Wildlife in Big Cypress National Preserve

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By: Jennifer Agress

Spread across 729,000 acres of wetlands and bordering the northern end of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve was the first national preserve established in the United States. Larger than the entire state of Rhode Island, it is home to five major habitats: cypress swamps, marl prairies, pinelands, hardwood hammocks and estuaries such as tidal marshes and mangrove forests. The preserve moves clean water through the Everglades ecosystem and into both Everglades National Park and coastal Florida’s rivers and streams. 

Big Cypress National Preserve is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Nearly one million visitors come to the preserve every year to hike, take an airboat or swamp buggy tour, canoe or kayak, do some bird watching, camp, see wildlife or simply take a scenic drive. For a real adrenaline rush, the park has off-roading trails. If you’re there at night, look up. Big Cypress National Preserve is an International Dark Sky Place, meaning it’s protected from urban light pollution and is an excellent place to stargaze. 

Wildlife

The five natural habitats of Big Cypress National Preserve are home to more than 100 endangered and threatened plant and animal species.

Read on for some of the wildlife you might see when you visit.

Florida Panthers

It’s nearly impossible to spot a Florida panther. As an endangered species, scientists believe only 130 exist in the entire United States today. Luckily for visitors, Big Cypress National Preserve has South Florida’s largest contiguous acreage of habitat for these panthers. You may spot one on the park’s back roads and trails. If you do, keep a safe distance. Panthers don’t like to be around people. 

American Alligators

It’s hard to miss Florida’s largest reptile, the American alligator, when you visit Big Cypress National Preserve. Measuring up to 15 feet in length, these animals can be spotted while hiking, in the canals outside the Oasis Visitor Center and Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center, by H. P. Williams Roadside Park and along the boardwalk at Kirby Storter Roadside Park. Be careful when on or near bodies of water. Should you see an alligator, leave it alone and stay a safe distance away.

Florida Bonneted Bats

These creatures are the largest and most endangered bats in Florida. Since they have no tolerance for colder temperatures, they tend to flock south. Next time you visit Big Cypress National Preserve, look for Florida bonneted bats flying through the park, especially at dusk.

Big Cypress Fox Squirrels 

Big Cypress fox squirrels are mostly black and have white ears, a white nose and a long, bushy black and tan tail. They nest in natural habitats including woodlands, forests and swamps. For your best chance of spotting one, look around the Loop Road Environmental Education Center near H.P. Williams Roadside Park (on Turner River Road), on Bear Island Campground and in the cypress dome on the Kirby Storter Boardwalk. Or, head to Burns Lake Campground and you’ll likely find Big Cypress fox squirrel nests in the cypress trees along the western edge of the lake.

Manatees

While most people expect to find manatees swimming along Florida’s coastline, many can also be found in saltwater and freshwater inlets and rivers. You’re most likely to spot manatees in the winter when they swim inland for the warmer waters. Head to the man-made canal behind the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center for the chance to see some manatees.

For both personal safety and environmental preservation, please remember to keep a safe distance from all animals in Big Cypress National Preserve.

Visitor Information 

There are two entrances to Big Cypress National Preserve: the Oasis Visitor Center and the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. Both are on Tamiami Trail, west of Miami, and are about 20 miles apart.

Contact the preserve ahead of your visit to confirm normal operating hours and availability of nature programs.

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