Wildlife in Everglades National Park

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By: Jennifer Agress

Just an hour from Downtown Miami is the largest subtropical wilderness in the entire United States and the third largest national park in the lower 48 states. Stretching from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico, Everglades National Park spans just over 1.5 million acres of South Florida wetlands. At 60 miles wide, the Everglades functions like a slow-moving river – it has a constant stream of fresh water that moves just 2.5 miles per day – and is nicknamed the “River of Grass.” This “river” is home to nearly 800 animal species that visitors from across the globe travel to see.

Everglades National Park is a great destination for adventure lovers. While most of the park is covered in sawgrass, its tropical hardwood hammocks, pine and cypress forests, freshwater prairie grass and mangrove ecosystem (the largest in the entire Western Hemisphere) make it a top destination for canoeing and kayaking, hiking, camping, biking, fresh- and saltwater fishing and more.

Because of its environmental significance, Everglades National Park has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. It is protected under the Cartagena Treaty, which keeps biodiverse areas safe from the risks of modern biotechnology.

Wildlife Species

Congress established Everglades National Park in 1934 to preserve its unique wilderness, making it the first national park created for the sole purpose of protecting a fragile ecosystem. Along with being a natural habitat for more than 360 bird species, 300 types of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 different mammal species and 50 species of reptiles, Everglades National Park is the most important breeding ground for wading birds in North America. It is home to 36 threatened or endangered animal species.

Read on to learn about some of the wildlife you might see when you visit Everglades National Park.

American Alligators

Alligator resting in the grass
An alligator suns itself at the water's edge.

It’s almost impossible not to see an American alligator in the Everglades. Alligators can range in size from 10-inch babies to 14-foot adults. They love wet prairie grass and deep channels of fresh water, so you’ll most likely spot them nesting in the park’s dug-out freshwater marsh ponds. For safety, practice caution when on or near bodies of water. Stay at least 15 feet from American alligators and do not feed, touch or harass them.

American Crocodiles

American crocodiles are often confused with American alligators – but you’ll know it’s a crocodile if it has a pointed nose and visible teeth, even when its mouth is closed. Measuring up to 13 feet in length, crocodiles usually hang out in the coastal mangrove swamps of Florida Bay and small creeks and bays throughout Everglades National Park. They can sometimes be seen at Flamingo Marina, near the Flamingo Visitor Center. They are more reclusive than American alligators and not as numerous, so they are harder to find. Just like you would with American alligators, practice caution when on or near bodies of water.

Florida Panthers

Florida panthers are the park’s most endangered animals, and researchers believe only 130 still live in the United States today. Part of the same family as mountain lions or cougars, panthers can grow to up to six feet in length and usually live in the park’s pineland habitats. Because of their rarity, they’re incredibly hard to spot. If you’re lucky enough to see one, keep your distance! Panthers usually want to avoid humans and it’s important to give them space to do so. 


Soft shell turtle
A soft shell turtle.

Everglades National Park has more than a dozen species of land and sea turtles, from threatened Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles to Florida snapping turtles, Atlantic leatherback sea turtles and more. Head to Cape Sable – it’s the southernmost point of mainland Florida – to find one of the most active sea turtle nesting sites.


More than 360 bird species have been spotted in Everglades National Park, which is an important stopover for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. While here, visitors will see yellow-throated warblers, wood storks, white and glossy Ibises, roseate spoonbills, great blue and great white herons, snowy egrets and more.

American Black Bears

While American Black Bears can be found all over North America, seeing them in subtropical South Florida is a rare and special experience. If you’re lucky enough to spot one at the park, it will likely be in the pineland forests. Should one appear, stay calm and don’t run away. If you’re camping, be sure to sleep in the safety of your tent and store all food and waste in airtight bags and containers.

For both your personal safety and environmental preservation, please remember to keep a safe distance from all animals in Everglades National Park. 

Visit the Everglades 

Everglades National Park has three visitor centers that are easily accessible from Miami. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center and Flamingo Visitor Center are both reached via the Homestead entrance, while the Shark Valley Visitor Center is located approximately 40 miles west of Downtown Miami along Tamiami Trail.

Contact the park ahead of your visit to confirm normal operating hours and availability of tours and other programs.

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