25 Mammals You Can See In Florida


The Sunshine State, otherwise known as Florida, regularly teems with tourists, but far from the bustling crowd, there are also some special mammals that you won’t find elsewhere.

Tourists, or locals, may be lucky enough to enjoy an encounter with one of the many mammals residing in the State, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. 

Florida’s tropical climate and the diverse biosphere is home to a large variety of land and aquatic mammals. The swampy southern part of Florida is a large wetland spanning 1.5 million acres, and while the ever-increasing destruction of the wetlands is real, this also brings about an ever-growing list of endangered animals found in Florida.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the barriers separating humans and wildlife have greatly diminished resulting in more chance encounters with one another.  These encounters can be scary or unpleasant due to a lack of human understanding. 

You might be surprised to note that the status of many Floridian animal species, both native and non-native, have significantly been affected by human activity, in some cases, resulting in their imminent extinction.  

The Everglades is best visited during the dry season when temperatures are more comfortable, and animals are more visible due to the receding waters.

Florida Panther  

Florida’s state animal, the panther is also its most endangered mammal. The Florida panther population’s most significant threat has been humans. A combination of their ever-dissipating habitat and hunting has resulted in their current imperilled status.  They also have small litters of just one to four kittens which makes the increase of the population very slow.

With as little as 120 left in the wild, these carnivorous, rust-coloured, solitary animals are a rare sight indeed.  Locals and tourists must learn to co-exist with these powerful cats as they are protected, making it illegal to harm them.

Bobcat

These exotic bearded felines, aptly named after the short ‘bobbed’ tail, have tufted ears, spotted backs and bellies.  They come in beautiful hues ranging from golden to smoky blue. Every Bobcat has a uniquely patterned coat, which not only conceals them in the wild but makes them easily identifiable. 

As tame as they may appear, they have an aggressive side and are known to be unpredictable and moody. They sleep for a mere 2 to 3 hours and prefer to hunt at night. These highly adaptable felines are comfortable in a variety of habitats and mark their territory in the usual feline way, with urine, faeces, and the addition of scratch marks to mark boundaries. 

The bobcat prefers to live in rocky outcrops which is where they choose to birth their young. 

Jaguarundi

The exact year of the introduction of the Jaguarundi to Florida is unknown, but it is said to be around the 1940s when a few were either released or escaped from captivity. Being the least catlike in its appearance, they are sometimes mistaken for otters or weasels due to their flattened head and small, rounded ears. 

The coloring of their coats is an indication of their habitat with darker colors appearing on jaguarundi in wetter areas and lighter colors appearing in drier regions. 

They are dependent on the density of the local flora to hunt successfully. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission do not list Jaguarundi, and its supposed existence in Florida continues to be a mystery.

White-Nosed Coati 

White nosed coati

Originating in Central America, this introduced species resembles a raccoon, but whereas the raccoon has a black mask, the coati has a white mask and is larger growing to a length of about 4 feet. 

They also have a longer nose, which it uses to sniff out prey. It is omnivorous and feeds on mammals, insects, lizards, and fruit. Coatis are found in grasslands and deserts but prefer to live in forests.  They are active during the day making them slightly easier to spot.  Coati is invasive because they have adapted their diets to include human-generated pollutants, which could harm the food chain within which it exists. 

There have been a few sightings of the white-nosed coati in Florida, but whether they have firmly established themselves in the Sunshine State is unknown.

Florida Black Bear 

The Florida Black bear is the only bear found in Florida, and its fur is black with no variation in color like the black bears found elsewhere. They are concentrated in just eight habitats and roam over large areas, foraging for food. 

They are capable of running faster than a human Olympic athlete, but rarely use their speed. Their excellent sense of smell means that they can detect food from more than 1,500 meters away, and their bear courage will have them entering human territory scavenging for food in urban areas.

Overall, they are solitary except during mating season and the short time after.  It is interesting to note that black bears do not hibernate.  However, they do laze around in their dens during the winter months, which are very mild in Florida. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has made “bear-proof” trashcans available. If you live in Florida or are visiting, do your part in protecting the local wildlife and use one of these bins.  These reduce and prevent bear encounters brought about by the aroma of food. 

If you would like more details on black bears, I have written a complete guide here.

Red Wolf

The Everglades National Park in Florida has become a much-needed sanctuary for the Red Wolf, which up to this day teeters the fine line near extinction.

Although extinct in the wild by the 1980s, they were “saved” through a reintroduction program. The leading cause of their dwindling numbers has been hunting. 

Red wolves have proven to be a pest for hunters in the past who claim that the feral canines eat “their” deer.  Apart from deer, they subsist on small mammals such as rabbits.

It is interesting to note that Red Wolves live twice as long in captivity than in the wild, increasing their lifespan from about 7 to 15 years.  There may be hybrids around due to inbreeding, and these cause further threats to the species.  

