Life in a Spring
Wilderness in Abundance
For tens of thousands of years, Florida's springs have been hotspots of biological diversity. Based on fossils discovered during the past century, we know that the spring ecosystem once provided water, food, and habitat for many of North America's most spectacular animals including the mastodon, the saber-toothed tiger and the giant sloth.
Today, what makes a spring so remarkable is that it is one of the only natural areas in the state that you can encounter so many of Florida's resident plants and animals in one geographic area. A single visit to a spring can reveal species like the Manatee, American Alligator, River Otter, and Limpkin and, beneath the surface, underwater natives like the secretive Greater Siren, the Loggerhead Musk Turtle, and Florida Gar. At certain springs, many of these species can be seen right from the nature trail along the spring run!
Clean, clear water flowing from the aquifer at a constant temperature are the essential ingredients that support the variety of life found in and around a spring. Explore below to meet some of the most common inhabitants of springs.
Florida's clear spring waters provide a natural aquarium for many of Florida's most common as well as most unique fish species. Some, like the American Shad, migrate to the springs from the ocean. Others, like the White Catfish, live in the dark recesses of the springs' underwater caves emerging only at night to feed. Meet some of these unique fish species up-close.
A variety reptiles and amphibians can be found in and around springs including the American Alligator, the largest reptile in North America, and the Loggerhead Musk Turtle, which attains a maximum size of only five inches. Explore to learn more about our cold-blooded friends in the springs.
Above the surface of the water, springs are home to many of the most recognizable mammals and birds found in Florida. Some, like the Great Blue Heron, Deer and Otters, can be found at the springs year-round. In the winter the springs, which maintain a constant water temperature of about 70 degrees, provide a warm-water refuge for species like the Manatee. Meet the feathered and furry residents of springs.
It requires a trained eye to spot some residents of springs. By far the most secretive of them are invertebrates like the Freshwater Shrimp and the albino Cave Crayfish. Often no more than a couple inches in size, these tiny animals comprise some of the rarest species in Florida. Pull back the curtain and meet the insects and invertebrates of the springs.
Due to their constant year round temperatures and stable discharges , Florida's springs support a variety of plant life, including ancient cypress trees, rare orchids and lillies, and lush underwater carpets of eel grass. Collectively, these plant communities nourish a freshwater food web that is among the most unique in all of North America.