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With its warm climate and diverse habitats, Florida is a haven for animals. This diversity also includes snakes that can be found all over the state. The reptiles play an important role for the ecosystem – especially because they keep the rodent population in check and serve as food for other animals.

Due to ever increasing development, contact between humans and snakes cannot always be avoided. Most of the time, these encounters end without accident, as snakes are inherently shy and not aggressive. However, anyone who disturbs the animals accidentally or on purpose should expect a painful bite.

In this article, we will explain where Florida’s harmless and dangerous snake species live, and how to recognize them. You will also learn how to avoid encounters with snakes and which tips can save your life in the event of a snake bite.

Snakes in Florida – harmless Species

Of the 45 snake species in Florida, the majority are harmless to humans. Most tourists never even see a snake, as these animals lead well-hidden lives. Nevertheless, you may come across them on a hike or boat tour. Here are the most common harmless snake species in the Sunshine State:

Black racer

This snake ranks among the most common species in Florida. As the name suggests, it is characterized by black scales and high velocity. Black racers can reach a length of up to 6.2 ft and are often found in agrarian habitats such as farmland and gardens. For humans, this species is harmless. Farmers even welcome its presence, as the black racer feeds on small rodents.

Ring-necked snake

This snake can grow to a length of up to 1.2 feet and is easily recognized by her yellow ring behind the head. When she is playing dead, you can also see her yellowish underside. In Florida, this species is often found in piles of leaves, gardens or even in houses. Fortunately, the ring-necked snake is harmless to humans. She does not inject venom, but defends herself by secreting a foul smell.

Corn snake

Due to their striking black-red-brown coloration, corn snakes are often kept in terrariums. However, they also live in Florida´s natural habitats, where they skillfully climb trees. Sometimes, they enter houses and garages through small openings. Corn snakes can bite if they feel threatened. However, they are harmless to humans – unlike the coral snake (see below). Being similar in color, these two species are often confused.

Florida brown snake

With a length of only 1 ft, Florida brown snakes are among the smallest species in Florida. They feature a yellowish-brown coloration and are at home in forests, wetlands and farmland. Sometimes, they also populate gardens, where they find ideal hiding spots, or end up in swimming pools by accident. For humans and pets, this species is harmless.

Southern water snake

Due to its dark spots on light scales, this snake is often confused with the cottonmouth. In addition, both snakes share the same habitat: the banks of rivers and lakes, where they hunt frogs, fish and salamanders. However, the southern water snake is not venomous and poses no threat to humans. Even without venom, though, it can still bite. This snake also omits a foul smell – another reason not to disturb it.


These imposing constrictors originally come from the Old World and are not native to Florida. However, many pythons were imported as pets and managed to escape. For some years now, they have been causing a veritable snake invasion, especially in the Everglades. Their population is estimated at over 100,000, and the state has even put a bounty on their heads – so far with little success.

Snakes in Florida – dangerous Species

Florida is home to 6 species of snakes that can be dangerous to humans. Even if the risk of a bite is low – it pays to know what these snakes look like and where they live:

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

  • Size: 3.9–7.9 ft
  • Features: black, brown and yellowish-white patterns in diamond shape; tail rattle
  • Habitat: oak and pine forests, dry bushland.

This largest subspecies of rattlesnakes is found throughout Florida – even on islands like the Florida Keys. It usually lives secluded and is not considered aggressive. In case of danger, the diamondback prefers to flee and sound her tail rattle. If this does not help, she can deliver a venomous bite. Due to the large amount of venom, this can be life-threatening for humans. The bite of this rattlesnake leads to painful swelling and tissue destruction. Immediate medical attention is required.

Timber rattlesnake

  • Size: 3.3–5.9 ft
  • Features: muscular body, gray-yellowish scales with black diamonds
  • Habitat: bottomland, riverbeds, reeds, swamps

The timber rattlesnake is found exclusively in northern Florida, where she hunts for small mammals, amphibians, birds and other snakes. She injects less venom than the diamondback rattlesnake, and reports of deadly bites are rare. However, accidents can happen when hikers climb over fallen tree trunks – a preferred hiding place of the timber rattlesnake.

Dusky pigmy rattlesnake

  • Size: 1.6–2.3 ft
  • Features: light gray scales, black spots, often interrupted by a reddish band; pointed tail
  • Habitat: Forest areas near bodies of water.

This small member of the rattlesnake family likes to hide under leaves and deadwood. Due to its size, the dwarf rattlesnake injects less venom than its larger relatives and has shorter fangs. Therefore, the symptoms after a bite are usually limited to pain, swelling and nausea.


  • Size: 2.5–5 ft
  • Characteristics: black, brown or olive scales; brown to black bands that fade with age
  • Habitat: rivers, lake shores, swamps, coastal pine forests

This representative of the pit viper family spends most of her life by and in the water, where she hunts fish, frogs and small mammals. When threatened, the cottonmouth curls up and displays her fanged mouth. If this has no effect, a warning bite can follow. Her venom causes, among other symptoms, severe pain, swelling, necrosis and impaired blood clotting. Deaths are rare, though.

Eastern coral snake

  • Size: 1.7–4 ft
  • Characteristics: black-red-yellow bands, slim head with yellow band
  • Habitat: pine and liana forests, swamps, dry bushland

The eastern coral snake is native to the entire state. She prefers to hide in foliage and deadwood, but can also climb trees. When in contact with people, this species will try to flee. When she does bite, however, she injects a powerful venom that triggers severe pain, swelling, gastrointestinal problems, and paralysis. If left untreated, the bite can lead to death from respiratory failure.

Snakes in Florida – Tips and Precautions

If you spend a lot of time outdoors in Florida, you are likely to encounter a snake sooner or later. Do not worry, though – even the Sunshine State´s venomous species only attack people when they feel threatened. To prevent this from happening, you should observe the following precautions:

  • If you see a snake on the path in front of you, stay calm. The animal will most likely try to escape into the undergrowth. You should never try to cut off the snake’s escape route.
  • On hikes through dense shrubs, you can protect yourself from snake bites with long trousers and rubber boots.
  • Snakes often seek shade under fallen tree trunks. Tap the trunk with your foot before climbing over it. This way, the snake knows that danger is approaching and can flee.
  • Avoid lifting large stones on hot days. There, snakes like to seek shelter from the heat.
  • Many species of snakes play dead when they are in danger. This is why you should never touch a motionless specimen. Otherwise, the snake could feel threatened and bite.
  • If you come across a snake in the garden or house, try to identify it from a safe distance. Then, you can scare it away with a broom or long stick. In case of venomous species, you should call the Florida Wild Animal Removal Service hotline (386 235-2175) and have the snake removed.
  • Snakes like to hide in piles of leaves. Thus, you should never poke around there with your bare hands and use a long tool, instead. The same goes for stacks of wood in your garden.

What to do in Case of a Snake Bite

If you follow the precautions listed above, snake bites are extremely unlikely. This is also shown by the statistics: Every year, about 8,000 people in the USA are bitten. However, most of these cases are caused by carelessness – for example, when people try to remove a snake with their bare hands. With an average of 1–5 deaths per year (2015–2919), the mortality rate is extremely low.

Despite this, you should not take any chances if you are bitten:

Regardless of the type of snake, you need to be taken to the emergency room immediately to get an antidote. Do not try to tie, suck out or cut open the wound. Since the venom spreads quickly in the body, these measures have no effect, but can do more harm than good. Instead, you should remain calm and wait for help.

If another person has been bitten, you can do the following things:

  • Immediately call an ambulance or take the person to the hospital if this is not possible.
  • Try to calm the victim. Stress, anxiety and movements cause the venom to spread faster. Therefore, the person should remain as calm as possible.
  • In case of a bite to the limbs, you should remove or cut off any constrictive clothing or jewelry before the swelling sets in.
  • You can sterilize the wound and cover it with a clean bandage.
  • If it is safely possible, try to identify the snake. This will allow the doctor to find the appropriate antidote more quickly.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How many snakes are there in Florida?

While the exact number cannot be given, Florida is home to more snakes than any other state in the southwestern US. In total, 44–50 species of snakes populate the entire Sunshine State and even the islands off its coast.

Are Florida black snakes venomous?

Most of the time, these are black racers – a common but harmless species. However, adult cottonmouths can also have a dark coloration. This species injects a powerful venom that can be deadly to humans.

Which is the most dangerous snake in Florida?

This title goes to the eastern coral snake, a species easily recognizable by its red-black-yellow coloration. Her venom can kill people within 36 hours if the bite is not treated. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are also dangerous, as this species injects huge quantities of venom.

Which snakes live in the Everglades?

The vast wetlands of the Everglades are home to 23 different snake species. However, only four of them are venomous: the eastern coral snake, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the dusky pigmy rattlesnake and the cottonmouth.

How did pythons end up in Florida?

Pythons are originally from Southeast Asia. In the 1990s, they were introduced to Florida as pets. Many of these snakes got released or were able to escape. Today, this invasive species is considered a pest, especially in the Everglades: Their numbers are estimated at up to 100,000 animals.

Some people get cold shivers even thinking of them, others are fascinated by these perfectly adapted carnivores – spiders. The eight-legged animals populate the entire state. And they are not only found in the wild.

Spiders also feel comfortable in houses, cellars and garages. You can hardly blame them, because there, they find protection, food and warmth. Encounters with humans cannot always be avoided and sometimes have serious consequences.

In this article, we will present the dangerous spiders of the Sunshine State and how to deal with them. You will also learn how you can avoid accidents and what to do in case of a spider bite.

Spiders in Florida – important Facts

Spiders are highly complex animals that can look back on 400 million years of evolution and have diversified into many groups. Here are the most important facts about these crawlers:

Characteristics and Size

Like all spiders, the species found in Florida can be identified by the following characteristics: eight legs, a bipartite body with a thin link in between, two chelicerae (jaws) and up to eight eyes.

Their size ranges from tiny jumping spiders and orb-weavers to the wolf spider, which can grow as large as a grapefruit. Even more impressive in size are giant crab spiders and tarantulas.

Did you know? Female spiders are usually much larger than the males. This can result in the latter serving as an involuntary snack after the mating act.

Behavior and Hunting

Florida’s spiders differ not only in size, but also in their behavior.

Most spiders build webs in order to catch insects and other small animals. So-called funnel weavers also prefer to hunt with minimal effort. These species remain motionless in front of their caves. When pray approaches, they pounce at it with lightning-fast reflexes.

However, there are also more active hunters among the arachnids. Jumping spiders, which populate Florida’s forests and meadows, use their camouflage, speed and jumping power to kill prey. Unlike most spiders, they do not build webs, although some species such as the green spider use a safety thread when jumping.


As we already mentioned, mating is not a harmless undertaking for male spiders. Some species perform a certain ritual or bring the female a “gift” in the form of a fly in order not to become food themselves. Others weave the female firmly into her own net as a precaution.

If the mating act was successful, the female builds a cocoon in which she lays her eggs. Depending on the species, several hundred young will hatch. Some spiders leave their children alone after birth; others provide food and protection; still other species go even further and let themselves get eaten by the offspring to ensure their survival.

Dangerous Spiders in Florida

Even though deadly encounters are rare, the following types of spiders in Florida can be dangerous for humans:

Black Widow (latrodectus)

  • Size: 0.08–0.6 inches; legspan: 0.5–1.3 inches
  • Features: shimmering black color, red dots on the abdomen
  • Distribution: entire state

This black and red spider builds her webs at ground level and feeds mainly on insects and other spiders. She prefers piles of stones, deadwood and abandoned animal caves, but can also be found in barns, garages, cellars and sheds, where she finds perfect hide-outs.

Although Black Widows are not considered aggressive, they can bite if they feel threatened. At first, this bite is not very painful. After 1–3 hours, however, the pain intensifies. Cramps, dizziness, nausea and high blood pressure may occur. The good news: If bites are treated in time, the death rate is less than 1%. Only the females can bite. Black “Widowers”, on the other hand, are harmless to humans.

Brown recluse spider (loxosceles reclusa)

  • Size: 0.2–0.8 inches; legspan: about 1 inch
  • Characteristics: light to dark brown color; dark line behind the head
  • Distribution: Alachua, Bay, Duval, Jefferson and Leon County

Florida´s brown recluse spider is rarely found in the wild. Instead, she prefers dark, dry corners in garages, sheds, basements, piles of wood or under stones. This spider has also been found in shoes and work gloves.

When threatened, she may bite, which is not particularly painful at first. However, since the spider “liquefies” prey with her venom, tissue destruction and increasing pain can occur – sometimes in conjunction with nausea, convulsions and headaches. In the worst case, the bite can lead to a sepsis. Deaths, however, are rare among healthy adults.

Brown violin spider (loxosceles rufescens)

  • Size: 0.3–0.4 inches; legspan: up to 0.8 inches.
  • Features: gray to yellow-brown abdomen
  • Distribution: Dade, Orange, Escambia and Osceola County

As its other name “Mediterranean recluse spider” suggests, this species does not come from Florida, but from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. For laymen, it is hardly distinguishable from the brown recluse spider, and their behavior is similar. This spider likes dark, damp places where she can avoid people and hunt for cockroaches and silverfish.

Her bite is not only painful, but also leads to slow-growing necrosis and inflammation. However, accidents are rare, as this spider species leads a well-hidden life – for example, in deep tunnels or shafts. So far, only one death by the brown violin spider has been confirmed.

Chilean recluse spider (loxosceles laeta)

  • Size: 0.2–0.6 inches / 1.1–2 inches with legs
  • Features: white to light-gray abdomen; yellow, brown or reddish-brown legs
  • Distribution: Polk County

Originally from South America, this recluse spider is considered the largest and most dangerous subspecies. So far, however, she has rarely been found in Florida.

Her bite is accompanied by severe, stabbing pain and leads to tissue destruction around the bite site within hours. In the worst case, death can occur due to liver failure. Although no antiserum is known, the death rate is only 3–4%.

In addition, the Chilean recluse spider, like her relatives, lives rather withdrawn. She prefers dark, hard-to-reach places and only bites when she is pushed into a corner or in danger of being crushed.

Other Species of Spiders in Florida

The following spider species often scare vacationers due to their size or painful bite. However, they are largely harmless:

Mexican red rump (tliltocatl vagans)

  • Size: 2–2.7 inches, legspan: up to 5 inches
  • Features: black coloration, reddish hair on the abdomen and legs
  • Distribution: South Florida, especially St. Lucie County

This member of the tarantula family originally comes from Central America and is a rare sight in Florida. Despite their imposing size, Mexican red rumps inject only small amounts of venom and are no more dangerous to humans than bees or wasps.

One piece of advice, though: Like other tarantulas, this species has harpoon-like bristles that can trigger an itchy rash. Therefore, you should never touch it.

Researchers have only recently discovered a new spider species related to tarantulas: The Pine Rockland trapdoor spider lives in the Everglades, where it ambushes prey from the safety of her burrow. For humans, this species is harmless.