Gray Fox 

Gray fox

These small foxes are more agile than a regular canine and can climbs trees. Several characteristics, both instinctual and learned, have served them well, and they are widespread as a result. Occasionally straying from its carnivorous diet by eating fruits and berries results in an abundance of food.

The gray fox is known for being skittish around humans and stays hidden from predators under bushy vegetation.  Gray fur covers the majority of the body, but its name is deceiving because it does have some red, white, black and yellow colored hair.  

Key Deer 

These endangered small deer are found only in the Florida Keys due to loss of habitat and human poaching. They utilize every kind of habitat and owe their continued existence to the National Key Deer Refuge, which has put measures in place to prevent their extinction. 

The key deer thrive around fresh water sources and have taken to feeding in artificially created environments.  Although these environments have helped, they have also had the adverse effect of promoting disease.  

Females birth only one fawn a year after about 6.5 months of pregnancy. Bucks reach a maximum shoulder height of about 32 inches, while females are smaller with a maximum shoulder height of around 28 inches.

Everglades Mink 

The Everglades mink is one of three species of mink found in Florida, but this particular one is the only one found in the fresh, shallow waters of the Everglades. They have dark brown fur, beady eyes, a smooth head, short legs, a bushy tail, and tiny ears.  

The Everglades mink are a relative of the weasel. They are semi-aquatic with webbing between their toes. 

Scaring one might be an unpleasant experience, for both human and animal, as it growls aggressively and hisses culminating in a liquid attack that emits a potent stench. This same odor is used to alert other minks of their presence.

The mink are solitary, nocturnal creatures and opportunistic in terms of their eating habits, consuming anything from insects to fish to amphibians, reptiles, and small animals. They give birth in dens with litters of about three to six. 

Florida Salt Marsh Vole

As its name suggests, this medium-sized rodent is found only on the salty grasslands of Florida, near Cedar Key and within the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.  With such a small and concentrated population, this species is under constant threat of being wiped out. 

Any changes in its habitat or a natural disaster could spell the end for this tiny mammal. The vole has dark brown back hair and a silver stomach. It spans about 17.5 cm in length.  They are very rare and you would be quite lucky to spot a salt marsh vole. 

Opossum

Opossums are the only marsupial in North America.  They carry their babies in a pouch on their front. They are small like a domestic cat and have 50 teeth enabling the possum to deliver a painful bite when threatened.

They are a low-risk threat to humans and pets but may carry diseases. Farmers might find them more of a nuisance because they eat crops and small livestock.  Known for playing dead when cornered, this is an involuntary action.  They also secrete a nasty smell to confuse animals that are attacking them into thinking they have passed away.

If you would like to know if opossums are dangerous, I have written an article here.

Armadillo

The armadillo is not native to Florida but have made it their home from as early as the 1920s. The North American armadillos appear to be armored due to their hard exterior made up of nine bands of bony plates, but they cannot curl up into a ball like their three-banded cousins. 

They are related to anteaters and sloths found in South America. However, Florida’s subtropical climate is perfect for these ancient creatures who have low body temperatures and sluggish metabolisms. 

They are nocturnal and have very poor eyesight. However, they are excellent swimmers and diggers. If you do happen to come across an armadillo, keep a distance because they can carry diseases, such as leprosy.

An interesting fact about this critter is that the female armadillos is the only animal in the world to give birth to identical quadruplets with each litter sharing the same gender every single time.

If you would like to know more about the armadillo, I have written 101 facts here.

Sherman’s Short-Tailed Shrew 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

This large gray-haired shrew is a subspecies of the short-tailed shrew, which was discovered by William John Hamilton, a New York mammalogist, who went on to name the creature after the scientist, Harley B. Sherman. 

It grows up to 10 cm in length and has small eyes and ears. It’s fast heart rate, and high metabolism requires it to feed regularly at 2 to 3-hour intervals. They are an insectivore with a broad range of habitats, which include a mix of fragrant grasslands and moist forest environments. 

They breed twice a year and reach sexual maturity at around nine months. Not much is known about this decreasing species due to predatory wild cats and urbanization.

American Beaver

Florida’s largest rodent is similar in build to the otter, very sleek and muscular with webbed feet.  The tail resembles a paddle, which it uses to navigate through waters.

Beavers are nocturnal and renowned for their building skills.  They build dams to either slow water or to use as lodging in which they house themselves.

Beavers are an engineering marvel and their activities intricately alter the landscape and as a result, the ecosystem, in a positive way for both plants and animals.

If you want more information about beavers, I have written a couple of articles, which you can find here, here, and here.

Florida Bonneted Bat  

With a wingspan of 51 cm, the bonneted bat is Florida’s most abundant species of bat. Its name stems from the fact that its large ears reach over its head like a bonnet. Its coloring varies from black to brown to gray. 

