Field Guide to Florida
Probably as a way of coping with an exceptionally rainy and dreary February, I jumped states a bit for this guide and headed to Florida. It is, unsurprisingly, a massively biodiverse state, and the list of species that I really wanted to include was much longer than the space available, so I will probably do an Everglades specific guide eventually.
Learning more about the Everglades was bittersweet, as much of this project is turning out to be - for every fascinating aspect of nature I turn up, there’s a reminder of just how fragile and delicate these ecosystems are. Everglades Park itself was the first national park designated not to protect a geological wonder, but to protect an ecosystem in danger of destruction. The attempts to drain the swamp started during the government’s attempts to forcibly remove the Seminole people from their homes in the 19th century, and continued into the first half of the twentieth century as canals were rapidly constructed to not only channel water to agricultural areas, but to create new real estate. This created massive unbalance in water flow that resulted in food chain disruption, flooding, and now threatens the drinkable water provided from the Biscayne Aquifer.
I promise I’ll try not to be too much of a downer about the ecological state of things in these posts, but it feels pretty disingenuous to celebrate the beauty that I’m coming across without an honest reconciliation of it with the damage that has and continues to be done. If anything comes of this project, I hope it nudges the door a bit into people understanding the incredibly engineered balance of systems that are unique to the places we call home.
On to the notable notes!
Florida Apple Snail - The only native species of apple snail native to Florida, and the largest native freshwater gastropod in North America. It is the food source for the Everglade Snail Kite, and has been threatened by the introduction of invasive apple snails that were dumped by aquarium hobbyists.
Multi-flowered Grass Pink - With ninety nine species, Florida has the largest number of native orchid species in the US. The Multi-flowered Grass is a fire-dependent species, and blooms only a few weeks after fires.
Reef Gecko - These precious little guys clock in at around 2 inches long, and are the only native gecko species east of the Mississippi. Their cute factor is accentuated by their round pupils - a feature they share with only two other gecko species.
Alligator Apple Tree - Apparently alligators do, in fact, eat alligator apples! Overlooked local native fruit could be its own series (our local one is the paw-paw!), and I would love to know if anyone has actually tried these.
Florida Panther - There are roughly 120-230 panthers in all of Florida, making it one of the most endangered species in the world. Panthers have been making a comeback in recent years, but each cat needs a large range (~150 square miles), and as the park becomes overcrowded they need to leave to find new home ranges, which opens them to threats. There is a significant male population and plenty of land north of the Caloosahatchee River, but few females have made the 75 yard swim, which threatens genetic diversity. The state is working in partnership with the Nature Conservancy to create a land corridor leading the panthers across the river, but more money is needed to complete the project.
So that’s it for Florida! I’m getting close to completing the next guide, so hopefully will have two for next week.