Part Two: On The Land

With so many people moving into Florida from large Northern cities, I am often asked questions about the wildlife of Florida and whether they will encounter dangerous situations in their new surroundings.  I must confess that growing up in suburban Massachusetts meant I never saw sharks, alligators, rattlesnakes, and panthers.

PART ONE was about on dangers found in Florida’s 1,350 miles of saltwater coastline and 30,000 lakes. PART Two talks about creatures found on the land.  If you come from the North and settle away from the coast, you may be shocked that 50% of Florida is still forested and a good ten center of the state is too swampy for large-scale habitation.  That does not mean you will encounter dangerous predators.

The Florida Panther

The state animal is a North American cougar and would have been extinct by now due to in-breeding and declining habitat if the State did not import eight Texas female cougars into South Florida.  There may be as many as three hundred panthers left, but unless you live in rural Southwest Florida or Dade County, you are unlikely to see this one in the wild. 

If there is an abundance of small animals and waterfowl, Florida’s state mammal avoids livestock and pets.  Only five sightings have been north of the Caloosahatchee River in the last two years.  I saw one in the wild near Everglades City and was shocked to see it coming out from underneath an elevated shed. While males are 100-160 pounds and females 64-100 pounds, with a shoulder height 29=inches or less, they can vanish in tall grass.

Florida Black Bear

Florida’s largest mammal once covered the entire state, but thanks to management Florida’s bear habitat has increased in the last two decades. Some 4,000 bears live in some seven subpopulations (Southwest Florida, Northeast Florida, the coastal Panhandle (2), the coastal Nature Coast, Big Bend, and the north Everglades.  

Black bears are shy and reclusive. But should never be fed under any circumstance.  Breeding season is June to August when bears are more likely to be risk-takers.  Stand tall and slowly move away. Florida bears are small, but males are still 125 to 400 pounds.  Like the panther, injured bears end in Florida zoos.

PLEASE NOTE:  Florida has many wild animal sanctuary tourist spots. Most of these bears come from circuses and carnivals and are not Florida black bears.

Wild Hogs

The largest dangerous large animal you might encounter in a rural setting are wild hogs. Even in groups, they are not aggressive unless they feel cornered or you have a dog.  Stay away – they are unwelcomed 150-pound visitors. Farmers and ranchers hate hogs for eating up crops and digging holes all over the fields. 

Fencing is essential in rural areas if you have animals or a small garden. How bad is the problem? You can hunt or live trap wild pigs all year. You must give permission to let people hunt wild hogs on your private property, but you will find lots of volunteers. And guess what?  Wild pigs are not Florida natives – those Spanish conquistadors brought them here and they escaped.

Raccoons and Armadillos – Oh My

I tell newly arrived big city Northerners that the only intruders I have experienced in Florida are raccoons and armadillos.  Raccoons are cute to watch, just but do not give them food (they have too many friends).  Keep your garbage cans tightly closed and your dogs on lease (let the dog bark).  There are aggressive raccoons, and many city coons contain rabies and canine distemper.

For many years I was the neighborhood guy to remove armadillos.  A female armadillo with young will love your outdoor storage sheds if you don’t keep the door closed.  They will bite and scratch pets.  I found they like Skippy Crunchy peanut butter but are brilliant in avoiding my cage traps.  A few armadillos do get rabies but in Florida, some armadillos actually can give adults leprosy.

Gators – Please Read PART ONE


I have never seen a CORAL SNAKE in a natural setting despite many hikes into Florida State Parks, but I will continue to keep my eyes on the trail.  Make noise as you walk, and most snakes will flee.  In truth coral snakes are very shy and harmless unless pressured. There are Floridians who have them as human-friendly pets.

Sadly, the Florida scarlet snake and the red rat snake are often killed because they resemble coral snakes.  Most locals know the important way to identify coral snakes by the line, “Red touching yellow will kill a fellow, but red touching black is safe for Jack.” 

Coral snakes have this scary reputation because their venom is second only to the black mamba in toxicity.  But coral snakes are small and a single bite will not kill an adult, but make you quite sick.  The big point that people don’t know about coral snake bites: it sometimes takes 6 to 12 hours before a victim has any symptoms.

Florida has five other poisonous snakes in the RATTLESNAKE and COPPERHEAD family.   Most snakes flee from the sound of feet on the ground and do not like to stay in an open trail. Snake hunters go into fields and woods, not yards.  A herpetologist told me the snake most likely to bite a hand or a pet is the pygmy rattlesnake due to their size and visits to gardens.

Here are some interesting snake facts: only five people die in the entire nation each year due to poisonous snakes. 57% of all bites are caused by people trying to handle a snake.  28% of all those bitten were drinking in the woods. Only 13% of all bites were on legs and feet despite the reality that snakes are not too tall.

Insects, Of Course

It should be no shock that newcomers will complain about Florida’s enormous insect problem more than anything else.  From mansions to mobile homes to Seminole chickee, you can not escape bugs.  Florida has warm weather all year; lots of rain; and a lot of nature.  Unlike the North, every month is a bug month in Florida.

The scariest bug is the Florida Bark SCORPION.  I have never seen one in the wild in all my years, but perhaps my bug man has killed all their food.  Scorpions love messy yards, log piles, and open patio doors where a whisk of air-conditioning fills a hot, humid summer air.  They are dangerous to small pets and babies.

The biggest threat to your Florida home are TERMITES, particularly the subterranean and Formosan who have to be gassed out.  In Florida, Tarzan’s tree house would not be safe.

The most hated bug is the WOOD COCKROACH, which can fly. Florida palmettos are scary large and thrive in dirty yards, dirty garages and dirty houses. Bugs must beware for people get rich killing insects in Florida.  Cockroaches do not kill your home like termites and can be driven into the woods.

What about MOSQUITOES?  Florida has more mosquitoes than any other state because of its tropical warm climate.  I would not like to take a fishing trip in the Everglades in July.  January, fine.   But guess what?  Only Miami and Fort Lauderdale are in the Top 20 Mosquito Cities.  As a tourist state, we know people come to visit our attractions without mosquitoes. New York and LA have more mosquito problems than Orlando.

The one area where the bug-fighters are often on the short side of the war on bugs is at the beach.  BEACH BUGS, like sand flies or no see ums (biting midges) can be a major irritation in Florida, which has more miles of swimmable beaches than any other state in the nation. 

Repellent can help.  Staying in the water always works.  Avoid sweet smells. It would be nice if the State of Florida could hire some bats (but this would only work at night).

About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as an Emeritus college professor, he moderates the FHIC at www.floridahistory.org
This entry was posted in attractions, conservation, environment, Florida animals, mcbobleonard. Bookmark the permalink.

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