PHOTOS & VIDEOS
The EvergladesAugust 24, 2009
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park, at the southern tip of Florida, is the largest wetland in the United States. A wetland is a habitat that is regularly wet or flooded, such as a marsh, swamp or bog. This is what the Everglades, nicknamed the River of Grass, looks like from an airplane.
A Thriving Habitat
Early settlers thought Florida's Everglades was a worthless swamp. But this flat stretch of razor-sharp saw grass, scrubby trees and shallow water is actually the lush habitat of thousands of animal species, including frogs, birds, insects, panthers, bobcats, snakes, fish, alligators and crocodiles. Here is a look at some of the amazing animals that call the Everglades home.
The spindly-legged wood stork eats more than a pound of fish each day. The stork sticks its open bill in the water and waits for a fish to wander in. It snaps its bill shut in a fraction of a second. In the past, humans built houses and planted crops in the wetlands where the wood stork fishes. Today, the birds' survival is still in danger because of loss of habitat and pollution.
The white-tailed deer wags its tail, showing its white underside to warn its family of danger. The deer can run up to 30 miles per hour to escape predators such as bobcats. It leaps as high as 10 feet and as far as 30 feet in a single bound. Laws against hunting have helped the population of white-tailed deer to make a comeback.
The Florida panther is the most endangered big cat in North America. It once roamed the southeastern United States, from Louisiana to Tennessee. Habitat loss and poachers—illegal hunters—have reduced the area where the panthers live in southwest Florida. There are only about 100 adult panthers left in the wild.
The American alligator is the largest reptile in North America. A male alligator can grow to be 15 feet long and weigh 600 pounds. It eats fish, turtles, snakes and small mammals. The draining and developing of wetlands threatens the alligator's habitat.
The manatee, sometimes called a sea cow, can grow to 13 feet long and weigh as much as 1,800 pounds. Despite its enormous size, the manatee is a graceful swimmer. In the past, manatees have been hunted for their meat, oil, leathery skin and ivory-like bones. Today, hunting laws protect these gentle giants, but they are still endangered.
The indigo snake, which can grow to be longer than eight feet, is the longest non-venomous (non-poisonous) snake in the United States. It hunts birds, turtles, frogs and other snakes, including rattlesnakes. Disappearing habitat has earned the snake U.S. and state protection as a threatened species.