Wolf spider (lycosidae)

  • Size: up to palm-sized (with legs)
  • Features: brown color with a dark pattern on the top of the abdomen
  • Distribution: all of Florida

Due to her imposing size, the wolf spider can frighten people quite a bit. However, encounters are rare, as this species is constantly on the move and prefers to stay away from humans. Only when it is pushed into a corner – for example in cellars or cupboards – does it bite. This is painful, but rarely critical for healthy adults.

Crab spiders (thomisidae)

  • Size: usually 0.2–0.4 inches, varying legspan
  • Features: long, angled front legs, similar to crabs
  • Distribution: all of Florida

Crab spiders prefer to stay outdoors, where they sit well camouflaged on flowers or foliage, waiting for prey. They are less common in buildings. However, you should be careful when bringing potted plants inside. Since crab spiders lay their eggs on leaves, this is a way for the crawlers to get into the house.

Their bite, although not dangerous to healthy adults, is quite painful. Victims compare the feeling to a hammer blow to the finger – accompanied by discoloration and swelling, which usually subside after a few hours.

Spiders in Florida – Tips and Precautions

The following tips and precautions can help you avoid dangerous encounters with spiders:

  • If you are hiking on well-developed trails in Florida, you hardly have to worry about spiders. On strolls through the undergrowth, however, long clothes are recommended to ward off any venomous crawlers.
  • Most spiders in Florida prefer dark and secluded places. Therefore, you should regularly clean hard-to-reach nooks and crannies with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Spiders can enter houses through the smallest crevices. If you are unable to seal them off, there is an alternative: Regularly spray the openings with peppermint or eucalyptus oil. Spiders do not like these scents at all.
  • Spiders often seek shelter from the heat under stones and in piles of wood or leaves. Thus, when you go to work there, you should wear gloves.
  • Be careful, though: Spiders could hide in old work gloves that have not been used for a long time. Therefore, empty out the glove before you put it on. The same goes for shoes that are

What to do in Case of a Spider Bite

You were bitten by a spider? First of all, do not panic! For people without pre-existing conditions or allergies, a bite is rarely fatal. Nevertheless, you should take certain measures to be on the safe side:

  • As with snake bites, do not try to remove the venom by cutting open the wound. Otherwise, you risk an infection.
  • For the same reason, you should not scratch the wound. Cold packs are a better way to relieve itching and swelling.
  • In addition, you can use a so-called anti-itch pen to alleviate the symptoms. This device has a hot tip, which is applied to the bite site. The heat causes the protein compounds of the venom to clump together, rendering it less effective.
  • Wash out the wound with soap water to prevent infections and use an antiseptic cream if blisters form.
  • The bites of small spider species are often confused with mosquito or bee stings. Therefore, pay attention to the following symptoms:

increasing pain and itching, swelling or discoloration of the bite site, nausea, dizziness or headaches.

If these symptoms arise, you should see a doctor immediately.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Which is the largest spider in Florida?

This title goes to the giant crab spider. With a legspan of up to 12 inches, it can grow as big as a dinner plate. Despite its imposing size, though, the bite of a giant crab spider is harmless to most humans.

Which spiders in Florida are particularly dangerous?

Black widows, brown recluse spiders, brown violin spiders and Chilean recluse spiders inject a powerful venom that can be potentially deadly. However, these spiders lead rather secluded lives, and deaths are extremely rare.

What do spiders in Florida eat?

Spiders feed mainly on insects and other spiders. However, larger species also hunt mammals, amphibians, snakes, and even birds.

Do all spiders in Florida build a web?

No. Unlike species that lure prey into a web or funnel, jumping spiders are proactive hunters. They only use their glands to secure themselves with a thread before jumping.

Immortalized by the heroes Crush and Squirt from “Finding Nemo”, turtles have long ranked among the most popular animals – and among the most successful: These reptiles with the iconic shell have conquered numerous habitats: from rivers, lakes and swamps to the open oceans.

In many places, turtles can only be seen in captivity – not so in Florida. The Sunshine State is home to numerous species on water and on land. Not only adult specimen can be spotted here. Every year, thousands of females lay their eggs on Florida´s beaches – a remarkable sight for everybody lucky enough to behold it.

In this article, you will learn what makes Florida’s turtles so special, where to best see them in the wild, and which zoos and aquariums harbor the iconic animals. In addition, we will shed light on the perfect travel time for turtle lovers.

Turtles Facts

The turtle family is far from a homogenous group. Instead, scientists have identified a whopping 350 species that differ significantly in physique, behavior and habitat. Here are some of the most important facts about turtles:


Turtles have been populating our planet for 220 million years, which makes them one of the oldest vertebrates. It is believed that tortoises emerged much earlier than their aquatic brethren. The largest turtle ever found measured a whole 13 feet, and its skeleton has been dated to 70 million years before our time.

Did you know? Prehistoric turtles used to have clearly visible teeth – unlike today´s species that process their food with beak-like jaws.

Species and Habitats

More than 30 species of turtles call the Sunshine State their home. Most of them are aquatic and live in fresh or salt water. These species include loggerhead, leatherback, and green sea turtles that are found offshore — as well as the swamp-dwelling Florida red-bellied turtle. In addition, there are several species of tortoises in Florida: including the box turtle, the snapping turtle and the gopher tortoise that weighs up to 12 pounds.


  • The most characteristic feature of turtles is their shell, which is firmly attached to the skeleton, grows with the animal and offers protection from predators.
  • Turtles have sharp eyes, with which they can distinguish colors much better than humans.
  • Their sense of smell is well developed, too. This way, they cannot only detect food and mates over long distances. Sea turtles also use smells for orientation. In addition, these aquatic nomads cover thousands of miles and navigate with the help of the Earth’s magnetic field.
  • Hearing, on the other hand, is not a strength of turtles. They react mostly to dull noises such as approaching steps.
  • Turtles are famous for their long lifespan. 75 years or more is not uncommon for wild specimens, and the oldest turtle ever found was estimated to be 176 years old.
  • Despite their slow appearance, turtles are anything but stupid: They have a good memory, problem-solving skills, and can even be trained to a certain extent.
Dolphins Habitat - Dolphins in Florida


Most turtle species are not picky about their food. Small animals such as snails, insects, crabs and jellyfish are just as much part of their diet as plants, algae and fruits. Tortoises are known for their vegetarian lifestyle, while freshwater and sea turtles do not disdain meat and carrion.

Mating, Breeding Season and Baby Turtles

Turtles are loners that come together only for mating. After the male has fertilized the female, all turtles – including aquatic species – must come on land in order to lay their eggs.

While tortoises pile up a mound for this purpose, sea turtles always lay their eggs on the same beach where they hatched themselves. To reach their birthplaces, the animals can travel thousands of miles. After about 2 to 3 months, the young turtles hatch and instinctively make their way from the beach into the water.

At this point, the little turtles are completely on their own – and they have many predators: from raccoons, birds and crabs to large fish. Not surprisingly, only one in 1000 sea turtles reaches adulthood.

Endangerment and Protection

All 6 species of Florida´s sea turtles as well as the gopher tortoise are considered endangered or even threatened with extinction. This is not only due to the pollution of coastal waters. In recent times, more and more beaches and swamp areas have been claimed by humans, so the animals cannot lay their eggs anymore. For this reason, all turtle nests in Florida are protected today, and the capture of wild turtles is strictly regulated.

Turtle Watching in Florida – the best Places

A long coastline, countless bodies of water and a warm climate make Florida the perfect place to spot turtles in the USA.

In Captivity

If you do not want to go on hiking or boat trips, we recommend the following places to see turtles in captivity.

Rescue Centers

Turtles are exposed to many dangers. Luckily, there are facilities in Florida where injured specimens are nursed back to health. One of them is the Turtle Hospital in Marathon (Florida Keys).

The hospital is open to visitors. On a guided tour, you will get close to the turtles swimming in their pools and learn more about the efforts of the conservationists. A definite highlight for visitors is the moment when turtles are released back into the wild.

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach also takes care of injured specimens. In addition, important research is done here – no wonder, as the center overlooks one of the most important turtle beaches in Florida. During the summer months, tours to the nests are offered, and in winter, you can learn more about the veterinarians´ work.

Zoos and Aquariums

Turtles are a major attraction at the following zoos and aquariums in Florida:

  • At Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, you can see North American species and feed giant tortoises.
  • The Florida Aquarium in Tampa is home to Madagascar turtles and green sea turtles that you can snorkel with in a tank.
  • The Miami Seaquarium operates a rescue center for injured sea turtles.
  • Naples Zoo is home to three species of turtles: gopher tortoises, leopard tortoises and the colorful red-dotted tortoise.
  • Sea World, Orlando offers a special animal encounter: Here, you can climb into an underwater cage to feed turtles, rays and sharks.
  • At Disney World, the armored reptiles populate the aquarium “The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot”, where you can admire them while snorkeling in the tank.
  • At the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates, colorful pollinators are the main attraction. However, the ponds of this greenhouse also feature a number of turtles.

In the Wild

Turtles and tortoises can also be observed in the wild – be it in Florida´s wetlands, on the coast or in coral reefs. While adult turtles stay here all year round, the best time to see young ones is the summer, when the females return to lay their eggs.

Melbourne Beach

This city on Florida´s east coast is one of the best places to spot sea turtles. With recent conservation attempts bearing fruit, loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles now come here in increasing numbers to lay their eggs.

A particularly worth-while spot for observations is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge that stretches between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso. Guided tours to turtle nests are also offered by the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Indialantic, Florida.

Vero Beach

This turtle-watching hotspot is also located on the east coast of Florida. There, animal rights activists of the NGO Coastal Connections mark nests that you can visit as part of a tour. You also have the chance to watch rescued turtles getting released back into the wild.

Disney’s Vero Beach Resort has a special offer in store: On nocturnal tours with night vision goggles, participants can observe young turtles hatching from their nests. Sightings are guaranteed since the resort staff keeps a close eye on the development of the nests.

Fort Lauderdale

Both the Museum of Discovery & Science and the Anne Kolb Nature Center offer turtle watching tours. On these tours, knowledgeable guides will take you to nests where you can watch baby turtles hatch – an unforgettable experience, especially for young visitors. In addition, you will learn a lot of interesting facts about these animals.

Florida Keys

If you want to go snorkeling with five different species of turtles, there is hardly a better place than the Florida Keys.

Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote marine reserve that you can only reach by boat or as part of a tour, is particularly worth-while. Here, you can observe hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles, even outside the breeding season. The same is true for the Key West Reef, where adult turtles can be seen all year round.


If you want to see an abundance of turtles, Everglades National Park is the perfect place for you. Here, freshwater species such as snapping turtles, striped mud turtles and chicken turtles swim in the swampy water that you can explore on an airboat or kayak tour. Further south, the “River of Grass” merges into brackish water, and finally into seawater – a refuge for leatherback and hawksbill turtles.

General James A. Van Fleet State Trail

The Florida gopher tortoise populates all parts of the Sunshine State. For the best chances to observe this species, however, you should head for the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail stretching from Polk City to Mabel in the north. The animals prefer to stay along the path, where they feast on fresh grass. With a bit of luck, you can even see their nests and offspring between August and November.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Many of Florida’s 142 reptile species live in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary with its extended boardwalk – including the eastern and western mud turtle, as well as the Florida softshell turtle with its iconic long neck. Since these cold-blooded animals need to warm up, they can often be seen sunbathing on the shores.

Cabbage Key

Even if you wouldn’t suspect it at first glance, the small island of Cabbage Key is a refuge for Florida gopher turtles. Nobody really knows how long the reptiles have been living there or where they came from. Today, however, they belong firmly to this island off Florida´s west coast. Here, they spend most of their time feeding on leaves and grass – utterly unimpressed by curious tourists.

Other places where you can observe free-living turtles include:

  • North Jetty Beach, Casey Key
  • Lighthouse Beach, Sanibel Island
  • Venice Beach, Venice
  • Babcock Ranch Nature Reserve, Lee County
  • Coastal strip of the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, Fort Lauderdale.

FAQ – frequently asked Questions

What types of turtles live in Florida?

The Sunshine State is estimated to feature 30 different species. Most of them are freshwater turtles and land-dwelling tortoises, while 6 aquatic species can be found off the coast.

What do turtles eat in Florida?

Florida’s sea turtles eat mainly algae, seaweed, mussels and mollusks, while tortoises live on a plant-based diet. Freshwater species such as the snapping turtle are omnivores. Their diet includes small fish, amphibians and reptiles, but also carrion.

How old do Florida chicken turtles get?

This characteristically striped species usually lives for 30–40 years, but longer life expectancies are also possible.

When do turtles hatch in Florida?

Sea turtles lay their eggs on Florida’s beaches between March and October. About two months later, the young animals hatch. However, this is only a rough guideline, so you might also see small turtles in February or November.

Where can I swim with turtles in Florida?

In addition to dive sites in the Florida Keys, several animal parks offer encounters with turtles: among them, Tampa’s Florida Aquarium, Disney World, and SeaWorld in Orlando.

They have no brain or heart, can only swim slowly and are helplessly exposed to the ocean currents – yet they rank among the most successful animals our planet has ever seen: jellyfish.

While scientists are fascinated by these boneless creatures, most beachgoers do not take kindly to jellyfish. Especially in summer, the animals populate the entire Florida coast. Then, the chances of getting stung are high.

Yet how dangerous are jellyfish really? How can you prevent painful encounters, and what should you do in case of an emergency? We will give you the answers in this article, while also revealing more about the most common jellyfish species in Florida.

Jellyfish – important Facts

Despite their rather simple design, jellyfish form an extremely diverse group of marine animals. Here are the most important facts about jellyfish:


Jellyfish are among the oldest animal species and have been populating our planet for 600 million years. During this time, their physique has hardly changed, as fossils show. The animals have conquered a wide range of habitats: from cold oceans such as the North Sea to tropical waters. While most species swim near the surface, jellyfish are also found in the deep sea.

Characteristics and Size

Jellyfish are invertebrates. Their bodies consist of a gelatinous umbrella with an opening for feeding and excretion on the bottom. Depending on the species, short or long tentacles extend from the body. These are equipped with nettle cells that deliver venomous stings when touched.

The size of jellyfish ranges from less than finger-sized species to the Japanese Nomura´s jellyfish: true giants that can grow up to 6.5 ft in diameter and weigh 440 lbs.

Behavior and Diet

Jellyfish move through the water by contracting and expanding their umbrella muscles. This method of transportation relies on the recoil principle and is extremely energy-efficient. However, it is also slow, and jellyfish are exposed to the ocean currents. In coastal waters, the animals often wash up on beaches. Some species, such as the Portuguese man-o´-war, do not move actively, but use their gelatinous sails to float on the ocean surface.

