What do you call a land through which a river runs? What if that river is 120 miles long, 50 miles wide with depths ranging from an inch or so to, at most, three feet? A river where the water flows at a snail's pace of 100 feet a day, so slowly that movement is virtually imperceptible? As the title of this page indicates, such a land is known in southwest Florida as the Everglades or the River of Grass.
Home to a half dozen endangered species, the Everglades encompass an area of more than 1,500,000 acres. A two lane road stretches thirty-eight miles from the park's entrance (near Homestead) to the Flamingo Visitor Center on the Gulf coast. Along this road are a number of places to park your car, get out and stretch legs and do some exploring. Not only will you see a landscape much like that seen when the Spanish first laid claim to Florida, you'll see birds, reptiles, fish and an abundance of insects. Birds which I saw such as the wood stork, ibis, osprey, red-headed woodpecker, and two species of vultures make the Everglades their home. Here, one species dines on an alligator which was struck and killed by a passing auto two days prior. It was most aromatic.
From the eastern shore of Paorotis Pond, you can look across the small body of fresh water to where what seems like hundreds of white birds (ibis) have established their rookery. The squawking and squalling of the birds, while not deafening, certainly can not be ignored. Floating on the pond were what appeared to be a couple of dead logs, until I realized that these "logs" had beady black eyes.Yep, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).
This species has a brain roughly the size of a walnut. Other than during mating season, an alligator is interested in only two things: Can I eat it or can it eat me? It is a primordial eating machine, virtually unchanged over the past 65 million years. For this reason, swimming is forbidden in the park. Parents are cautioned not only to keep an eye on children but to keep them constantly within reach; A solitary child is simply a tasty morsel to a 'gator. But you're an adult. You know you could outrun the lumbering beast, right? Wrong. Dead wrong! In a short sprint, the alligator wins hands down. This is especially true if you're strolling along with your attention focused elsewhere. Alligators depend on stealth, culminating with an attack of surprising speed and ferocity. Some sources say that in a short burst, they can achieve 35 miles per hour.
The American crocodile (Crocodilus acutus) is also found on the southern tip of Florida, preferring brackish and saltwater areas. Like its alligator cousin, crocodiles should not be messed with. They can outrun you on land and in the water, well let's just say that you'd have a better chance against Mike Tyson in a boxing ring. (Of course a crocodile could bite off your leg, the only biting Tyson could do is chomp off your ear!)
Croc' or 'gator? If one's attacking you, it doesn't really matter. But for you readers who just have to know, alligators are primarily black while crocodiles range from olive green to brown. The snout of a 'gator is broader than that of a crocodile, also. When at rest with its mouth closed, only the upper teeth of an alligator can be seen. A crocodile displays both upper and lower teeth.
Numerous endangered and threatened species can be found in the Everglades. The wood stork, southern bald eagle and Everglades kite (a bird) share these designations with the loggerhead turtle, manatee and the Florida panther. It is unlawful to molest any living thing in the park. This means any bird, reptile, mammal, tree, plant, or insect (although I freely admit to smacking a mosquito or two!). Fishing is permitted however catches are strictly limited with substantial fines for those caught exceeding the limit.
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