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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The Difference Between Centipedes and Millipedes

Of all the creepy crawlies that can be found in southern Florida, perhaps two of the most seen and hated are centipedes and millipedes. And while the two species are often discussed interchangeably, they are actually two very different types of arthropods – and the differences go far beyond just the number of legs that they have.

First, it is important to point out the similarities that these two types of arthropods have. For instance, they are both from the group Myriapoda. They also both have segmented bodies, numerous legs, and breath through spiracles, which are openings on the surface of their bodies that lead to their respiratory systems. While the two species are from the same group in the animal kingdom, it’s important to note that there are more than 13,000 species within the group Myriapoda, with an almost infinite amount of variation between them.

Centipedes are further classified into the class of Chilopoda, while millipedes are placed into the class of Diplopoda. Species in the class of Chilopoda are flexible and have flattened appearances, while those in the class of Diplopoda are more rigid and sub-cylindrical in shape. It’s also important to note here that neither centipedes nor millipedes are insects, though they are often mistakenly referred to as such. Insects are classified as only have three pairs of legs, one pair on each segment, while both centipedes and millipedes have many segments, with one or two pairs of legs on each, respectively. There is also no set number of legs with centipedes and millipedes, and there will usually be a lot of variation between specific species of each.

You’ve probably seen both centipedes and millipedes inside your home at some point, especially if you live in Florida, where both are considered to be household pests. You probably find millipedes to be far more innocent than centipedes, however, as they are incredibly slow moving and generally harmless. Their legs are also not visible unless you get very close to them, they are not capable of biting, and they feed only on decaying organic matter. While understandably a nuisance inside your home, these creatures are considered a very ecologically important part of the environment.

Centipedes, on the other hand, are a different story. Even while having fewer legs than millipedes, they are incredibly fast movers, a fact which is accentuated by the fact that their legs veer off from the sides of their bodies and trail backwards and are highly visible in comparison to the legs of millipedes. Centipedes also have to be handled carefully because they bite, releasing a venom into their prey which in rare cases can cause allergic reactions in humans.

You may think you’ve seen enough of these critters in your houses but we promise, both centipedes and millipedes are a lot more interesting in the Everglades, where on an airboat ride you run the chance of spotting a few alongside alligators, snakes, and birds in every color of the rainbow. Don’t miss your chance to experience the Florida Everglades on a safe, yet thrilling airboat tour today.

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Widows of the Everglades

The Florida Everglades is an area that is certainly not without its creepy crawlies, and one can never talk about the most fascinating, yet terrifying, creatures of the Everglades without mentioning some of the spiders that can be found there. Fortunately, of the hundreds, if not thousands, of species of spiders that can be found in the Everglades, only a very small number of them are venomous to humans.

The most commonly found venomous spider that can be found in the Everglades is the black widow, a species that is found throughout the southeastern United States and as far north as Ohio. They are quite distinctive in appearance, with females having large, black bodies with a red hourglass design in the center. There are other types of widow spiders, most notably the brown widow and the red widow, both of which can be found in southern Florida in addition to their more famous cousin. Both of these spiders are also considered poisonous, though less so than the black widow.

All species in the widow family get their names from a unique behavior performed by the females – after mating, they will occasionally kill the males. This may explain why female black widow spiders have a lifespan of up to three years, while males are lucky to live three days. This may also explain their great variation in size and appearance. Female black widows are shiny and black, reaching lengths of around 1.5 inches, and containing the famous red hourglass pattern – although in many individuals it will be more orange in color and not resemble an hourglass at all. Males, on the other hand, rarely exceed 0.25 inches in length and are more purple in color, lacking any red or orange pattern completely.

While the practice of black widow mating is creepy in itself, the practice of cannibalism within the species does not stop there. While a female black widow can lay more than 3,000 eggs during a single summer breeding season, it is estimated that only around thirty survive to the first molting. Why? Because of lack of shelter or food initially, but most creepily because of their tendency to turn to each other as sources of food during times of scarcity.

Fortunately, while black widow venom is toxic to humans, it is very seldom fatal. It is, however, along with their particularly strong webs, highly effective at catching and subduing their intended prey, which typically consists of small insects, centipedes, millipedes, and other spiders. Once their prey has become entangled in their webs, webs which are strong enough to even capture small rodents at times, the widow spider will bite its victim and inject it with its venom. Once the prey has succumbed to the venom, which usually takes about ten minutes, the widow will carry it back to its nest to feed on.

Spiders are definitely one of the most feared creatures in the animal kingdom, and black widows and their close cousins are absolutely among the creepiest of the bunch. It’s likely that you’d prefer not to see any on an Everglades swamp tour with your family, and chances are good that you won’t – these species are incredibly shy and non-aggressive, despite the bad rap that they’ve been given. Everglades airboat tours are, however, a great chance to see much of Florida’s wildlife up close, and are not to be missed when visiting Florida this season.

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How Do Hurricanes Affect Florida Wildlife?

Even though Hurricane Erika may have lost its steam before hitting southern Florida this past weekend, its the perfect time to think about how a hurricane might have affected the Florida Everglades, and more specifically the wildlife that can be found here. Usually following a hurricane, a large majority of the media coverage is centered around ways that human beings were affected by the storm – through loss of life or home – but not much attention is given to the local wildlife. Sadly, a hurricane can be detrimental to wildlife and nature, affecting everything from the fish in the waters, to the birds in the skies, to the plants that form the structure for it all.

Strong winds and water can dislocate individuals and even small populations. Dolphins and manatees have been washed or blown ashore during strong storms, but it is perhaps birds that take the biggest hit. Strong winds can separate flocks and isolate individuals, but can also blow large groups of birds completely off course, leaving them hundreds of miles from their homes.

Strong winds and water can destroy habitats. Both the unwelcome erosion caused by storm surges and the loss of trees, and even entire forests, from fast moving winds can have detrimental affects on the local wildlife. Not only do many species lose their homes and shelter during these times, but because high winds can also strip trees of their nuts and fruits, many lose important food sources as well.

Saltwater and freshwater areas can mix and be thrown off balance. Species are typically heavily adapted and accustomed to the delicate balance of salinity in their usual environments. During storm surges, large amounts of saltwater are pushed inland into freshwater rivers and lakes while heavy rains can overwhelm river basins and cause freshwater to flood the oceans, putting a great deal of pressure on species to survive in their drastically changed environments.

Rainfall and run-off can pollute oceans and streams. The mixing of freshwater and saltwater is not the only thing that can harm the oceans and its wildlife during and after a hurricane. Heavy rain and its run-off through populated areas back into oceans and streams can pollute marine environments and coastal areas that had previously been healthy and vibrant.

Strong weather can cause direct injury to wildlife. Fast winds and rough waves can cause direct harm to local wildlife, though marine life is arguably the worst to suffer. During the violent conditions produced by category 5 hurricane Andrew in 1992, it was estimated that more than 180 million fish were killed in the Everglades and close to another 10 million in the oceans offshore.

The next time a hurricane or tropical storm is making its way to Florida, take a moment to think about Florida’s native creatures and how resilient these species are to have survived through millions of years of stormy weather in Florida. And, you can always enjoy the local wildlife in good weather by taking an airboat tour through the Everglades with Captain Mitch and his crew. Everglades airboat rides are not just educational, but fun for the whole family too!

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