In any case, their behavior makes fast movements superfluous, as most jellyfish catch prey with their tentacles. These are almost invisible, can be several feet long and feature venomous stinging cells. Depending on the species, jellyfish feed on plankton, fish, eggs, crabs or other jellyfish.


Jellyfish not only have a highly complex life cycle. The animals can also reproduce both sexually and asexually. Free-swimming female jellyfish produce eggs that are fertilized by the males – usually without physical contact. Emerging from the eggs are polyps that anchor themselves firmly to the seabed or rocks. Once the polyps have reached a certain size, they emit small jellyfish without the help of a sexual partner. Thus, the reproductive cycle begins again.

Distribution in Florida

Jellyfish are found in all coastal waters of Florida. Particularly affected, however, are the Atlantic coast and the northwestern Gulf Coast, also known as the Florida Panhandle. In the warm waters around the Florida Keys, the animals are also native. Slightly fewer jellyfish populate the southern Gulf Coast from Tampa to Marco Island.

Jellyfish Season in Florida

Jellyfish can be found off the coast of Florida all year round. However, there are times when the animals appear more frequently. Jellyfish Season usually lasts from May to October, and peaks in August or September.

Recently, marine biologists have registered an increase in the jellyfish population. With warmer seawater, the number of microorganisms such as plankton increases, and with it the food for jellyfish. This could lead to the Jellyfish Season starting earlier in the future.

Jellyfish in Florida – common Species

Jellyfish are found in all coastal waters of Florida. Particularly affected, however, are the Atlantic coast and the northwestern Gulf Coast, also known as the Florida Panhandle. In the warm waters around the Florida Keys, the animals are also native. Slightly fewer jellyfish populate the southern Gulf Coast from Tampa to Marco Island.

Moon jellyfish (aurelia aurita)

This jellyfish species lives in all oceans – preferably near the coast, where there are moderate currents. Its flat 8–12” umbrella is slightly curved and has a white to yellowish coloration. Moon jellyfish mainly feed on plankton. They only have short tentacles, are non-venomous and do not pose a threat to humans.

Cannonball jellyfish (stomolophus meleagris)

This dome-shaped jellyfish with light brown or bluish coloration can grow up to 10” and does not have long tentacles. Nevertheless, its body is covered in sting cells, which is why you should never touch dead specimens. On contact, the sting cells cause a burning pain and redness of the skin. They can also lead to the so-called Irukandji syndrome, which manifests itself in the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in the back, abdomen and extremities
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Perceptual disorders and feelings of anxiety.

In the worst case, death from pulmonary edema or cerebral hemorrhages can occur.

Atlantic sea nettle (chrysaora quinquecirrha)

Sea nettles can be easily identified by their 10–16” umbrellas with brown stripes. They populate the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, where they hunt small animals and other jellyfish with their venomous sting cells. Upon contact, these stingers cause a painful rash that usually lasts for 20 minutes. Deaths, however, are extremely rare.

Box jellyfish (chiropsalmus quadrumanus)

This jellyfish has an umbrella that measures up to 12” in size, is almost transparent and box-shaped – hence the name. Extending from the body are up to 13 ft long tentacles, with which the jellyfish kills its prey. The animals are difficult to spot due to their camouflage. Fortunately, the species found in Florida is less venomous than its Australian relatives. The bad news: Getting stung still causes severe pain and can lead to cardiac arrhythmias as well as respiratory problems.

Portuguese man-o´-war (physalia physalis)

Strictly speaking, this bizarre-looking animal is not a jellyfish, but consists of several symbiotic organisms. A most striking feature is the gelatinous, blue sail used for moving on the ocean surface. Underneath, up to 33 ft long tentacles extend from the body. These tentacles cause severe pain when touched. However, deaths are rare in healthy adults.

The Portuguese man-o´-war is mostly found in calm, warm waters – around the Florida Keys, for example. Especially in the winter months, you should exercise caution there, and do not go swimming near blue, gelatinous bodies in the water.

By-the-wind-sailor (velella velella)

Jellyfish are found in all coastal waters of Florida. Particularly affected, however, are the Atlantic coast and the northwestern Gulf Coast, also known as the Florida Panhandle. In the warm waters around the Florida Keys, the animals are also native. Slightly fewer jellyfish populate the southern Gulf Coast from Tampa to Marco Island.

Jellyfish in Florida – Tips and Precautions

Encounters with jellyfish can be extremely painful and, for certain people, even fatal. In order to avoid this experience, you should heed the following tips and precautions:

  • Pay attention to the official warnings. If there are signs on a beach that warn of jellyfish, you should be careful in the water. This is especially true for remote beaches without lifeguards.
  • On guarded beaches, you should pay attention to the purple flag, which signals dangerous animals in the water.
  • Stranded jellyfish are a sure sign that there are more specimens in the water. Especially when the wind blows inland, the animals are often driven into shallow areas.
  • The stinging cells of jellyfish can remain active long after the animal’s death. This is why you should never touch them with your bare hands.
  • Important for divers: Do not touch your face with diving gloves after stepping back on land. Otherwise, sting cells remaining on the glove could get in contact with your skin.

Jellyfish Stings – Symptoms and Treatment

Getting stung by poisonous jellyfish can be very painful. Victims compare the feeling to a continuous line of bee stings. After a few hours, the pain usually subsides, and a strong itching sensation remains.

To alleviate the symptoms, you should take the following measures:

  • Wash the wound with salt water – but not with fresh water, as this can prompt remaining sting cells to release more venom.
  • Treating jellyfish stings with urine is a widespread but unfounded myth. Instead, experts recommend mild acids such as vinegar in combination with warm water.
  • Afterwards, remove the visible sting cells with tweezers. You can also take a flat item (e. g. credit card) to carefully scrape off the skin.
  • To alleviate the itching, you can apply common insect bite remedies such as benadryl or cortisone.

How to deal with severe Jellyfish Sting

The symptoms of a jellyfish sting can also be more severe: for example, if large areas of the body are affected. Then, the unbearable pain could impair your ability to swim. You must get out of the water immediately or reach out to other people for help.

Follow this rule of thumb: If the combined streaks caused by the jellyfish are longer than 19 ft (6.5–13 ft for children), these life-threatening symptoms may occur:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Shock
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Heart failure.

The person must be taken to the hospital immediately.

Watching luminous Jellyfish in Florida

Encounters with jellyfish are mostly involuntary and painful. However, some tourists travel to Florida to see a particular kind: the rib jellyfish. This species has no poisonous sting cells. Instead, it scares off predators with the help of bioluminescence.

In the winter months, you can see this spectacular lightshow in the Indian River Lagoon near Orlando. There, rib jellyfish populate a mangrove lagoon, and guided kayak tours are offered. With a bit of luck, you can also see the jellyfish while wading in shallow water – e. g. at Kelly Park East, Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

When is Jellyfish Season in Florida?

Jellyfish find a lot of food in warm sea water. This is why the summer months are the main season for these animals. Since most tourists also travel to Florida´s beaches in the summer, many accidents occur during this time.

Can you touch moon jellyfish?

Feeding on plankton, this 8–12”, white-yellowish species does not feature long tentacles. Their sting cells are not large enough to pierce human skin. Therefore, you can touch moon jellyfish with no problem.

Are there Portuguese man-o´-war in Florida?

Yes. These jellyfish relatives with the striking blue sail live off Florida´s coast. Sometimes, they are also washed up on beaches. Since the sting cells of the Portuguese man-o´-war remain active long after death, you should never touch these animals.

Are jellyfish in Florida dangerous?

The stings of venomous species can be extremely painful. However, for healthy adults, they are rarely deadly unless large areas of the body are affected. The most dangerous species are box jellyfish and cannonball jellyfish.

Are there poisonous jellyfish in Florida?

Florida is home to both non-venomous and venomous jellyfish. The latter include, among others, Atlantic sea nettles, box jellyfish, by-the-wind-sailors and cannonball jellyfish.

They spend their lives well hidden in the sand off Florida’s coast, but also in coral reefs, open waters, and even in the deep sea – rays. For millions of years, these sea creatures have developed some remarkable feats and conquered countless habitats.

While divers and snorkelers are actively looking for these fish, many beachgoers are afraid to step on a stingray. In this article, we will tell you how to avoid unwanted encounters and what to keep in mind when dealing with rays.

You will also learn more about the best places to observe rays and swim with them – whether in the wild or at Florida’s zoos and aquariums.

Facts about Rays

Rays are fascinating creatures, and much about them is still unknown. What scientists do know, however, paints the picture of a highly complex group of animals. Here are the most important facts about rays:


Just like their close relatives, the sharks, rays have been roaming our oceans since prehistoric times. As cartilaginous fish, they only leave few fossil traces, so their origins have not been fully discovered yet. However, researchers believe that rays as we know them evolved 150 million years ago – from a species similar to today’s guitar fish.


Worldwide, there are more than 600 species of rays. About 15 of them live in the waters around Florida where they can be found in coastal areas, reefs and the open sea, but also in brackish and even fresh water:

  • A common species is the Atlantic stingray. Well camouflaged, these rays wait in the sand until prey approaches, and then strike with their barbed tail.
  • Dotted eagle rays are among the most interesting sights on any diving trip. They reach up to 11 feet in length and can often be seen in shallow waters and coral reefs.
  • Electric rays have a special trick up their sleeves: This coastal species stuns its prey with electric shocks of up to 37 volts.
  • With a maximum wingspan of 23 feet, giant mantas hold the record among rays. Since they swim slowly and close to the surface, they can easily be observed by divers.
  • Devil rays are sometimes spotted on boat trips, as this species is known to jump out of the water.
  • Thanks to their long, spiked snout, smalltooth-sawfish are unmistakable. With this tool, the fish stir up the sand to find prey.


The most dominant feature of all rays is their flat body shape. The pectoral fins are attached to the head, while the mouth is located on the bottom.

But why are rays so flat, you might ask? This physique has evolved over millions of years and helps the fish glide over the seabed. Since rays whirl up a lot of sand in the process, they have spiracles on the top, with which they filter oxygen from the water.

The eyes also sit on top of the body. Seeing, however, is not a ray´s most important sense. Instead, the animals detect their prey with the help of pressure waves and electrical impulses. Additionally, many species have developed a keen sense of smell.

In order to protect themselves from predators, rays resort to very different strategies: Some species dig deep into the sand; others use camouflage or quickly swim away in case of danger. Stingrays, on the other hand, defend themselves with a venomous barb on their tailfin.

By the way: It might not be obvious at first glance, but rays are closely related to sharks. Not only are both groups cartilaginous fish. Rays also possess a shark-like groove structure that helps to reduce water resistance.


Our planet is home to more than 600 species of rays that populate a wide variety of habitats. Some species live in shallow coastal waters, while others can dive to depths of up to 2 miles. Rays prefer the warm and temperate zones, but have also conquered colder oceans like the North Sea. Some specimens, including the South American stingrays, even live in brackish and fresh water.


The diet of most ray species consists of mussels, crabs, starfish and sea urchins as well as fish. An exception is the giant manta. This species mainly eats plankton near the water surface. Recently, however, mantas were also seen diving to great depths in order to hunt fish and crabs.

Freshwater rays, on the other hand, predominantly feed on snails, worms, insects and jellyfish.


The reproduction patterns of rays fall in two categories:

Some rays lay capsule-shaped eggs that are surrounded by a gelatinous mass. Through slits in the eggs, the embryos are supplied with oxygen. 4 to 14 months after egg deposition, the babies hatch.

All other species of rays, such as giant mantas, give birth to live young. Right from the start, the little rays must fend for themselves. Therefore, females prefer to give birth in protected areas such as coral reefs, where their offspring can hide from predatory fish.

Endangerment and Protection

Unfortunately, human activity has had a huge effect on the ray population. Not only are these fish affected by polluted seawater, climate change and the vanishing of coral reefs. Many rays are also injured by fishing hooks and nets, with overfishing posing a serious threat.

A particularly worrying case is the endangered manta ray. Hunting these majestic giants is forbidden in Florida. Nevertheless, fishermen sometimes injure manta rays by accident when hunting for their companions, the cobias.

Other species that are protected in Florida include devil rays, dotted eagle rays, and smalltooth-sawfish

Rays in Florida – Dangers for Humans

Rays are shy animals that do not deliberately attack humans. However, there is one species that can be dangerous for beachgoers:

Stingrays populate the entire coast of Florida, where they burrow into the sand lurking for prey. When they feel threatened, these fish can sting with their barbed tail. This is not only painful and causes a deep, bleeding wound. Stingrays are also venomous. Although getting stung in the leg or foot is rarely enough to kill an adult person, the venom can cause allergy sufferers to have an anaphylactic shock, which can lead to organ failure.

Still more dangerous are stings in the abdominal and heart area – as can be seen in the most prominent ray victim: the “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irvin.

Luckily, you can avoid this risk by making your presence known to rays before they sting. Floridians call this the “Stingray Shuffle”: When walking into the water, gently push your feet forward, whirl up a lot of sand and avoid big steps. This way, the ray knows that danger is approaching and has the chance to escape.

Should you see a group of rays coming towards you while swimming, it is best to stay calm. Avoid hasty movements, let the fish swim by and slowly “shuffle” out of the water.

Most stingrays can be found in the summer months when water temperatures reach their maximum. Particularly affected are the beaches of Clearwater, Cocoa Beach and Destin. However, all beaches in Florida can harbor stingrays, so you should always reckon with the animals.

Observe Rays in Florida – the best Places

In the Wild

If you want to observe rays in the wild, for example on a boat tour or while diving, we can recommend the following places:

Florida Keys

These barrier islands in southern Florida rank among the best dive sites in the USA. Therefore, it is not surprising that rays can be found in abundance here.

In addition to several species of stingrays, you also have the chance to see large manta rays gliding through the water. Recently, most sightings have been reported from Islamorada and the French Reef near Key Largo, while Molasses Reef is famous for its dotted eagle rays. Sometimes, these animals can be seen in sunken ships – even if they prefer to swim near the surface.


In southern Florida, where the “river of grass” makes its way into the sea, mangroves provide an ideal refuge for stingrays. You can see these animals on a snorkeling trip – but thanks to their camouflage, you will need a keen eye and considerable luck. Located south of Everglades City are the Ten Thousand Islands. This world-famous freshwater dive site is a refuge for rays, and also offers excellent visibility underwater.

Southeastern Coast of Florida

While smaller species of rays are a common sight throughout the state, divers need more luck to see giant manta rays. This could change soon, though, as scientists suspect a breeding ground of manta rays in south-east Florida. The exact location has not been confirmed yet as these fish lead a nomadic life. However, with the manta rays swimming near the coast, they have even been spotted from beach houses in Miami.

