You don’t have to venture far from the city to find alligators in Southwest Florida. These resident reptiles are plentiful and feisty, especially during the height of mating season in May. Catch an airboat tour in Myakka River State Park for an exciting, and safe, alligator experience.
Ever see a red-shouldered hawk do battle with an osprey over a freshly caught fish? Birding (or bird watching) is the number one form of outdoor recreation in the United States today. You’ll find prime wild locations in Sarasota County to view many bird species. Winter months are best.
Dunes form where waves encourage the accumulation of sand, and where prevailing onshore winds blow this sand inland. The wind then shifts the sand around and gradually causes the dune to “migrate” inland and accumulate more and more sand. Seaoats often grow on coastal dunes in Florida, providing added beauty to the landscape.
Bottlenose dolphins are the most common and well-known oceanic dolphins. They live in warm seas worldwide, and can often be spotted in Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Nearby Mote Marine Laboratory and its collaborators operate the longest running dolphin research program in the world. Scientists have now studied several generations of dolphins in Sarasota Bay.
An ecosystem is made up of a group of living things, their habitats and the interactions between them. There are many different kinds of habitats within an ecosystem, and these differences provide organisms with diverse resources that allow them to survive in nature. Ecosystems can be permanent or temporary and usually form a number of food webs.
A habitat is the home or environment of a living thing and provides the food, water, and shelter that a plant or animal needs in order to live and grow. It might be helpful to think of your house as a habitat that you use to find food, water, and shelter.
A hammock is a habitat that is densely shaded by a canopy of oak, hickory and palm trees. Hammocks usually have a sparse groundcover that leaves the forest floor mostly open for animals to travel through. Hammocks also provide a reprieve from the sun for animals and humans alike.
The Intracoastal Waterway is a 3,000 mile waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Some sections consist of natural inlets, salt-water rivers, bays, and sounds; others are man-made canals. It provides a navigable route along its length without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea. Some parks on this website were partially created from spoil when the Intracoastal Waterway was dug in the early 1960's.
Mangroves are tropical trees that grow in or near salt water along sheltered coastlines and estuaries. The decomposing leaf litter of mangroves provides an enormous amount of food for marine life. Mangroves also filter sediments and pollution, and help prevent erosion by stabilizing shorelines with their specialized root systems.
A marsh is a flat area that has plants, but no trees, and is often flooded. Marshes in southwest Florida usually have cattails, swamp hibiscus, sawgrass and water loving wildflowers. Like the swamp, water levels in the marsh change throughout the year, but a marsh will often dry up in the dry season and sometimes even burn. Many wading birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and fish call the marsh home.
Pine flatwoods are the most common natural community throughout Florida. A pine flatwood habitat has a thin canopy of long-leaf pine and slash pine trees, with a dense floor of saw palmettos, woody shrubs, wild grasses, and wildflowers. Pine flatwoods provide habitat for many kinds of animals.
A preserve or reserve is a protected area of importance for wildlife, flora, fauna, and sites of geological or special interest. Most preserves are open for the public to enjoy. Anyone can help a local community or conservation group raise funds to purchase land for preservation.
Scrubby flatwoods have an open canopy of widely spaced pine trees and a low, shrubby understory, often interspersed with areas of sand. Scrubby flatwoods were once widespread throughout Sarasota County, but have been largely consumed by development. Oscar Scherer State Park preserves a large acreage of scrubby flatwoods, making the park one of the best places to see Florida scrub jays, a threatened bird species found only in Florida.
Florida scrub-jays are a threatened bird species found only in Florida. Their natural habitat of scrubby and pine flatwoods was once widespread throughout Sarasota County, but has been largely consumed by development. Oscar Scherer State Park is a great place to see these highly intelligent birds that often show off for hikers along the trails.
These unusual marine flowering plants are called seagrasses because the leaves are long and narrow and are usually green. Seagrass beds can host more than 43 million animals per acre and provide food for marine life. A major threat to the plants is propeller scarring; it is estimated that it can take up to seven years for seagrass to fully recover from a single prop scar.
Sea turtle nests
Sea turtle nesting season runs May 1 – October 31. Sarasota County has the highest density of loggerhead sea turtles nesting on Florida’s west coast. The female loggerheads climb up on the beach and lay their eggs in the sand. Hatchlings emerge from the nest primarily at night and move towards the brightest direction, normally the open night sky and its reflection on the water. Artificial lights on the beach will disorient them.
Urban pocket park
These parks, found throughout urban Sarasota, not only provide outdoor recreation, but also preserve habitat for plants and animals, and preserve the tree canopy. A tree’s branches and leaves form a canopy which catches rain that is either retained in the leaves or flows down the trunk and into the ground. This helps keep rainwater near the tree and prevents pollutants from washing over hard surfaces and into our waterways.
A watershed is the land area that drains water into a canal, stream, river, bay or other body of water. Rain falling in Sarasota County either soaks into the ground or flows over land and becomes part of a larger body of water. How we treat the land affects the quality of our water – and our own quality of life.
A wetland is an area of land where the soil is saturated with moisture, either permanently or seasonally, and may be covered by shallow pools of water. The importance of wetlands is recognized as critical to a healthy watershed. Wetlands not only filter pollutants and provide habitat, but also hold water during dry periods and help prevent flooding during rainy seasons.
Wild and Scenic Myakka River
The Myakka River was designated a Florida “Wild and Scenic River” by the State legislature in 1985. It is the only river in Florida to be recognized with this special status. The act provides for preservation and management of the 34 mile portion of the river within Sarasota County.