Native Flora and Fauna

Native Flora

  • Flora changes from macroalgae in fresh and brackish waters to seagrass and mangroves as salinity increases

The freshwater habitats of the Everglades are dominated by marsh and slough flora, however the flora changes moving downstream where the freshwater mixes with seawater. Transitional macroalgae species including Chara hornemanni and Batophora oerstedi are common, preferring salinities from 0-10 parts per thousand (ppt).

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Shoal grass. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Caulerpa verticillata. Photo © John Huisman

Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) also prefers waters of low salinities. As salinities increase, Acetabularia crenulata, Caulerpa verticillata, and Udotea wilsoni become the dominant macroalgae along with shoal grass replacing widgeon grass. Mangrove forests and islands are also common along the shoreline and just offshore in estuarine waters.

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Mangroves in Florida Bay Estuary. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

Past the intertidal zone, turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) becomes the dominant seagrass, forming extensive meadows that provide habitat and shelter for a diversity of marine organisms.

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Turtle grass. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

Native Fauna

Invertebrates

  • Commercially important species including shrimp and lobsters reside inhabit estuarine waters

Extensive seagrass meadows within Florida Bay serve as important habitat for a variety of species including invertebrates such as the pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum) and spiny lobster (Panulirus argus).

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Stone crab. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Hermit crab. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

Hermit crabs (Pagurus spp.) and stone crabs (Menippe mercenaria) also live within the seagrass flats while fiddler crabs (Uca spp.), isopods, and barnacles (Balanus balanoides) reside in the intertidal zones.

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Fiddler crab. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

Within Florida Bay, there are limited areas of hardbottom reef. These communities generally have low diversity and are dominated by octocorals, algae, sponges, and a few stony coral species. Hardbottom habitats provide important cover and feeding areas for many fish and invertebrates.

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Hardbottom reef. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Oyster bed. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

The Gulf of Mexico provides an ideal habitat for oysters (Crassostrea virginica) due to its hard bottom substrate.

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Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara). Photo © Don DeMaria

Fish

  • Shallow waters of Florida Bay offer protection to juvenile fish from open water predators

Many commercially and recreationally important fish reside in Florida Bay during at least part of their life history, migrating offshore to spawn. The fertilized eggs develop into larvae and are transported to estuaries and bays by currents and tides. The seagrasses, mangroves, and shallow waters offer protection from open water predators. Gamefish that are commonly found in the marine and estuarine waters of the Everglades include both tropical and temperate species.

Common game fish:

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Crevalle jack. Photo courtesy NOAA

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Gray snapper. Photo courtesy NOAA

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Sheepshead. Photo © David Snyder

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Great barracuda. Photo © Bob Klemow

 

Common non-game fish:

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Pinfish. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Pipefish. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Gulf toadfish. Photo © David Snyder

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Pigfish. Photo © David Snyder

 

  • Scaled sardine (Harengula jaguana)
  • Atlantic thread herring (Opisthonema oglinum )
  • Hardhead catfish (Arius felis)
  • Inshore lizardfish (Synodus foetens)
  • Gulf toadfish (Opsanus beta)
  • Hardhead halfbeak (Chriodorus atherinoides)
  • Silverstripe halfbeak (Hyporamphus unifasciatus)
  • Redfin needlefish (Strongylura notata)
  • Goldspotted killifish (Floridichthys carpio)
  • Rainwater killifish (Lucania parva)
  • Fringed pipefish (Anarchopterus criniger)
  • Dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae)
  • Gulf pipefish (Syngnathus scovelli)
  • Silver jenny (Eucinostomus gula)
  • Tidewater mojarra (Eucinostomus harengulus)
  • Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)
  • Striped mullet (Mugil cephalus)
  • White mullet (Mugil curema)
  • Fantail mullet (Mugil gyrans)
  • Clown goby (Microgobius gulosus)

Fish residing in Florida Bay and surrounding habitats are either permanent residents, seasonal residents, or visitors. The permanent residents are small fish such as the emerald clingfish (Acytrops beryllina) and pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides). Seasonal residents are fish that spend part of their life in Florida Bay, usually as juveniles. The spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus), silver perch (Bairdiella chrysoura), and pigfish (Orthopristis chrysopterus) as well as many other species are included in this group.