Captiva and Sanibel Island

Every year, these islands near Cape Coral are home to a remarkable sight. Then, hundreds of cownose rays swim close to the beach – probably attracted by the warm temperatures. Like stingrays, cownose rays have a barbed tail for defense. They are less venomous, however, do not attack swimmers on purpose and are constantly on the move. Thus, the risk of accidents is small.

If you want to behold this “Stingray Fever”, you should visit Captiva and Sanibel Island in spring: between February and May, depending on the year.

In Captivity

In order to see rays in the Sunshine State, you do not need a diving license. Instead, you can get close to these animals in Florida’s zoos and aquariums:

  • Four species are at home in the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens – including guitar fish that resemble both rays and sharks.
  • At the Florida Aquarium, visitors can pet stingrays in a tank. Do not worry – the animals do not possess venomous barbs anymore. In addition, you can admire majestic manta rays as you walk through a glass tunnel.
  • The Miami Seaquarium also offers encounters with rays – either in the shallow touch pool or in a deeper pool where the rays share their habitat with nurse sharks.
  • At Orlando’s Discovery Cove, you can feed Atlantic cownose rays and stingrays while wading in knee-deep water.
  • A perfect place to marvel at the largest species of rays is SeaWorld, Orlando. There, manta rays glide through an aquarium that closely resembles a coral reef.
  • If you want to interact with rays in their natural habitat, we recommend Dolphin World on Key West. There, the animals populate a sandy lagoon, together with many colorful fish. Please note that this animal encounter is only suitable for swimmers.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Which rays live in Florida?

Florida is home to about 15 different species of rays – including stingrays, dotted eagle rays, devil rays and giant manta rays, the largest species of all.

Are there manta rays in Florida?

Yes, with a bit of luck you can see this ray species off the Florida coast. Mantas prefer to stay in coral reefs, for example in the Florida Keys. Recently, however, they have also been spotted off the southeastern coast near Miami.

Are rays in Florida dangerous?

Stingrays, which populate the entire Florida coast, can be dangerous for humans due to their venomous sting. The species only stings when it feels threatened. Therefore, it is advisable to carefully wade into the water and warn the animals with foot movements.

Is it legal to fish for rays in Florida?

In Florida, you can legally catch stingrays with a fishing rod or a net. However, there are protected species such as the giant manta, devil rays, eagle rays and smalltooth-sawfish that you are not allowed to catch.

In Florida´s natural habitats, visitors can hardly take a step without encountering a wide variety of birds. Colorful songbirds serenade in gardens and parks, while waterbirds such as herons and storks populate the extensive wetlands. And then there is the coast, where seagulls, pelicans and other seabirds form large colonies and feast on the treasures of the ocean.

Thanks to the state´s protection efforts, vast stretches of land are not cultivated – ideal conditions for rare bird species that have long been displaced elsewhere.

Of course, not every species feels comfortable in every habitat, and some are only seasonal guests in the Sunshine State. In this article, we will introduce you to Florida´s different birds and tell you where and when you can best observe them.

Birds in Florida – Species and Distribution

From chirping songbirds and hunters of the sky to specimens that live in wetlands or off the coast – amateur ornithologists should know the following bird species in Florida:


While exploring the state’s parks, gardens and forests, you will most likely see songbirds of all colors: among them blue jays, golden finches, house finches and tanagers. Other common bird species include red-brownish American robins – as well as swallows, the lightning-fast acrobats of the sky.

If you spot a red bird with feather cap in Florida, it’s most likely the Northern Cardinale. This species lives at the edge of forests, but also in populated areas where it feasts on seeds and fruits. On nature walks, you are also likely to hear the staccato of woodpeckers. The downy woodpecker, for example, has become accustomed to the presence of humans and is now one of the most common birds in the state.

In addition, the Sunshine State is home to an endemic species that lives nowhere else in the world: the Florida Scrub-Jay. This blue-grayish, 12” bird mostly lives in light oak forests. However, you will need quite a bit of luck to see it, as the Scrub-Jay is now a rare and endangered species.

Birds of Prey

They are the undisputed rulers of the avian kingdom – lightning fast, deadly and perfectly adapted to their habitat: Florida´s birds of prey. The variety of species ranges from small falcons, merlins and sparrowhawks to the golden eagle – a colossus with a wingspan of up to 6.5 ft that prefers flat, open areas. Unmistakable due to its blue plumage and red eyes is the snail kite. This species breeds exclusively in Florida and feeds on apple snails – hence its name.

An absolute favorite among patriotic bird lovers is the bald eagle: the national symbol of the USA. With recent protection measures bearing fruit, Florida is now home to more and more breeding pairs – especially in areas with tall trees. The animals can reach a wingspan of up to 6.5 ft and are skilled fish hunters. However, they do not disdain carrion, either. Speaking of carrion: Less majestic, but equally indispensable to the ecosystem are turkey vultures. These scavengers soar high in the sky, always on the look-out for dead animals.

Florida is also home to a rather unusual bird: the burrowing owl. Originally, these small prairie dwellers are native to the Midwest. In Florida, however, they have found a new home on flat, undeveloped plots where they can dig their nests in the soil.


Florida’s lakes, rivers and swamps are home to many kinds of plants, fish and insects. Of course, this abundance also attracts larger animals such as waterbirds. These feathered longnecks are perfectly adapted to their habitat – which becomes obvious when you look at their beaks: Spoonbills sieve the water with their flat bills, storks strike at lightning speed, and the curved tool of ibises is perfect for foraging in the mud. Grey herons are also a common sight – not only in swamps, but also near canals or on golf courses. In addition, the Sunshine State is home to various types of ducks and coots.

You need a good amount of luck if you want to see flamingos. Although the pink birds are a heraldic animal of Florida, they are only seen in the extreme south of the state, as human impact has caused their population to shrink. Due to their attractive feathers, great egrets were also hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Fortunately, the population has been able to recover in recent years.


Long coastlines and the change of tides attracts many shore birds such as plovers, snipes and oystercatchers that are looking for food in the surf. Black-headed gulls fill the air with their characteristic laughs and skimmers fly close to the surface, while frigate birds can be observed high above ground. These “pirates of the sky” often use their agility to relieve other birds of their food.

Pelicans are another common sight on the coast – especially in places where fishermen are at work. Sometimes, these clever birds even wait for tourists to drop their snacks. While brown pelicans can be seen in the state all year round, white pelicans only come to Florida during the winter.

Bird Watching in Florida – the best Places

Whether on walks through the forest, boat trips off the coast or in swamps and mangroves – if you want to watch birds in Florida, you are spoilt for choice. In the following section, we will present the best places for sightings:


The state’s largest wetland stretches for 2.300 square miles from Lake Okeechobee in the north to the south coast, and is home to more than 380 bird species. Not only waterfowl such as herons, storks, pelicans, ibises and spoonbills can be spotted here. Dense forests provide a refuge for snail kites, mangrove cuckoos and short-tailed buzzards. In addition, the Everglades are a perfect place to see rare pink flamingos. These birds mainly live in shallow lagoons and inlets on the coast. Flamingos are still a rare sight, but the population has been recovering in recent year. The same is true for the American wood stork that has long been threatened with extinction and is now making its comeback in the Everglades.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

This nature reserve near Naples features a wide variety of landscapes: from mangroves, upland and flooded meadows to the largest cypress forest in North America. Not surprisingly, there is a huge variety of bird species. Silver and grey herons stoke through the water, the drumming of woodpeckers echoes through the forest, owls populate the treetops, and in some years, more than 1,000 wood storks breed in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. All these birds can be observed from the comfort of a wooden boardwalk.

Cayo Costa

The entire island of Cayo Costa in Southwest Florida is protected – and thus provides ideal conditions for a variety of feathered friends. Arriving on the beach, visitors are greeted by the chatter of seabirds like snipes, plovers and oystercatchers, while majestic frigate birds and ospreys sail in the sky – always ready to pounce on their prey. Further inland, mangroves and bushlands harbor smaller birds such as buntings and warblers, but also owls and falcons. In addition, the wetlands of Cayo Costa are a perfect place to observe Florida´s iconic herons, storks and spoonbills.

Florida Keys

South Florida’s barrier islands not only attract tourists. Seabirds also feel at home here – especially in the secluded Dry Tortugas National Park, which is only accessible by boat. There, you can observe species such as terns, noddies and brown boobies. Masked boobies are mostly found on Hospital Key, ospreys dive into the water at lightning speed, and a truly majestic sight are frigate birds with their red throat sac and a wingspan of up to 8 ft. In addition to these seabirds, the island´s interior harbors species like the grey kingbird, the black-whiskered vireo, white-crowned pigeons and the mangrove cuckoo. The best time for hobby ornithologists is spring. Then, migratory birds arrive in great numbers and seabirds come to the Keys in order to breed.

J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Nature lovers in Southeast Florida are well-advised to visit Sanibel Island. Almost a third of this island is occupied by the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge – pristine mangrove forests that not only harbor alligators and manatees, but also myriads of birds. Among these 200 plus species are herons, ibises and anhingas. They can be observed on a 5-mile-long nature trail – just like falcons, ospreys and bald eagles. If you arrive in October, you will also have the chance to see huge flocks of pelicans.

Ocala National Forest

Thanks to its tall sand pine trees, this forest north of Orlando is the perfect refuge for birds: including swallow-tailed kites, nightjars, tanagers, American quails and rare species of woodpeckers. In addition, one of the largest remaining populations of the Florida Scrub-Jay lives here. Bald eagles prefer to breed around Lake George, and in spring and autumn, you can listen to songbirds such as the golden-crowned accentor and the yellow-throated vireo.

Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area

Honeymoon Island is not only a popular destination for boat tours. This island north of Tampa also attracts migratory seabirds. Among its more than 22 species are piping plovers that spend the winter in record-breaking numbers. Equally impressive is the population of terns: In some years, the island is home to 5,000 animals or more. During a walk, it is worth looking up: With a bit of luck, you will see the nests of ospreys and great horned owls. The trail also leads through a breeding area for bald eagles. However, from October to May this section is closed for visitors to make sure the birds do not get disturbed.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How many bird species live in Florida?

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 196 species of birds breed in the state. In addition, there are foreign species that made Florida their home – and migratory birds that come here for wintering. If you add all these species up, it could be 500 or more.

Which bird species lives exclusively in Florida?

This title goes to the Florida Scrub-Jay. The songbird with the gray-blue plumage is only native to Florida, where it lives in sparse scrubland. However, the destruction of its habitat has caused the species to decline by 90 %. Today, the Florida Scrub-Jay is under protection and its population is strictly monitored.

What is the rarest bird in Florida?

A particularly rare and endangered bird is Florida´s subspecies of the grasshopper sparrow. This bird measures 4–6” and spends most of its life on the ground, where it searches for food and also lays its eggs. Among other hazards, bushfires and the destruction of natural prairies have been devastating for this species.

Can I see bald eagles in Florida?

Florida is one of the best places to spot the national animal of the USA. Its population has increased seventeen-fold since the 1970s, and now includes 1,500 breeding pairs. Bald eagles are most commonly found around lakes and rivers in the Kissimmee region and on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

There is hardly a state in the USA with such a diversity of animal and plant species than Wildlife Florida. The Sunshine State´s fauna ranges from primeval alligators and gentle manatees to a colorful variety of birds. And wildlife in Florida is not restricted to the mainland. Off the coast, the waters are teeming with dolphins, sharks, turtles and many other marine animals.

In the following sections, we will present the most important wildlife in Florida that you can see if you are lucky.


Manatees, or sea cows, are among the most famous animals in the southern USA. They are found in states like Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. However, in Florida, visitors have the best chance of seeing Manatees all year round.

Manatees - in Florida

Characteristics and Behavior

Manatees can grow to a maximum of 13 feet and weigh up to 1.000 lbs. They are easily recognizeable by their stocky, round bodies and their iconic flukes. With their big snouts equipped with whiskers, manatees navigate in the water, where they mainly feed on plants. Despite their slow appearance, manatees resemble dolphins when it comes to intelligence. The animals possess a particularly good memory.

Manatees lead solitary lives, except during breeding season. Then, the animals gather in groups and multiple bulls compete over the females. The mothers mostly give birth to a single calf, with which they share a strong bond. It is not rare for young manatees to be fed by their mothers for 2 years. Manatees have a life expectancy of up to 60 years.

Threats and Conservation

Manatees are threatened by water pollution, fishing nets, flood gates and boat motors. They are a protected species in the USA, and hunting them is illegal. Today, their numbers in the wild are estimated at around 6.000 – a huge improvement after the species was on the brink of exctinction.

Where can I see Manatees in Florida?

Manatees mainly populate the tropical south of the state and are found off the coast most of the year. You do not even have to visit a refuge or national park: Whether on Sanibel Island, Captiva Island or Pine Island – manatees are regularly sighted in marinas and around fishing piers. One of the best places to see manatees in Cape Coral is Sirenia Vista Park. If you want to observe manatees in Fort Myers Beach, the swampy north coast provides ample opportunity. In addition, the marine mammals are drawn to little islands like Cayo Costa and Cabbage Key.

The best time for manatees are the winter months. Then, the animals swim to warm coastal waters. They also follow rivers upstream and thus can be spotted in the interior of the state. An ideal place to see many of the animals at once is the Crystal River. There, you can also swim, respectively snorkel with manatees. If you want to see manatees in Tampa, you should head for the power plant near Apollo Beach – a favorite spot for manatees thanks to warm water temperatures.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about manatees of Florida


The Sunshine State is home to a primeval reptile that was already around at the time of the dinosaurs: Florida´s alligators live in rivers, swamps and lakes. Sometimes they are even found on walking paths near the water and gulf courses. Alligators in the sewers, however, are only an urban myth.

Alligators - in Florida

Characteristics and Behavior

Thanks to their thick, short snout, Florda´s alligators can easily be distinguished from their relatives, the crocodiles. The animals reach an average length of 10 feet and can weigh up to 990 lbs. With their powerful jaws, alligators can even crack tortoise shells. However, the animals are not picky eaters: Fish, snails, little mammals and even birds are part of their diet.

Despite their frightful appearance, alligators are known to be caring parents. An alligator mother will watch her offspring for up to 2 years. They mostly build their nests on river banks and do not take kindly to intruders. In general, it is a good idea to stay on the marked paths in alligator areas. What is more, you should not enter the water where it is not explicitely allowed. During breeding season in spring and early summer, alligators are often spotted on land. However, the reptiles rarely attack if they are not provoked.

Threats and Conservation

Since the hunt for alligators was outlawed, the population has increased a lot. Today, there are an estimated 1.3 million animals in Florida alone. Unlike in the mid 20th century, the American alligator is longer a threatened species.

Where can I see Alligators in Florida?

The animals are found all across Florida. However, their habitat is restricted to brackish water, as alligators cannot deal with salt water for long. When alligators are sighted in the ocean, they have either got lost or are crossing open waters on their search for a new territory.

