Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Episode 104 Homassa Springs, FL--Manatees

Sometimes kids believe that they must travel to distant lands to see wildlife. But some of the most incredible creatures in nature can be found in our country, like this week's destination -- Homosassa Springs, Florida. As soon as I reached this Central Florida destination, I spotted an armadillo scurrying away. I caught it and could see close up how its thick "armored" skin protects it. An Armadillo
I caught it and could see close up how its thick "armored" skin protects it.

This creature is a relatively new resident, arriving in Florida only a hundred years ago. It's usually nocturnal and has claws for digging in the ground for insects. The armadillo mother has four identical babies at a single time.

Homosassa Springs is an estuary. That means that the salt water from the ocean flows in and mixes with the fresh water. This makes a rich home for wildlife, both under the water and above. We're here to find our feature creature, the manatee.

Great Blue Heron Lot of birds come here to fish, like the great blue heron I spotted by the shore.
But I was really surprised to see a bottle-nosed dolphin. Normally ocean-going mammals, the dolphins sometimes come upriver to hunt the schools of mullet.

I had to use all my strength to pick up the alligator snapping turtle I discovered. These incredible turtles grow to up to 250 pounds. They hunt by opening their mouths to lure fish in -- then snapping their mouths shut. They are hunted for their white meat, which has made them endangered.

As you might guess, there are a lot of snakes here, including one that I picked up for a close-up look, the cottonmouth. Cottonmouth
I opened this poisonous viper's mouth to look at its fangs. The cottonmouth's fangs are capable of rotating in and out like fingers. Like all vipers, the cottonmouth has thermal receptors on its head, small holes to pick up the heat of prey! If you see one in the wild -- stay away.
Box Turtle I spot a box turtle, much less dangerous, scurrying along. This animal has a cool defense since it can close the hard flaps at either end, sealing itself in like a box. People are tempted to take these turtles as pets, which they shouldn't -- it takes 40 years for a box turtle to grow to maturity.
Back in my canoe, I spotted two manatees -- a mother and her calf! Since mother manatees can be very protective, I gave this mama plenty of room, and they swam away before I got a good look. Manatees in the water
I started feeling a little hungry, and there happens to be a great source of food right on the shore. Ever see raccoons look as though they're washing their paws in the sand? They're actually digging for shellfish, like oysters. I dug an oyster out and used a special oyster knife to open the tasty mollusk. It was good -- but I sure could have used a bit of cocktail sauce.
Jeff holding an Opossum I spotted a North American opossum hanging from its tail. This animal is the only North American marsupial, an animal that has a pouch for its young to develop. The opossum's tail is strong, really a fifth limb it uses for holding onto tree limbs and climbing.
When you're in the water in Florida, gators are never far away. I spotted two nearby and tried to grab one. But despite my best attempt at making "gator sounds," it swam away.

But if I was going to get a good look at the feature creature, the manatee, I needed to get into its environment.

I put on my special diving equipment and dived into the water. There were fish everywhere, including snappers up from the gulf in search of food. Then I dimly saw a great shape in the distance -- it was the mother manatee! Jeff and the Manatee
Jeff strokes the Manatee Slowly I approached the mother until I could stroke it with just one hand. Manatees are mammals -- which means that they have hair and give off heat. They also have a rough time, with 90% of the manatees having been damaged by boat propellers.
Though the manatees have really small eyes, they have great vision and hear extremely well. Sailors used to think these air-breathing creatures were the fabled "mermaids." Must have been pretty large mermaids! The Manatee
Manatees are gentle giants and endangered. But Florida has enacted laws to protect them so that you and future generations may have the thrill of seeing these great creatures up close. See you next time!

Totally wild,
Jeff

Back to main Journal page