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Mosquitofish. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

In the northern reaches of Florida Bay, the waters are influenced by freshwater from the Everglades watershed. During the wet season, flooding of the Everglades brings freshwater and slough fish into the Bay. Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus), largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), sunfish (Lepomis spp.), catfish (Ictalurus spp.), sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna), mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), and least killifish (Heterandria formosa) are occasional visitors to this area. However, as the flooding recedes, these fish retreat upstream to remain in freshwater.

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Southern Stingray. Photo © Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch

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Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus). Photo © Noel Burkhead

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Least Killifish (Heterandria formosa). Photo © Noel Burkhead

They are quickly replaced by marine fish including stingrays (Dasyatis spp.), needlefish (Stongylura notata), jacks (Caranx spp.), and goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) as salinity increases within the estuary.

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American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Amphibians and Reptiles

  • Estuarine and marine waters are home to many endangered and threatened species including the American crocodile and American Alligator as well as four species of sea turtles

As the most northern of its range, the Florida Bay is home to the American crocodile(Crocodylus acutus). This endangered species feeds on mullet within the waters of the bay. Sanctuaries for crocodiles have been set aside at Little Madeira Bay and Joe Bay.

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American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The American alligator (Alligator mississipiensis) coexists with the American crocodile in estuarine habitats and is currently listed as threatened.

Endangered sea turtles, including the Atlantic hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Atlantic ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), also reside in these waters and nest on associated beaches.

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Atlantic hawksbill sea turtle. Photo © Eugene Weber, California Academy of Sciences

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Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo © John White

The threatened loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) has been observed nesting on the beaches of Cape Sable.

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Roseate spoonbill. Photo © Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences

Birds

  • Estuarine and marine habitats provide habitat and nesting areas for many birds

This habitat is home to wading and probing shorebirds, oceanic birds, and diving birds. The roseate spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), reddish egret (Egretta refescens), double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), and black-crowned night heron (Botaurus lentiginosus) are all known to nest within the habitats surrounding Florida Bay.

Other birds commonly observed include:

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Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

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Great blue heron (Ardea herodias). Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Great white heron (Ardea herodias). Photo courtesy Peter Osenton/U.S. Geological Survey

 
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White ibis (Eudocimus albus). Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

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Great egret (Casmerodius albus). Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Snowy egret (Egretta thula). Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 
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Little blue heron (Egretta caerulae). Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Tri-colored heron (Egretta tricolor). Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Wood stork (Mycteria americana). Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey



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American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus). Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator). Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey



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Common merganser (Mergus merganser). Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

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Osprey(Pandion haliaetus). Photo courtesy NOAA

 
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Green-backed heron (Butorides striatus). Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

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Yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctasnassa violacea). Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Southern bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus). Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Shoreline birds include the willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia), and the black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus).

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Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus). Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

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Snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus). Photo © Marguerite Gregory, California Academy of Sciences

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Black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus). Photo © Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences

Mammals

  • Dolphins and manatees reside in the waters of Florida Bay

Bottlenose dolphins (Turiops truncatus) and the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) are common in the waters of Florida Bay.

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Bottlenose dolphin (Turiops truncatus). Photo © Tobey Curtis

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West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus). Photo © Laurel Canty-Ehrlich, NOAA

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) and other small mammals search for food along the waters edge.

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Raccoon (Procyon lotor). Photo © Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences


Glossary terms on page:

  • estuary: area where freshwater meets the sea, creating a salinity gradient from pure freshwater (0 ppt) to full-strength seawater (35 ppt).
  • intertidal: the area also known as the littoral zone which is covered by water during high tide and exposed at low tide.
  • diversity: refers to the variety of species within a given association, areas of high diversity are characterized by a great variety of species.
  • octocoral: coral type that includes sea plumes, sea whips, gorgonians, and soft corals.
  • substrate: the material upon or within an organism lives or grows, including soil, plants, animals and rocks.
  • slough: swamp bog or marsh, especially one that is part of an inlet or backwater.
  • larvae: immature form of an animal that undergoes metamorphosis prior to changing into the adult form.
  • tropical: tropical zone lies between 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator, has small seasonal changes in temperature and large seasonal changes in precipitation.
  • temperate: temperate zone lies between 30 and 60 degrees latitude, climate undergoes seasonal changes in temperature and moisture.
  • salinity: concentration of total salts dissolved in water, usually measured in parts per thousand.
  • endangered species: a species in danger of becoming extinct that is protected by the Endangered Species Act.