The mangrove forests near South Florida´s cities like Cape Coral and Fort Myers offer a perfect refuge for the reptiles. If you want to have a high chance to see alligators, you should go kayaking in Lovers Key State Park or the lagoons of Cayo Costa State Park. With an estimated 300 animals, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is another worthwhile destination. All those with more time on their hands, can go alligator watching in the Everglades. The “River of Grass” is home to thousands of alligators and crocodiles.

However, Florida´s iconic reptiles do not only live in the wild. They are also bred in captivity. The biggest Alligator Farm is located in Homestead, 34 miles south of Miami. Here, you can watch 2.000 animals being fed in front of spectators. Alligator Wrestling is another highlight on the farm, but not one for the faint of heart. During these shows, the trainers literally put their head between the jaws of the animals.

If you are looking for an alligator park in Florida, we can recommend the Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach. There, you can feet the animals with bamboo poles. In addition, you can hold little alligators for a photo. Do not worry – the baby reptiles have their jaws taped shut as a safety measure.


Crocodiles - in Florida

Even though alligators are the far more prominent reptiles in the Sunshine State – Florida is also home to crocodiles. These are, however, much rarer: Only 2.000 specimens remain in the wild.

Crocodiles can be distinguished from alligators by their fairer skin and thinner snouts. The animals are also bigger and heavier then their relatives. They populate the coastal areas of South Florida. Only the north of the state is too cold for the reptiles. Unlike alligators, crocodiles are well adapted to salt water.

In theory, you can see crocodiles along Florida´s entire west coast up to Tampa Bay. Due to their dwindling numbers, however, you will need a lot of patience. You have a better chance spotting crocodiles in the Florida Keys. The Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay are also worthwhile destinations. In the Everglades, you can even see crocodiles and alligators in the same habitat.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about alligators and crocodiles in Florida


No boat trip in Florida would be complete without seeing the Sunshine State´s iconic marine mammals: Bottle-nosed dolphins populate the entire coast of the state where they hunt for fish in the warm water.

Dolphins - in Florida

Characteristics and Behavior

Dolphins usually weigh 330–1.400 lbs and can reach up to 13 feet in length. Dolphins in the wild have a life expectancy of about 25 years. In captivity, however, the animals can get twice as old. Like all marine mammals, dolphins give birth to live young. After a gestation period of 12 months, baby dolphins stay with their mothers for about 3 years.

The extraordinary intelligence of dolphins is widely known. In addition, they are very social creatures. On boat trips in Florida, one can often see huge groups of dolphins called “pods”. Each member produces an individual whistling sound to communicate, and the animals are known to care for their injured and sick breathren.

Threats and Conservation

Dolphins are highly adaptable animals, and luckily, they are not threatened. Hunting dolphins in the USA is illegal. From time to tome, however, the animals get trapped in fishing nets. The pollution of ocean waters is another risk for dolphins.

Where can I see Dolphins in Florida

The answer will delight fans of Flipper and Co: almost everywhere off the coast. Sometimes you can observe dolphins directly from the beach. And do not be surprised if you see silvery silhouettes in your boat´s wake: The clever animals like to follow boat motors as an efficient way to travel.

A perfect place to watch dolphins is Sanibel Island. Around its shores, gigantic pods of up to 1.000 animals can be observed. Estero Bay between Estero Island and the mainland is another refuge for the marine mammals – just like the coastal waters of Captiva Island, Cayo Costa and Pine Island. On Cabbage Key, you can even see the animals directly from the boat dock. Dolphins feed on fish, so it is a good idea to head for South Florida´s most popular fishing spots: e. g. Blind Pass between Sanibel and Captiva, Redfish Pass or Matanzas Pass. Those who want to travel further south are lucky: In the Florida Keys dolphins are a common sight.

Tip: “It pays to get up early, as the animals are particularly active hunting fish at the break of dawn.”

Of course, you can also see dolphins in captivity: for instance, in zoos and aquariums like the Miami Seaquarium or the Clearwater Marina Aquarium. In addition, swimming with dolphins is offered at many places in the Sunshine State. At the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, you can even paint with dolphins, as the animals know how to skillfully use a brush.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about dolphins in Florida


Sharks - in Florida

Many different kinds of sharks live in Florida, among them tiger sharks, bull sharks, nurse sharks and the iconic hammerheads. Even Great White Sharks can be spotted with a bit of luck. Sharks on the beach are a rare sight in Florida. The animals seldom swim close to the shore, making the risk of an attack minuscule. When accidents occurr, the specimens involved are usually small, relatively harmless blacktip sharks.

However, if you are on the lookout for sharks: At the Ponce de Leon Inlet near Daytona Beach, the predatory fish are often sighted. They also hunt for prey in the coastal waters of Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach – and become the hunted: Sharks are among the most common catch off the coast of Sanibel and Captiva.

Diving with sharks is a popular pastime in Florida. In the Florida Keys, for instance, you can step into the water with them. If you would rather watch the animals behind glass walls, you can do so at aquariums like the Miami Seaquarium, Tampa´s Florida Aquarium or the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about sharks by Florida

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtles in Florida

Sea Turtles are among the Sunshine State´s threatened species, and so these grazers are a rare sight. Every year from March to October, however, hundreds of thousands of females flock to Florida´s beaches to lay their eggs. If you want to see a real turtle nest, you should steer your boat to Pejuan Point on Cayo Costa. There, these nests are marked by animal conservationalists. The beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Island are sought-after nesting grounds, too. The females like to lay their eggs at night. However, if you arrive by boat early in their morning, you might still see their tracks in the sand.

By the way: Far more common then their aquatic relatives are Florida´s tortoises: You can see them, for instance, at the Matanzas Pass Preserve near Fort Myers Beach, or at Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island. On the small island of Cabbage Key, these reptiles can even weigh up to 11 lbs.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about turtles in Florida


Stingrays in Florida

With their flat bodies and long tails, stingrays are easily recognizeable. These fish can often be observed near the shore – especially between May and October when water temperatures have reached their maximum. Then, the animals dig into the sand to seek shelter from predators. Here, contact with humans cannot always be avoided.

Even though their stings are seldom deadly, they sure are painful. Therefore, you should do the “Stingray Shufle” when wading in shallow water: Stir up the sand with your feet so the animals know you are there and can swim away.

Tip: “If you want to know more about this fish species and pet harmless rays, you should visit the Discovery Cove in Orlando.”

A highlight on every diving trip are big manta rays that can have a wing span of up to 23 feet. These majestic fish are commonly found around coral reefs and are completely harmless for humans.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about rays in Florida


Birds in Florida

Florida is home to more than 500 species of birds, so it pays to bring binoculars on your boat trip.

The mangrove forests you find on Sanibel, Captiva and Estero Island, for example, are teeming with water birds that are perfectly adapted to this habitat: Among them are herons, cranes and different kinds of ducks. Birds of prey include fish eagles, hawks and buzzards. Even America´s heraldic animal, the Bald Eagle, can be spotted with a bit of luck, as its numbers are increasing. In addition, a multitude of song birds like sparrows, chickadees and finches populate Florida´s nature.

One savannah-dweller has found a new home in urban areas, especially in Cape Coral: The city on the Gulf boasts Florida´s biggest population of burrowing owls: This smallest owl species in the world is active during the day and builds burrows underground. Many house owners erect wooden poles in their garden to help the owls find food.

Directly on the beach, you will often see seagulls and stints. Pelicans hunt for fish off the coast, but also like to sit on jetties and piers. There they wait for the remains of fishermen. Unfortunately, pink flamingos are a rare sight today. Hunted to the brink of extinction, the birds can only be seen at the southern end of the Sunshine State.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about birds in Florida

Venomous Animals

Even though the risk of an accident is small, you should know these venomous animals in Florida:


Snakes - in Florida

There are 45 kinds of snakes in Florida. However, only 6 of them are venomous:

The most dangerous species, albeit a rare one, is the diamondback rattlesnake with her black, brown and white pattern. Mostly living in forests, this snake leads a secluded life and flees from people when she notices their vibrations. However, if you hear an angry rattling sound, you should back off in order to not get bitten.

Another venomous snake is the water moccasin that is often found on river banks and on the water. When threatened, the animal raises itself and displays its open mouth. If you leave her alone, however, the water moccasin snake flees from humans most of the time.

Unmistakable due to her black, red and yellow scales is the eastern coral snake, a relative of the cobra. Unlike her Old World breathren, however, a bite of the coral snake is seldom deadly. The animal lives in remote areas and only defends itself with its teeth when threatened.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about snakes in Florida


Spiders - in Florida

Among the venomous spiders in Florida, two species are particularly dangerous for humans:

The brown recluse spider measures 0.2–0.8 inches and likes to hide in piles of leaves, but also in clothes and shoes that lie around unused for a long time. Its bite is painful and can lead to necrosis and even sepsis. Luckily, the brown recluse spider is relatively rare and only bites if she feels threatened.

A more common species is the black widow, unmistakable due to her round, black and red body. Her bite is hardly painful in the beginning, but leads to unpleasant cramps and muscle pains. Healthy people rarely die from it. The black widow is often found in shacks, barns and other places where she can build her web undisturbed. Most bites occur when the spider hides in old work gloves or on high shelves and is startled by people who grope around and touch her by accident.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about spiders in Florida


Jellyfish in Florida

Jellyfish and Portuguese man-o’-wars populate Florida´s coastal waters, where they also swim near the beach. Both species have an almost transparent body and long tentacles. Unfortunately, they are quite hard to spot and almost always travel in groups.

If a swimmer comes in contact with the tentacles, they inject a venom that causes intense pain and circulation problems. Luckily, accidents rarely end in death. In case you are stung, you should treat the wound with vinegar and remove the stingers with a pincette. Afterwards, apply hot water for 45 minutes to ease the pain.

Would you like to learn more? In the following you will find a lot more interesting information about jellyfish in Florida

Blockbusters like „Jaws“, „Deep Blue Sea“ and „Open Water“ show: There is hardly an animal we admire and fear more than sharks. For some people, they are the epitome of terror. Others, however, are intrigued by the hunting skills these predators honed during Millions of years of evolution.

Whether you like them or fear them: Scientists now believe that their image as bloodthirsty killers is far from the truth. At the same time, the role that sharks play for the eco-system ocean becomes more and more clear.

If you are interested in sharks, Florida is THE place to be. Here, multiple species populate the coastal waters where they can be observed during dives. If you want to keep your distance, you can also learn more about sharks at Florida’s zoos and aquariums. And of course, there are also the remains of these predators in the form of shark teeth.

In this article, we will shed light on sharks in general, and specifically on sharks in Florida: Which species are found near the coast, where can they be observed and what are the best trips you can take to see sharks up-close and personal?

In addition, you will learn more about shark attacks in Florida and how to avoid unwanted trouble with these animals.

Shark Facts

Sharks are among the most fascinating animals in our oceans – especially, because we are far from knowing everything about them. What we do know, however, paints the picture of a highly complex and diverse group of sea creatures.

Origin and Evolution

Sharks have been living in our oceans for a whopping 400 Million years – long before the first dinosaurs were around. This can still be seen in fossilized shark teeth. By far the most fearsome species was Megalodon: a giant shark that went extinct 2 Million years go. This monster is estimated to have reached up to 65 feet – four times the size of a great white shark.

Species and Distribution

Worldwide, there are about 500 species of sharks, with vast differences in sizes and shapes. They populate every body of saltwater: from coastal shallows and the open ocean to the deep sea. Some species like river and bull shark are even found in fresh water.


Sharks are perfectly adapted to their lives as oceanic predators – as can be seen by the following characteristics:

  • Luckily for them, sharks do not need a dentist. The animals are able to regrow up to 30.000 teeth in the course of their lives. This is made possible by so-called revolver dentition with multiple rows.
  • Sharks possess rippled skin that allows them to glide through the water without major friction. This design is so energy-efficient that scientists are trying to copy it for ships and airplanes.
  • Shark eyes are able to detect ten times more light than human eyes. In addition, the animals have an excellent sense of smell, with which they can find pray from miles away.
  • This is not all, however: Sharks are also equipped with a lateral line organ that detects even the slightest ripples in the water. What is more, they can use the earth’s magnetic field in order to navigate.

Social Behavior

Many people still think of sharks as cold-blooded killers. In reality, though, many shark species are highly social, with individuals regularly pairing up and hunting together – true shark friendships, if you will. Scientists now believe that these animals have a social structure as complex as that of dolphins. There is a difference, however. Because sharks are unable to produce sounds, they mainly communicate with a number of swimming motions.


So far, not much has been known about the reproductive behavior of sharks. We do know, however, that the eggs of all sharks are fertilized inside the female’s body. During mating, scientists could observe male sharks using their teeth to hold on to the female’s pectoral fin and avoid getting drifted away.

Baby Sharks

While some shark species lay eggs, others bear live offspring. An example for the latter is the great white shark. Their young are able to survive on their own right after birth. However, little shark prefer to spend their first years in coral reefs that offer protection from bigger predators.

Baby Sharks - Skarks by Florida

Endangerment and Protection

Right now, 70 shark species are threatened with extinction – especially in the Mediterranean Sea. The animals get trapped in fishing nets or are hunted for their meat. A particularly brutal practice is called “Finning”: cutting of a shark’s fins and throwing the animal back into the ocean. In addition, sharks are also threatened by water pollution.

Organizations like the WWF and Greenpeace have made the protection of sharks their task. Important issues include stricter fishing quotas and a ban of finning, as well as legislation that prohibits the sale of shark meat.

Sharks by Florida

The Sunshine State’s coastal waters are a perfect refuge for many aquatic creatures. Thus, it should come as no surprise that sharks are a common sight in Florida.

Shark Species in Florida

Florida’s waters are home to more than 30 species of shark that come in all shapes and sizes – from small angel sharks that resemble flounders to reef sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads and gigantic whale sharks. The iconic great white shark, known from movies and TV shows, is also found in Florida.

Here are some facts about Florida’s different shark species:

  • The most common species are lemon sharks with their characteristic green-yellowish skin. These sharks can be observed off the coast the whole year round.
  • 6,5–10 feet long silk sharks are another common sight. Unlike more solitary species, these sharks assemble in groups that can contain up to 1,000 individuals.
  • Whale sharks are the biggest fish found in Florida’s waters. Despite their giant size, they do not pose a threat to humans as they only feed on small crustaceans.
  • Mako sharks are record-holders when it comes to speed. This species is mostly spotted in the open sea and can reach up to 40 mph when swimming.
  • Great white sharks used to be a rare sight in Florida. In the last years, however, scientists have been able to observe an increase in their population.

Shark Attacks in Florida

Even though the chance of getting bitten by these predators is extremely small, shark attacks can and do occur in Florida.

Oftentimes, the culprits are black-tipped reef sharks. These specimen measure 5,2–6,6 feet in length and are known to venture into shallow waters where they come in contact with swimmers. Luckily, attacks are rarely ever fatal.

