What thoughts are conjured up in your mind when you think of the Florida Everglades? Can you feel the sweltering humidity, the thickness in the air? Do you think of alligators slicing stealthily through the water next to the tangled roots of the intertwining mangrove forest? Do you hear the high-pitched buzzing of mosquitoes swarming in the air?
These are all things you will find here. However, the Everglades is so much more than just another swamp. It is a unique ecosystem that supports diverse plant and animal life found nowhere else.
The Everglades is located in the southern third of the Florida peninsula. The Kissimmee River near Orlando flows into the shallow but massive Lake Okeechobee. During the wet season, runoff from this lake forms an extremely slow-moving river that can reach 60 miles across and over 100 miles long, emptying into the Florida Bay. Before diverting the water from the Everglades for agriculture and land development, this river was capable of storing fresh water from one wet season to the next in limestone aquifers underground.
This ecosystem supports an immense population of wildlife. There are more than 360 species of birds alone.
Other wildlife found in the Florida Everglades includes the alligator, the American crocodile, manatees, gopher tortoise, armadillo, raccoon, skunk, opossum, bobcat, fox, deer, and the Florida panther, among others.
Some invasive species have gained notoriety in the Everglades in recent years as well, such as the Burmese python, cane toad, iguana, and the African rock python.
The Everglades is made up of many interdependent ecosystems. These ecosystems include sawgrass prairies, cypress swamps, estuarine mangrove forests, and tropical hardwood hammocks.
Some of the natural forces that shape the land here are rock, fire, and, of course, water. Torrential rains from thunderstorms produce downpours that can drop five inches of water in one hour. The saturation level of the underlying bedrock or limestone determines how long the Everglades stay in a flooded state.
Fire is also an important natural force here, which is started mostly by lightning strikes. Fire supports specific plant growth, preserving the sawgrass prairies and keeping undergrowth down. It also keeps the ground fertile, releasing nutrients into the soil quicker and more efficiently than decaying organic matter.
The Florida Everglades is truly a one-of-a-kind ecosystem that we should all treasure and preserve. If you travel to South Florida, please check out this incredible and fascinating landscape. It’s also one of the only remaining places in South Florida far enough away from light pollution to see an unobstructed dark sky.
To see a stunning three minute video and meet the wild residents that call the Everglades home, check out this incredible video from National Geographic.