Anna Maria Island – Florida has an amazingly complex eco system home to everything from the Florida Black Bear to the majestic manatee, but a little known fact is that Florida is one of the only geographies that can support both alligators and crocodiles. So do these scaly reptiles pose a threat to the average vacationer?
Well let’s look at the facts; alligators are not naturally aggressive creatures. There were only 10 fatal alligator attacks in the US between 1970 and 2000 (compared to the 25 fatal attacks by house hold dogs just between 1970 and 1980). This works out to be about .3 per year and several of these reports were of people who started out with harassing or feeding alligators in their natural habitat. Crocodiles however claimed over 50 lives between 1990 and 1994. Having said that, NONE of these attacks occurred in the US furthermore these attacks were all credited to the freshwater crocs (like the one in the picture to the left) found in southern Africa and Australia, not the much more docile saltwater crocodiles found here in Florida.
In addition to this the American Alligator is known as a “Keystone Species” or one whose presence can affect the entire ecosystem. For example before the endangered species act alligators were hunted because local fishermen thought this would improve the numbers of game fish in the water. The outcome was an overpopulation of a type of fish called gar, and what is the meal of choice for gar? You guessed it, game fish and this caused a steep decline in their numbers. So at the end of the day the odds of an alligator invasion of your vacation rental is highly unlikely, if you leave them alone they’ll probably do the same. But if you find yourself yearning for an up close encounter they can be found at the Myakka State Park and viewed up close and personal from airboat tours.
If you need a break from the beach take a ride to the “real” Florida. The Highlands Hammock State Park is centrally located in the middle of Florida, near Sebring. This park is one of Florida’s first state parks and known for its beautiful old-growth hammock and cypress swamps. A 3.1 mile loop drive gives a first impression. In addition there are nine different nature trails that take visitors through lush, jungle-like foliage. There are habitats like the pine flatwoods, hardwood swamp, marshes, scrub vegetation and lots of wildlife to discover. White-tailed deer, raccoons, bobcats, tortoises, herons, anhingas, ibis and of course alligators are among the animals living in the state park. The most popular hiking trail is the Cypress Swamp Trail that takes you on a 30 minute walk on an elevated boardwalk. The swamp borders a blackwater stream in the lowest elevation and numerous key points include the variety of plants, birds and other wildlife.
A large picnic area, 159 campsites, horse trails, playground, restaurant and the Civilian Conversation Corps Museum are other features of the park. During my visit I took the tram ride that leaves daily at 1 pm if there are at least 5 passengers present. For $5 this is possibly the best value you can get in any state park. Our park ranger Nick provided us with a wealth of information while touring the remote areas on this 60 minute ride. I guess it is even more interesting as we were very lucky to see all kinds of wildlife including a wild boar. Take a look at the pictures!