A bigger threat are 7,2–13 feet long bull sharks. These predators are regarded as unpredictable and aggressive towards divers. Not surprisingly, bull sharks are responsible for the majority of all shark attacks world-wide.

This is not to say that you have to watch out for sharks at every stretch of coast in Florida. By now, many beaches have been equipped with early warning systems and shark nets, which have reduced the attacks.

Shark Attacks - Sharks by Florida

This is evident by the official numbers for the state of Florida:

Shark attacks 2020: 16
Shark attacks 2019: 21
Shark attacks 2018: 16

In addition, shark attacks are not evenly distributed across the state. This map shows that most incidents occur in the counties Volusia, Brevard and Palm Beach on Florida’s east coast – followed by Jacksonville, Miami, Miami Beach and the Florida Keys.

Florida’s west coast at the Gulf of Mexico and the Cape Coral/Fort Myers area in particular are much less affected.

Tips to avoid Shark Attacks

If you are swimming at an unguarded beach in Florida, you should heed the following safety rules:

  • Sharks can smell blood from a large distance. Therefore, you should never step into the water with an open wound.
  • For the same reason, do not swim at spots where diving seabirds suggest the presence of bait.
  • Reflecting jewelry is known to attract sharks, so you best take it off before swimming.
  • Groups offer a certain level of safety as sharks are more prone to attacking single individuals.
  • Many shark species are nocturnal. Therefore, you should avoid swimming at night.
  • In case of a shark attack, fight back. Hitting the animals’ eyes, snouts and gills is a good way to scare away sharks.
  • If you are bitten by a shark, you have to seek medical treatment immediately. Even small wounds can lead to life-threatening infections if left untreated.

The best Places to observe Sharks in Florida

If you want to obverse Sharks in the wild, Florida is the perfect place for you. These predators populate the entire coast of the state and can be seen on boat or diving trips.

Which sharks you will see depends largely on the time of year:

Species like lemon sharks, nurse sharks and bull sharks can be found the whole year round. The same is true for whale sharks, although you will need a considerable amount of luck to spot these giants.

In the summer, Caribbean reef sharks, sandbank sharks, black sharks and hammerheads populate the coast, and if you want to observe tiger sharks, the months of December to July are perfect.

Sharks Swim Snorkel Watch - Skarks by Florida

Sharks in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys harbor more sharks than any other place in the world, making this island chain an ideal spot for shark watching.

Companies like Keys Shark Diving allow you to observe sharks from the comfort of a boat while also offering shark encounters in open water. A diving license is not needed, as you will be put into a special cage.

Another worth-while spot is Dry Tortugas National Park situated 70 miles away from Key West. Here, scientists were able to observe the mating of nurse sharks. The only way to reach this remote park is by boat. You also need a license that you can obtain on Garden Key.

Sharks in Palm Beach

Off the coast of Palm Beach, multiple shark species can be found – among them, tiger sharks, hammerheads and bull sharks that populate the coral reefs.

If you do not own a boat, we recommend the company Shark Tours Florida in Riviera Beach. On the three hour long “Swimming with Sharks” tour, the team will take you to the best places to observe more than 10 shark species. Excellent visibility levels add to the enjoyment. If you do not want to step into the water despite all the safety measures, you can also observe the predators from the boat.

Another provider is Florida Shark Diving in Jupiter. This company lets you choose between free dives and cage diving. Thanks to the sharks being baited with food, sightings are guaranteed.

Sharks in Miami

Florida’s most trending city is another hot-spot to go shark watching. For example, how about a trip with Miami Shark Tours? This company offers boat tours where you can see the animals from a safe distance – perfect for families. Alternatively, guests are able to do free and cage diving. Thanks to 10 years of experience, the tour guides know exactly where sharks can be spotted in great numbers.

Sharks in the Everglades

The coastal waters of Everglades National Park are home to a great number of bull sharks. These 7–10 feet long predators often swim up-river where they can be seen on a boat trip. Diving with bull sharks, however, is not advisable as they are known to be volatile and aggressive.

Near the coast, you can also spot other species that partially live in saltwater: black-tipped reef sharks and lemon sharks.

Sharks at Florida’s Zoos and Aquariums

You do not have the time for a boat trip but want to see sharks up-close? Then, we can recommend the following zoos and aquariums in Florida:

Sharks Zoo Aquarium - Sharks by Florida

Florida Aquarium

At Tampa’s Florida Aquarium, you can swim with sharks, even if you do not own a diving license. The activity “Swim with the Fishes” makes it possible. Equipped with snorkel and mask, you will step into the pool and get up close with these predators. Sharks, however, are not the only animals there. The pool is also teeming with barracudas, stingrays and turtles.


This aquarium in Orlando is home to the biggest artificial shark pool in the world. Shark Bay has been designed as a tropical reef with two levels, so you can observe the sharks above and below water. Alternatively, grab a snorkel and get within touching distance to (harmless) reef sharks. Or step into a glass cage to feed sharks, stingrays and turtles.

Miami Seaquarium

At the Miami Seaquarium, you can give handshakes, or rather “fin-shakes”, to cute nurse sharks and sting rays. The “Shark and Stingray Interaction” in a shallow pool makes it possible. Additionally, you can watch the 200 pound giants in the Shark Cannel getting fed by divers.

Theater of the Sea

The aquarium Theater of the Sea in Islamorada also offers animal encounters in shallow water. Here, you can go toe to toe with harmless nurse sharks to pet and even feed them. In addition, you have the opportunity to snorkel with sharks in a deeper saltwater lagoon.

Disney World

The “happiest place on earth” features sharks at the aquarium The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot. Here, tiger sharks, blacknose sharks and other species live in a pool filled with 5.7 million gallons of water. At the 30 minute snorkeling trip, you can get even closer to these predators – and to the turtles that are also swimming in the pool.

Tarpon Springs Aquarium

A true hidden gem for shark fans is located north-west of Tampa: The Tarpon Springs Aquarium features lemon sharks, nurse sharks and cat sharks. Children are allowed to feed these little specimens, and in addition, you can watch the bigger sharks being fed by divers.

Collecting Shark Teeth in Florida

Even if you do not see a real shark – these fish leave their marks in the form of teeth that get washed up on the state’s beaches. With a bit of luck, you can even find the dentals of long- extinct species.

Finding grounds are scattered across the entire coast of Florida. If you want to increase your chances, though, you should visit the following places:

The city of Venice is widely regarded the Shark Tooth Capital of the World. Here, no barrier islands block the coast, so thousands of prehistoric teeth can be collected.

Other worth-while spots on Florida’s west coast include Captiva and Sanibel Island. And do you remember the extinct shark species Megalodon? It is particularly after storms that the 4–8 inch teeth of this giant are washed up on the shores of Manasota Key.

Jacksonville on the northern east coast is another hot-spot, as the migration routes of sharks run alongside the shore. The same is true for beaches in St Augustine, Jupiter and Palm Beach.

Sharks by Florida FAQ – frequently asked Questions

How old do Sharks get?

This depends largely on the species. Small cat sharks, for example, mostly live up to 8 years, while great white sharks can reach 70 years. The record, however, is held by the Atlantic Greenland shark. Some of these fish have been alive for more than 200 years, making them the oldest vertebrates in the world.

What do sharks eat?

Depending on their age and size, sharks feed on fish, mollusks, crabs, but also dolphins, turtles, seals, penguins, and other sharks. The giant whale shark exclusively feeds on plankton, while great white sharks are also known to scavenge. Humans, however, are not on a shark’s menu. If the animals do attack, it is mostly because they feel threatened or mistake humans for prey.

Do sharks lay eggs?

Roughly half of all shark species lay eggs that the males fertilize inside the female’s body. The eggs are protected by a special layer and contain yolk for the shark embryos to feed on. Long strings allow the eggs to anchor themselves on algae and avoid getting drifted away.

Are sharks mammals?

Some shark species give birth to live young. Despite this, they are not mammals, but fish – cartilaginous fish, to be precise. Scientists believe that the last common ancestor of humans and sharks lived about 440 Million years ago.

Do sharks sleep?

Even apex predators of the ocean have to rest from time to time. However, scientists still do not know if they sleep like humans do. In any case, most sharks have to stay on the move constantly. Otherwise, they would drown as they rely on the constant stream of water into their gills. Some species like reef and nurse sharks, though, are able to remain motionless on the seabed.

Are sharks dangerous?

Of the 500 shark species world-wide, only 7 are considered dangerous for humans: among them, great white sharks, tiger sharks, blue sharks, black-tipped reef sharks and bull sharks. The latter two are responsible for most attacks in Florida. The number of incidents, however, is vanishingly low: In the years 2018–2020, only 16–21 attacks occurred every year.

How many sharks are there in the world?

The exact number of all sharks can only be estimated. If one counts all 500 species, the number could well be 1 billion or more. Many of these predators are endangered, though. Every year, more than 100 million sharks are killed, and scientists believe that the global shark population has dropped by 70 % in the last 50 years.

Manatees are as much a part of Florida as alligators, Miami Vice and Key Lime Pie. Nowhere else in the USA can you come as close to these animals as here. But what are the best spots to observe manatees? When can you see them, and which places let you swim with manatees? We will tell you in this article

Manatees of Florida Facts

Manatees are Florida’s biggest marine mammals and possess some remarkable features. Here are the most important manatee facts:

The Name „Manatee“

The name “manatee” denotes a particular kind of “Sirenia”, commonly known as Sea Cows. More precisely, when speaking about manatees, we mean the Caribbean Manatee, a subspecies that lives in the Southern USA, the Caribbean and as far south as Brazil and Venezuela.

The name stems from the pre-Columbian Taino word “maniti”, meaning “breast”. This name choice can be explained by the milk glands manatees have near their armpits.

Size and Weight

Grown manatees can reach 8.2–13 ft in size. Their weight normally ranges around 440–992 lbs. However, there have been reports of manatees that weighed up to 1323 lbs.


Manatees living in the wild have no natural predators. Thus, the animals can live up to 60 years. In captivity, their lifespan is even longer. A good example is Snooty, a 69 year old male manatee that lived at Parker Manatee Aquarium.


Manatees are strict herbivores that feed on seaweed, grasses and leaves. In the past, they were suspected to eat fish, but this turned out to be false. In order to feed their enormous appetite, manatees have to consume 4–10 % of their bodyweight in food every day.

Fun Fact: “Did you know that manatees spend up to 50 % of their days sleeping? The animals have to come to the surface to breathe every 20 minutes. However, they are able to do so without waking up.”


Manatees usually lead a solitary life and only sporadically gather in groups – for example, at the warm springs in Florida’s interior. An exception is the mating season when multiple males are competing for one female. Manatees communicate with their peers via squeaking and whistling sounds. The animals have an excellent sense of hearing.

Manatee Babies

After a gestation period of 12 to 14 months, manatee cows mostly give birth to one calf that they feed up to 2 years. Twins also occur, but they are rare. Manatee babies can weigh up to 66 lbs and measure 3.3 ft in length. They are able to swim right after birth, but are often carried on their mother’s back.

Manatee Babies - Manatees of Florida

Manatees of Florida – Threats and Conservation

Manatees in Florida are one of the biggest tourist attractions. However, the species remains endangered. There are a number of threats to these animals, prompting the state to react with strict conservation efforts


Florida’s native inhabitants used to hunt manatees for their meat and fat. Even though hunting the animals is illegal now, the human impact on manatees is significant. Sea cows are facing numerous threats, among them:

  • Boats and boat propellers that injure the animals
  • Waste water in rivers and coastal areas that causes diseases in manatees
  • Manmade structures like nets and floodgates where manatees get trapped.

Conservation Efforts

As an endangered species, manatees are protected in Florida. To save them from extinction, the state created special zones that are off-limits for boats. Hunting, disturbing or feeding manatees is illegal in Florida and can result in hefty fines or even jail time.

Slow Zone - Manatees of Florida

These conservation efforts have already proved effective: In the last 25 years, Florida’s manatee population has increased by 400 %.

Manatees of Florida – the best Time to watch them

Even though you can always see manatees in Florida, the best time to go manatee watching are the winter months from December to March. Then, many manatees from northern parts of the US come to Florida for the warm water. They do not only swim along the coast, but also make their way upstream to warm springs. In summer, the animals are only rarely found in fresh water. An exception is the Wakulla River.

Tip: “The best time for manatee watching are the early morning hours when the animals are particularly active.”

Swimming with Manatees

Many visitors to the Sunshine State are not content with watching the manatees on land. Swimming with manatees is a popular activity that is offered on the Crystal River. There, the animals are known to gather around warm springs.


First, your guide will take you to the river by boat and scan the water for ripples that indicate the presence of manatees. Then, you put on your snorkel and dive right in. Manatees are curious creatures that often swim close to humans – especially if they are not moving. Getting kissed by a manatee is definitely an unforgettable experience.


However, there are some important rules when interacting with manatees:

Swimming Crystal River - Manatees of Florida
  • Feeding the animals is forbidden.
  • There are designated safety zones where you are not allowed to swim.
  • You should not make hasty movements or chase the animals.
  • Hurting or molesting manatees is punishable by law in Florida.

If you want to swim with manatees, you should choose a legitimate and experienced company, e.g. Florida Manatee Tours, Gulf Coast Expeditions or Nature Coast Manatee Tours.

Short Video Preview of swimming with Manatees in Florida

Manatees of Florida – the Habitat

In addition to manatees in zoos and aquariums, there are about 6.000 animals living in the wild in Florida. Their habitat includes the whole state. However, in the following places chances of seeing manatees are especially high:

Manatees in Miami

If you want to see manatees in Miami, you have come to the right place. Nowhere else in the state are there more spots for manatee watching. The following places are particularly worthwhile:

  • Black Point Park & Marina: This marina features a protected area for manatees where many sick and injured animals are brought for medical care.
  • Manatee Lagoon: In addition to an observation platform, you will find an interesting exhibition about manatees. Chances of seeing manatees are especially good when temperatures are cool and the sky is slightly overcast.
  • Manatee Observation and Education Center: Here, you can watch manatees from an observation tower. Alternatively, you can book a kayak tour on the Indian River Lagoon.
  • Crystal River, especially King’s Bay: This place is perfect if you want to swim with manatees.
  • Three Sisters Springs: There are often groups of up to 100 manatees that gather at these warm springs.
Manatees in Miami - Manatees of Florida

Manatees in the Everglades

The “River of Grass” offers ample opportunities to watch wild animals – among them the iconic sea cows. Especially in the winter months, manatees in the Everglades are a common sight. You have the choice: Do you want to watch the animals on an airboat tour or on a hiking trip?

Guests in Everglades City should try their luck at the canals near the Gulf. A well-kept secret among manatee fans is the Port of the Islands Resort. The port of Flamingo is another perfect spot to see manatees in the water.

