Wild Facts About Central Florida’s Native Animals

An Alligator swimming in the water near Kissimmee

If you’ve been to Kissimmee, you already know it’s an animal lover’s paradise. There’s wildlife from around the world at the eco-friendly attractions here, but that’s not all — Central Florida is also home to many amazing animals native to the region. From the headwaters of the Everglades to the blue skies above, this animal kingdom is full of cool creatures, and we want to share some fun facts about a few of them with you.

American Alligator

There’s no greater gator than the American alligator (try saying that three times fast). Prehistoric and powerful, these alligators have remained virtually unchanged in the freshwaters of the American Southeast for approximately 8 million years. The average adult male is anywhere between 10 and 15 feet long, and its tail alone can make up half of its total length. Why such a “tall tail”? It’s essential for helping these big and beautiful brutes steer themselves while swimming.

Sometimes when you see an alligator, it might look like it has a big smile on its face, and there’s a good reason for that: It's cooling off and relaxing. Because alligators don’t have sweat glands, they release heat by opening their mouths (just like when a dog is panting). Of course, there’s also a chance that the alligator is getting ready to roar! That’s because alligators are known as the most vocal reptiles on Earth. Their bellows, which you can hear from nearly 500 feet away, are used to attract mates and declare territory. Funny enough, sometimes these sounds remind us of the classic cars revving their engines over at Old Town Kissimmee.

American Flamingo

With their long legs and colorful feathers, flamingos have always fascinated Floridians, and have helped make them a symbol of the state. But for a long time, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission classified these beautiful birds as a non-native species. It was believed that Florida’s flamingo population wasn’t native to the area, but rather a mix of migrating birds flying north and domesticated flocks venturing out on their own.

This way of thinking changed a few years ago with the help of a famous flamingo named Conchy — the first and only flamingo ever tagged by researchers in the United States. They hoped Conchy would provide information on where flamingos were migrating from when they arrived in Florida, with many speculating they were flying in from the Bahamas. What they learned, however, was far more interesting.

Much like so many of us these days, Conchy stayed home, right here in his native Florida. This information proved what many researchers had speculated about for years — that wild flamingos have been living in Florida year-round all along, blending (in brightly colored pink) with the habitats around them. Thanks to Conchy, the American flamingo was removed from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s listing of non-native species, allowing researchers to better understand and protect them here in Florida.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

A hulk in a half-shell, the alligator snapping turtle is more than just the largest freshwater turtle in Florida — it’s the largest freshwater turtle in North America! Averaging over two feet in length and more than 200 pounds, its sheer size isn’t even the most awesome attribute. That would be its seriously spiked shell and scaled tail. Safe to say, its distinct look has earned the alligator snapping turtle the nickname “the dinosaur of the turtle world”.

These turtles look pretty tough, and they have the bite to back it up. In fact, they have a bite force of up to 1,000 psi. How powerful is that? Well, a great white shark has a bite force of 669 psi, proving size isn’t everything when it comes to strength in the animal kingdom.

Bald Eagle

Did you know that Florida has the largest population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states? It’s true! It’s estimated that 1,500 nesting bald eagle pairs call Florida home. And it’s always amazing to see the national symbol in the skies above.

These majestic birds are hard to miss, and not just because of their iconic white heads, yellow beaks, and dark bodies. They have a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet and love to show it off, frequently flapping as they take flight. Typically, these birds grow anywhere from 28-to-40 inches long, and the females are often 25% larger than the males.

The eagle-eyed family member may wonder where the name bald eagle came from – especially since they have a full head of feathers. It originates from the old English word, piebald, which describes animals with a pattern of pigmented and unpigmented spots. Since this description wasn’t entirely accurate, over time, piebald was shortened to bald. Who knew?!

Florida Panther

Our official state animal, the Florida panther is the only puma species east of the Mississippi and is unique in its ability to adapt to a subtropical environment. They’re a solitary animal, and active predominantly at night. Because of this, they’re also surprisingly quiet, and unlike many big cats – they can’t roar. However, they’re known to purr and hiss, just like regular house cats. They also love to pounce and can leap an impressive 15 feet when hunting for prey.

While their numbers are small (about 250 remain in the wild), Florida panthers certainly make a big environmental impact. Each male panther has a territory of about 200 square miles. As they patrol, they help keep other wild animal populations balanced.

While these large cats are undoubtedly rare, we’re happy to report that Nala, the official Florida panther ambassador for Wild Florida, lives right here in Kissimmee. When Nala was born, her mother was unable to provide for her, so Wild Florida raised her with the best possible care. Now fully grown, Nala lives in a custom-built home with water pools, elevated viewing platforms, and native foliage that replicates her natural habitat. You might say it’s the purrfect place.

Alligators, panthers, and eagles, oh my! These are just a few of Florida’s fantastic beasts, and you’ll know where to find them. Keep in touch with us on our Instagram and Facebook pages, and stay up to date on all things Kissimmee by subscribing to our newsletter.