Everglades today. Not only are airboat tours a safe way to observe these wild animals from a comfortable distance, but they are a great way to explore everything else that the Everglades has to offer as well.

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