Manatees in Ft Myers

There is no better place to see manatees in Ft Myers than the Lee County Manatee Park. There, the animals frolic in the warm waters of a power plant. Multiple observation platforms, picnic tables and canoe rentals are available at the Manatee Park Fort Myers.

If you want to see manatees in Fort Myers Beach, you should head for the secluded Lovers Key State Park. There, you can rent a kayak and observe the animals on the water.

Manatees in Naples

Like in other cities on the Gulf of Mexico, you might see manatees in the canals of Naples if you are lucky. The animals come here mostly in the summer and autumn months.

However, if you want to increase your chances of spotting manatees in Naples, you should book a tour with Manatee Sightseeing Eco-Tourism Adventure. This company knows the perfect spot for manatee watching, and will even give you your money back if you do not see any manatees on the tour.

Manatees in Tampa

If you want to see manatees in Tampa, you should take a trip to the Apollo Beach Power Plant. Granted, a power plant might be the last spot where you would expect manatees; however, the animals love swimming in the warm water and can be seen from the Manatee Observation Tower.

And you do not have to drive far: Even when taking a stroll on the Tampa Riverwalk, you should keep your eyes open. It is not rare for manatees to stick their snouts out of the water of the Hillsborough River.

Do you want to combine manatee watching with a boat trip in the Tampa Bay? Then, Anna Maria Island is the perfect place for you. This barrier island is one of the state’s best spots to observe the animals. It is no coincidence that the area where Anna Maria is located is called Manatee County.

Speaking of which: Visitors in the town of Bradenton can see manatees in the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat. Here, the sea cows live in 60.000 gallons of fresh water. The Habitat focuses on treating and studying the animals. In addition, guests can watch manatees above water and through glass walls.

Manatees in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

This nature reserve with the difficult name is a hotspot for kayaking. The crystal-clear water makes it easy to see manatees in Weeki Wachi. Especially in winter, the animals seek refuge around the park’s warm springs, so that is where you should steer your boat.

Manatees in Wakulla Springs

In general, fresh water springs are a favorite winter refuge for manatees. In addition, this State Park has a remarkable characteristic: Manatees in Wakulla Springs stay for the whole year. What is more, females use this place to give birth to their young.

Manatees im Blue Springs State Park

Blue Springs State Park is a popular recreational area north of Orlando. Big groups of manatees are a common sight in the shallow, crystal-clear waters of these springs. The winter months in particular are a perfect time to see manatees in Blue Springs State Park. Oftentimes, injured manatees are brought here for rehabilitation. From the wooden boardwalk, you will enjoy amazing views, and if you are lucky, you might see females with their calves.

Manatees in Homosassa Springs

At the moment, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park houses two manatees that live there permanently. The park also serves as a rehabilitation center for injured animals that are released back into the wild after treatment. In winter, you can observe even more manatees in Homosassa Springs.

Manatees in the Florida Keys

Thanks to their warm, tropical waters, the Florida Keys are an ideal place for manatees – at the beach as well as in marinas. In winter, you can even see them in the canals of Key West. Generally, the best thing is to go where water temperatures are the highest. Manatees in the Florida Keys prefer these spots. For example, you could try your luck in the following places:

  • Key Largo: especially Manatee Bay and the beach of the Hampton Inn
  • Vaca Key, near West Sister Rock
  • Little Palm Island, especially the East Docks
  • Marco Island, e.g. South Marco Beach
  • Hurricane Hole on Stock Island.

Manatees in Florida Zoos and Aquariums

Of course, you cannot only observe the marine mammals in the wild. If you want to have a hundred percent chance of seeing manatees, you should visit Florida’s zoos and aquariums. Places that feature manatees are:

  • ZooTampa at Lowry Park
  • Miami Seaquarium
  • SeaWorld, Orlando
  • Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
  • Epcot, Walt Disney World
  • Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Sarasota

Manatees of Florida FAQ – Frequently asked Questions

How old do manatees get?

Manatees in the wild can live for up to 60 years. However, the oldest manatee in captivity reached the age of 69.

Where can I see manatees in Florida?

The short answer: everywhere on the coast, even in marinas, canals and the basins of power plants. As a rule of thumb: Bodies of water that are warmer than the nearby coast provide a good chance of seeing manatees.

Which time is best to see manatees in Florida?

It depends where you are staying. On the coast, you can theoretically see the animals the whole year round. However, keep in mind that only 6.000 manatees remain in the wild, and that they spread across a large area. In winter, manatees tend to concentrate in Florida’s warmer waters where they can easily be observed.

Where can I swim with manatees?

If you want to swim or snorkel with manatees, you can take a trip to the Crystal River. King’s Bay is the only place in Florida where you can legally swim with the animals, and there are many tour providers.

Are manatees dangerous?

No. As herbivores, manatees do not harm humans. Should a manatee swim close to you, just remain calm. The animals are very curious and like to feel foreign objects with their snouts. Nonetheless, you should not swim towards manatees, but keep your distance in order to not disturb them.

In Florida, dolphins can be seen off the coast, on boat trips and in aquariums where they perform spectacular tricks. They are even used for child therapy. In short, the Sunshine State would not be the same without its dolphins, and there are many ways to encounter these playful animals.

In this article, you will learn where you can see dolphins in Florida – whether in zoos or in the open ocean. We also present the best places to swim with dolphins in Florida.

Dolphin Facts

There is a lot to learn about the playful mammals. Here are the most important dolphin facts in a nutshell:

Classification and Species

Dolphins are marine mammals that spend their entire lives in the water. They are part of the family of toothed whales. Unlike baleen whales, they have teeth, which can be clearly seen in pictures of dolphins. Among the 40 dolphin species, common and bottlenose dolphins are the most widely known. You might not guess it from their stocky built, but pilot whales are also part of this family.

Did you know? “Despite their name, killer whales are also dolphins – just like the bottlenose dolphins that sometimes fall victim to these predators.”

Weight and Size

Most bottlenose dolphins reach a weight of 330–660 lbs. However, there have been reports of dolphins that weighed up to 1430 lbs.

The animals usually measure 6.5–13 ft. in length. Despite their huge size, dolphins can jump up to 20 ft. high.


Dolphins can be found in different habitats all over the world – from arctic waters in the Atlantic to the tropical coasts of the Pacific. In addition to sea dolphins, there are also freshwater dolphins: for example, the Indian Ganges river dolphin and the very rare “Boto” that lives in the Amazon River.

The most common dolphin species in Florida are bottlenose dolphins. They populate all oceans and have even starred in films and series like “Flipper” and “Dolphin Tale”.

Dolphins Habitat - Dolphins in Florida

Food and Behavior

Dolphins have an enormous appetite: A grownup specimen can eat up to 20 lbs of muscles and fish a day. The animals are not picky, and their food includes squid, seals and even other smaller dolphins.

Dolphins are known for their social behavior. They mostly live in schools that can include up to 1.000 individuals. For underwater navigation, dolphins use echolocation and sound

More Dolphin Facts:

  • Dolphins are highly social animals that care for each other when they are injured or sick.
  • While dolphins can see and hear very well, they have no sense of smell.
  • Each dolphin of a pod produces a unique whistling sound that serves as a personal signature.
  • The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) lets people adopt dolphins. With these monthly contributions, the conservationists fund programs that help ensure the well-being of the species.


Even though the animals have been studied extensively, there is no specific information about the lifespan of dolphins. On average, bottlenose dolphins are estimated to reach 25 years. In captivity, however, the animals can get more than twice as old.

Mating and Dolphin Babies

For dolphins, mating season is all year round. After birth, dolphin babies are usually 25–41 inches long and weigh 33–66 lbs. Females mostly give birth to single babies that they feed for about one year. Three years can pass before the young become independent from their mothers.

Dolphin Watching in Florida

Silvery silhouettes gliding through the water are a common sight on boat tours in Florida. With its tropical climate and long coastline, the state is a perfect place for dolphin watching. The following spots are particularly worthwhile:

Dolphin Watching in Florida - Dolphin-Florida


Dolphins are among the most popular animals in Miami – as can be seen by the name of the city’s football team. You can observe the animals at the Miami Aquarium, where dolphins entertain the crowd; or you could book a whale watching tour: Located only 20 minutes south of Miami Beach is Biscayne Bay – a refuge for dolphins and other whale species.

Key West

With their warm, tropical waters, Florida’s barrier islands are a prime spot for dolphins. If you want to see them, you should take a dolphin tour in Key West. On the three hour trip, you can observe dolphins in their natural habitat before going snorkeling in a coral reef. There are plenty of companies for you to choose from.

Fort Myers Beach

Estero Bay, which separates Fort Myers Beach from the mainland, is known for its huge population of wild dolphins. For this reason, the company GAEA Guides organizes kayak trips along the coast. These tours are perfect for seeing not only dolphins, but also alligators, otters and manatees. If you are looking for an eco-friendly and authentic way to discover Estero Bay, you should book this 3 hour tour for 50 USD.

Marco Island

The company Dolphin Explorer Tour on Marco Island promises guaranteed dolphin sightings. Guests take a 3 hour boat trip through the marine sanctuaries off-shore. Although the dolphins swim freely in the wild, they were all identified and named by conservationists. Each of the animals has a unique personality that visitors learn more about on the tour. Included in the price of 64 USD is a stopover at a small barrier island where you can look for beautiful sea shells.

Sanibel Island

For guests based in Cape Coral, Sanibel Island is always worth a trip – especially because the surrounding waters are teeming with dolphins. If you are lucky, you can spot schools of up to 1.000 individuals here, although 10-30 are the norm. Sanibel Dolphin Tours takes small groups of up to 6 people on boat trips to watch playful dolphins. These intimate and exclusive tours last 2 hours and cost 250 USD.

More Places to see Dolphins in Florida

Fort Pierce: The company Dolphin Watch offers boat tours on the Indian River, which is home to hundreds of dolphins.

Destin: A boat ride with the Southern Star provides ample opportunities to watch wild dolphins following in the boat’s wake. Little guests are even allowed to steer the vessel for a while.

Clearwater: Warm water temperatures all year round make this city a perfect place for dolphins. The animals love to swim in the Intercoastal Highways, but can also be seen from Sand Key Park.

Dolphins in Florida’s Zoos and Aquariums

Of course, you cannot only see the marine animals in the wild. If you are looking for a hundred percent chance of spotting dolphins, you should visit the following zoos and aquariums in Florida:

  • SeaWorld (Orlando): At Dolphin Cove, the largest dolphin pool in the world, you can observe the animals above and below water.
  • Clearwater Marine Aquarium (Clearwater): This aquarium is home to the stars of the movie “Dolphin Tale”.
  • Gulf World Marine Park (Panama City Beach): This marine park is a top choice for dolphin shows in the north of Florida.

Swimming with Dolphins in Florida

Swimming with dolphins is an unforgettable experience for visitors in Florida. Thanks to their natural curiosity, dolphins are rarely afraid of humans, greeting them with friendly fin shakes, kisses and joyful chatter. Swimming with dolphins in the open ocean is forbidden. Luckily, there are many places that offer dolphin swimming in Florida

Swimming with Dolphins in Florida - Dolphins in Florida

Dolphin Swimming in Miami

If you want to swim with dolphins in Miami, you can choose between two companies:

Miami Seaquarium

The Miami Seaquarium is known for its entertaining and educational activities. One of them is the Dolphin Encounter for 159 USD. Here, little guests learn more about the behavior of dolphins before plunging into the water with them. Dolphin swimming in deeper water is available for 220–240 USD and offers a chance to also feed the animals.

Miami Swim with Dolphins Tours

WA less well-known company is “Miami Swim with Dolphins”. They offer dolphin swimming for different age groups. You can choose between encounters in shallow or deep water, or combine both. Dolphin swimming starts at 220 USD, while shallow water encounters are available for 118 USD.

Dolphin Swimming in Marathon, Grassy Key

The Dolphin Research Center in Marathon treats injured sea creatures and is Florida’s most popular place for swimming with dolphins. Thanks to a wide range of options, you are guaranteed to find the right experience for you. The prices vary according to the activity and start at 25 USD for the “Meet the Dolphin” program. Here, children aged 1 year or older have the chance to pet a dolphin. For 60 USD, visitors get to play with the animals for 25 minutes. Dolphin swimming in Marathon costs 199 USD and allows you to splash around with a dolphin for half an hour. Grabbing on to their fin and letting them drag you through the water is a highlight of the program.

You can even paint with dolphins at the Research Center: The aquatic mammals are skilled artists and will spice up any shirt with colorful brush strokes – the perfect souvenir to bring back home from Florida. All the activities at the Dolphin Research Center are highly popular, so you should reserve well in advance.

Dolphin Swimming in Orlando

Orlando is not only known for its theme parks. The city also provides ample opportunities to swim with dolphins.

Dolphin Lagoon

The Dolphin Lagoon at the Aquapark Discovery Cove is a perfect place for groups:
First, a trainer will give you entertaining lessons about the animals; then, everybody gets to pet a dolphin. Do you want to know what it is like to be a professional dolphin trainer? Then, you should book the activity “Trainer for a Day” that also includes dolphin encounters in deep water.

SeaWorld Orlando

When visiting Florida’s most popular aquarium, you cannot only see dolphin shows, but also interact with these animals. Granted, there is no real dolphin swimming at SeaWorld Orlando. However, at the Dolphin Encounter you can pet dolphins on land, take a selfie with them and hear interesting dolphin facts from a trainer. The regular price is 49 USD for 15 minutes.

Dolphin Swimming in the Florida Keys

There is hardly a better place for dolphin swimming than the Florida Keys. The following spots are particularly popular:

Theater of the Sea

Your first choice should be the Theater of the Sea. Here, dolphin encounters take place in a natural saltwater lagoon. You can either play with dolphins in waist-high water or swim and snorkel with bottlenose dolphins in deep water. Painting with dolphins is also available at the Theater of the Sea.

Dolphin Plus

If you are traveling with children aged 7 or upwards, you should visit the aquarium Dolphin Plus on Key Largo. Here guests are not limited to shallow waters, but can swim with dolphins in the ocean. The animals are free to dive down and swim away, so they can decide how close they want to get to people. The activity costs 210 USD. If you want to study the animals´ behavior underwater, you should book the snorkeling with dolphins.

Dolphin Swimming in Fort Lauderdale

When it comes to dolphin swimming in Fort Lauderdale, Dolphin World is a top choice. Transportation is included if you book your dolphin encounter through this company – perfect for guests without a car. In addition to dolphin swimming, they also offer encounters for children and non-swimmers.

Delfinschwimmen in St. Augustine

Are you visiting the north of Florida? Then, dolphin swimming in St. Augustine is a great activity for your whole family. Less known then the big aquariums in the south, the Marineland St. Augustine offers amazing bargains: For example, dolphin swimming only costs 211 USD for adults. If you want to encounter dolphins in shallow water, you will only pay 111 USD.

Delfine in Florida FAQ – frequently asked Questions

How old do dolphins get?

In the wild, dolphins usually reach an age of 25 years and rarely get older than 50. The oldest dolphin ever studied in the wild was 40 years old. In captivity, however, dolphins can reach an age of up to 55 years.

Where do dolphins live in Florida?

Dolphins populate Florida’s entire coast, where they can be seen the whole year round. The fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico are particularly attractive to dolphins. Other ideal spots are Marco Island, Naples and the Florida Keys.

What are the best places to swim with dolphins?

There are many places in Florida that offer dolphin swimming. Although the activities are very similar, the target audience varies: For example, at the Miami Seaquarium, the focus lies on learning more about dolphins; Marineland St. Augustine is known for its reasonable price policy, and Dolphin Plus on Key Largo lets you swim with dolphins in the open ocean.

How much does it cost to swim with dolphins in Florida?

If you want to swim with dolphins, you can expect to pay at least 210 USD per person. Encounters in shallow water are cheaper and better suited for small children and non-swimmers. These dolphin encounters usually start at 35 USD.

They are found in Florida’s rivers and swamps, sometimes even in swimming pools and on golf courses: Alligators and crocodiles are the Sunshine State’s most iconic animals. Nowhere else in the USA do you have such ample opportunity to see these giants – in Gator Parks, zoos and in the wild. But what are the best places to watch them? How can you tell alligators and crocodiles apart? And what should you do in case of an encounter? Find out more in this article.

Alligator Facts

You want to increase your knowledge about Florida’s iconic reptiles before visiting the zoo or going on an air boat trip? Then, you should check out these alligator facts:

Alligator Species

In total, the Alligatoridae family is comprised of eight species that split into alligators and caimans. Florida is home to the American alligator. In addition, there are Chinese alligators that are much smaller than their brethren in the New World. All six known caiman species live in South and Latin America.

Alligator Size and Weight

On average, American alligators reach a size of 10 ft and a weight of 500 lbs. However, the biggest individual ever caught weighed a whopping 992 lbs and measured 16 ft in length.

Alligator Habitat

Alligators predominantly live in fresh water habitats such as rivers, lakes and swamps. However, due to the population growth in Florida, alligators are sometimes found on golf courses and in swimming pools. Alligators in the sewer, however, are an urban myth. Down there, the conditions would be too dark and cold for these animals.

Alligator Food and Behavior

Being true omnivores, alligators devour almost everything unlucky enough to get trapped in their jaws: Their food includes fish and small mammals, but also tortoises and birds. On land, the reptiles might seem slow; in the water, however, they can reach top speeds of 20 mph. At the same time, they hardly make a sound and can detect even the slightest vibrations in the water.

Most of the time, alligators show a solitary behavior. However, smaller alligators sometimes band together to hunt. The animals also share sunny places that they use to regulate their body temperature.

Babies and young Alligators

Despite their fierce and menacing appearance, female alligators are actually caring mothers. They lay up to 70 eggs on riverbanks where they protect their nest from predators. Alligator babies measure around 8 inches. For the first few weeks after birth, the young are under the protection of Mama Alligator. Alligator mating season in Florida runs from April to June.

Did you know: “The temperature determines whether an alligator becomes a boy or a girl. If temperatures in the nest exceed 31 degrees Celsius, a male alligator will hatch; otherwise, it will be a female.”

Alligators and Humans

Alligators and Crocodiles do not prey on humans and usually keep their distance. However, due to population growth, encounters with the animals have become more frequent. Although statistically speaking, it is more likely to be killed by a cow than by an alligator, tragic incidents happen every year.

When dealing with alligators and crocodiles, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Only swim in designated areas, and only in the daytime.
  • Do not walk too close to river banks. Breeding females, in particular, do not take kindly to intruders.
  • Put your dog on the leash when walking next to a river, so it does not stir up an alligator.
  • Should an alligator chase you, run away. The animals are good sprinters, but lack the stamina for a long pursuit.
  • If you are being attacked by an alligator: Fight back with everything you have and aim for its eyes and snout.
  • Due to risk of infection, even baby alligator bites have to be treated immediately.
  • If you see an alligator on the road, keep your distance. Call the police or the alligator hotline (866-392-4286). Feeding or harassing the animals is punishable by law.

Alligator Watching in Florida – the best Places

Fans of the primeval reptiles will love the Sunshine State. There is hardly a better place in the USA to go alligator watching than Florida.

Alligators in Zoos and Aquariums

If you want to see many alligators in one spot and learn more about these animals, you should visit the following places. There, you can observe Florida’s alligators in zoos and aquariums:


This theme park near Orlando has been in operation since 1950. The slogan “Gator Capital of the World” is appropriate: 2.000 alligators and crocodiles live here – among them two rare albino alligators. At the Baby Gator Marsh area you can see cute hatchlings. And Gatorland is not just home to American species. Nile crocodiles and Caribbean specimen live here as well. You are not happy just watching the animals from the ground? Then take the zip line for a high-speed ride over the crocodile enclosure.

GatorWorld Parks

GatorWorld Parks near Orlando is another prime spot for alligator fans. Here, you can drive your car past artificial lakes with more than 400 animals. A real celebrity is “Big Al”, a 13 feet giant that you can even take a selfie with. In addition, you can also hold a less-threatening baby gator. Their older brethren are kept in a special enclosure, where visitors feed them pieces of meat.

St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park has dedicated a whole section to the primeval reptiles: “Land of Crocodiles”. Here, you cannot only see rare albino crocodiles. Their smaller Chinese cousins live here, too – just like Nile crocodiles and thin-snouted gharials. In addition, the area houses the taxidermied remains of Gomek, a 16 feet behemoth. Behind glass walls, you can watch Maximo, a saltwater crocodile measuring 13 feet. Thrill-seekers should try the obstacle course “Crocodile Crossing” above the crocodile enclosure – while wearing a safety harness, of course.

Alligator Attraction

At the Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach, visitors get close to wild animals. Here, children can feed alligators with rods, hold the reptiles and even kiss a baby gator. Luckily, the young one has its snout taped shut, so it cannot kiss back.

Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf

Another popular destination for families is Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf in Fort Myers Beach – perfect if you cannot choose between minigolf and alligators. Located at the centre of the course is a lake with 20–30 adolescent animals. Here, you can feed the alligators with bamboo poles after completing the golf course.

Everglades Alligator Farm

Hunting wild alligators is illegal in Florida. Therefore, around 45.000 alligators are bred in captivity for their leather and meat. 2.000 of them live on the Everglades Alligator Farm in Homestead. Here, you can watch the hungry reptiles getting fed, and also witness an ancient sport: Alligator Wrestling. During the show, trainers perform daredevil stunts like sticking their head in the animal’s mouth. In the end, however, it is the alligator that gets eaten. Fried Gator Bites with hot sauce are a popular dish in the Southern Cuisine.

Other places where you can see alligators

More places with alligators include:

  • Florida Aquarium (Tampa)
  • ZooTampa at Lowry Park (Tampa)
  • Everglades Holiday Park (Fort Lauderdale)
  • Naples Zoo (Naples)
  • Conservancy of Southwest Florida (Naples)
  • Shell Factory and Nature Park (Fort Myers)
  • ZooMiami (Miami)
  • Gator Beach (Pensacola)
  • Panama City Beach Zoo (Panama City Beach)

Alligators in the Wild

If you want to see Florida´s alligators in the wild, you should try your luck at the following places:

Everglades National Park

Florida’s River of Grass is by far the best place to see alligators in the wild. It is also the only place where the reptiles share their habitat with crocodiles. There are many possibilities to explore the National Park:

While hiking on the Tamiami Trail in Shark Valley, or the short, beginner-friendly Anhinga-Trail, you are almost guaranteed to spot alligators sunbathing in the water. Alternatively, watch the reptiles on the trails starting at the National Park entrance in Homestead. Of course, you can also launch your kayak at the Nine Mile Pond and observe alligators in the brackish water. Legend has it that a 15 feet monster called “Croczilla” still lives there. Gators are a main attraction on the popular airboat tours. Here, you can even have your photo taken with a (harmless) baby alligator.

Oasis Visitor Center im Big Cypress Preserve

Around 1.500 alligators live in this reserve north of Everglades National Park. Some of them can already be spotted from the parking lot. If you want to see more, take the 5 minute loop trail beginning at the Oasis Visitor Center. Here, you can comfortably watch the reptiles from wooden boardwalks. If you are lucky, you might even catch them hunting. Alternatively, drive your car through the preserve, or go alligator watching on a kayak ride.

Myakka River State Park

This gator refuge is located in Sarasota County. Particularly large groups can be seen around the “Deep Hole” pond that you reach on a 4 mile loop trail. Only 30 visitors are allowed in the State Park every day, so you should get there early. It also pays to visit on a day with no wind, as the alligators like to hide when it is breezy.

Wakulla Springs State Park

This park south of Tallahassee is not just popular with swimmers who want to cool off in its springs. On an airboat tour you can watch alligators sunbathing. The most remarkable specimen, however, is kept at the Wakulla Springs Lodge: “Old Joe”, a 10 feet long alligator that was killed in 1966.

Hillsborough River State Park

Visitors to the Tampa Bay area can see alligators at this nature reserve – no matter if they want to go hiking, cycling or kayaking. The gators are often spotted tanning on driftwood or relaxing on the shore.

Other places

You can also see Alligators in the following places:

  • Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples
  • Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg
  • Merritt Island State Wildlife Refuge near Kennedy Space Center
  • Ocala National Forest north of Orlando
  • Everglades & Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Preserve west of Fort Lauderdale
  • J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island

Crocodile Facts

Not every huge reptile in the Sunshine State is an alligator. We will present you the most important crocodile facts:

Crocodile Species

The family of the so called true crocodiles includes 15 to 19 species: among them Australian saltwater crocodiles and species in Africa, South Asia, North America and South America. Florida is home to the American crocodile.

Did you know? “There are also white crocodiles. It is estimated that one in 20.000 crocodiles is affected by albinism.”

Crocodile Habitat

Crocodiles are not picky when it comes to their habitat: They live in freshwater bodies like rivers, lakes and swamps, but also in brackish water. You can even see crocodiles in the ocean. In Florida, the reptiles concentrate in the warm south: particularly in the Everglades, the Florida Keys and south of Tampa and Miami.

Crocodile Size and Weight

As one of the largest crocodile species in the world, the American Crocodile can reach a length of 23 feet and a weight of 880 lbs. The females can be distinguished from the males by their smaller size.

Crocodile Diet and Behavior

Crocodiles have a varied diet. Their food includes snails and crabs, as well as fish, tortoises and birds. Even grown cattle sometimes fall victim to the reptiles.

Crocodiles are solitary animals that fiercely protect their territory. In the daytime, they display a largely inactive behavior. The animals usually hunt at night.

Crocodile Babies

Crocodile babies hatch after an incubation period of 75 to 80 days. They usually measure 9.4–10.6 inches in length and know how to hunt right after birth. Despite this, young crocodiles spend several weeks with their mother.

Alligators and Crocodiles – the Differences

Alligators and Crocodiles share some similarities. However, you can tell them apart if you look at the following differences:

  • Compared to alligators, crocodiles have a longer, thinner snout – as can be clearly seen in crocodile pictures. Their mouths are shaped like a “V”, whereas alligators have a “U” shaped snout.
  • If you can see the animal’s upper and lower teeth, you are looking at a crocodile. In contrast, alligators have dominant upper jaws that cover their lower jaws.
  • While both reptiles have green skin, crocodiles sport a fairer skin tone than alligators.
  • If you encounter a large reptile in the ocean, it is most likely a crocodile. Alligators, on the other hand, are not well adapted to saltwater.

In the wild, you hardly ever have to ask the question: crocodile or alligator? While the Sunshine State is populated by a whopping 1.3 million alligators, only 2.000 crocodiles are estimated to remain in the wild.

Seeing Crocodiles in Florida – the best Places

Whether in the wild or in zoos – the following places are perfect if you want to see crocodiles in Florida:

Crocodiles in Zoos and Aquariums

If you want to see Florida’s crocodiles in captivity, we can recommend the following zoos and aquariums:

  • Gatorland (Orlando)
  • Croc Encounters (Tampa)
  • Everglades Holiday Park (Fort Lauderdale)
  • Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens (Sanford)
  • Brevard Zoo (Melbourne)
  • ZooMiami (Miami)

Crocodiles In the Wild

Crocodiles are not a common sight in Florida. However, if you want to see these animals in the wild, you should try your luck in the following places:

  • Everglades National Park: Here, crocodiles share their habitat with the more common alligators.
  • Marina of Flamingo in the southern Everglades
  • southern Biscayne Bay
  • northeastern Florida Bay
  • Shark River to Sanibel Island and the coastal waters around Cape Coral
  • Broward County
  • Florida Keys, especially Key Largo

Alligators and Crocodiles in Florida FAQ – frequently asked Question

Where do alligators live in Florida?

Florida’s alligators can be found in all freshwater habitats, from the north of the state to the Florida Keys in the South. In saltwater, however, the reptiles are a rare sight.

How old do alligators get?

In the wild, most alligators reach an age of 30–50 years. In captivity, however, their lifespan can be much longer. The best example is 83 year old Muja, the oldest alligator in the world.

What do alligators eat?

Alligators predominantly feed on fish, small mammals, tortoises and birds. Young animals mostly eat larvae, snails and mollusks.

Do alligators eat people?

Under normal circumstances, alligators do not attack people, and humans are not part of their diet. However, alligators have attacked in the past when they were provoked or mistook humans in the water for prey.

How many alligators live in Florida?

With a population of 1.25 million animals, Alligators are a common species in Florida. They are not endangered or threatened anymore.

Where do crocodiles live?

American crocodiles populate the tropical south of Florida, the Everglades and coastal areas as far north as Miami and Tampa. In addition, the species is found in the Caribbean, Latin America and northern parts of South America.

What is a crocodile’s favorite food?

Crocodiles are omnivores that feed on fish, mammals, birds, snakes and tortoises. They have even been observed to attack sharks. Crocodiles are also cannibals that eat smaller crocodiles.

How big are crocodiles?

American crocodiles can reach a length of up to 23 feet. However, 9.8–13 feet are the norm for male specimen.

How old do crocodiles get?

In the wild, crocodiles usually live for 30–70 years – if they do not fall to predators at a young age, that is.

How long have crocodiles lived on earth?

Crocodiles are living fossils that have populated our planet for the last 200 Million years. This means that the first Crocodiles coexisted with dinosaurs.

Do crocodiles eat people?

Due to their small population, encounters between humans and crocodiles are exceedingly rare – as are deaths by crocodile. Although American crocodiles are more aggressive than alligators, the species is not known for deliberately attacking or eating humans.

How many crocodiles live in Florida?

Only about 2.000 crocodiles remain in the wild in Florida. However, strict protection measures have prompted an increase in crocodile numbers.