Restricted to Southern Florida, environmental factors, such as the rising sea level, threatens this rare creature’s habitat, They live in small colonies and are not fussy about where they roost.  Natural disasters have destroyed much of their preferred roosting locations, such as hollow dead trees.  Although not much is known about this bat, their calls can be heard by humans and are said to fly higher than other species of bat. Their diet consists mainly of flying insects, and they may fly for miles at night in search of prey. 

Jamaican Fruit-Eating Bat

This bat is smaller than the Florida bonneted bat with a wingspan of 41 cm. It resides in the south of Florida, and its most distinguishing feature is its nose, which resembles a leaf. 

It is frugivorous, preferring fruit of the aromatic variety with figs being their favorite. However, they also munch on flowers, leaves, nectar, and pollen and are good at dispersing seeds. 

Likened to nomads or vagrants who migrate and have no permanent residency, they are referred to as an ‘accidental’ species of Florida.  The unusual behavior of this bat is its technique of creating a protective structure resembling a tent using pinnate palms. 

Oldfield Mouse

This nocturnal rodent prefers the sandy areas of northern and central Florida where it burrows in the soil. Its fur comes in a variety of shades of brown, which allows it to blend in with its sandy habitat making it harder to spot. 

Watch out when you visit the beach as they burrow into the dunes. They are capable of breeding at an impressive rate of every 30 days. They form strong mating bonds and are monogamous, helping one another to raise their young. 

The Oldfield mice along the coast enjoy a diet that consists primarily of seasonal seeds, while those inland will feast on acorns. They also consume insects and nuts. 

They have a large number of predators ranging from snakes, cats, owls, and raccoons to skunks, weasels, and herons. 

Florida Mouse

The Florida mouse population inhabits the drier northern part of Florida, although they are decreasing due to urbanization, invasive alien species, disease, and climate change. Its habitats are shrublands, grasslands, savanna, and forests.  

They have large ears and reach lengths of approximately 22 cm. Its silky fur is brown with an orange tinge on the cheeks, shoulders, and sides of the body. They are nocturnal and omnivorous, with plants and insects making up the majority of its diet. 

They live in colonies, and their burrows have multiple entrances.  They sometimes use the burrows of other mammals, such as the Gopher tortoise or Oldfield mouse to live.

Star-Nosed Mole

These small moles live in the wetlands of the Okefenokee Swamp, and in the Counties of Leon and Alachua. Their main identifying feature is their nose, which is surrounded by 22 pink tentacle-like appendages resembling a pink star that it uses as feelers. 

Their nose makes up for their poor eyesight. They are monogamous and rear their young in underground tunnels with a litter size of 2 to 7 babies. 

As alien as this mole appears, it is impressive in that it’s the fastest-eating mammal alive taking as little as 120 milliseconds to identify and consume prey.

They consume fish, small invertebrate such as worms, and amphibians. Another fantastic fact is that it can smell underwater using air bubbles, which it exhales and inhales to carry scent back to its star-shaped nose! 

River Otter

The river otter is an aquatic mammal but is at home in both water and on land. Their sleek bodies are adapted for swimming with webbed feet, a strong flat tail and strong muscles which give them an advantage from predators. 

They never stray far from fresh water and live in burrows along Florida’s watery banks except the Florida Keys. 

The river otter is at the top of its food chain and prefer to eat crayfish and fish which are easier to catch. 

They don’t hibernate as they have a layer of fat insulating them against the cold under a thick fur coat, which has been the envy of humans who have hunted them for their pelt.

If you have ever wondered why otters hold hands, I have written an article which you can find here.

Manatee

This large aquatic mammal lives along Florida’s coast but migrates north during warmer months. They may grow up to 13 feet long, and their anatomy makes them strong swimmers, as they have a broad tail and flipper-like limbs. 

They inhabit both salt and fresh water and are herbivores, grazing much in the same way that cows do but in shallow waters. Human interaction is detrimental to the manatee as they come into contact with marine equipment such as propellers, which may injure them. 

They have extended resting periods of up to 12 hours, which allow algae and barnacles to grow on the surface of their skin. These growths detach when manatees migrate. 

Their lives exceed 65 years in captivity. They like to travel solo but are sociable when encountering other manatees. Their movements are mainly based around searching for warm waters, finding a mate, or finding a place to rest. Breeding occurs all year round. 

Manatees are best spotted during winter or the start of Spring.

If you would like further details about the manatee, I have written an article with 101 facts which you can find here.

LESS COMMONLY FOUND MAMMALS 

Blue Whale

If you want to spot the largest mammal on earth, you may be able to spot them off the coast of Florida.  These gentle giants reach lengths of 30 meters and weigh around 200 tonnes. They are carnivorous and feed on small crustaceans called krill.  When hunting, they twist and turn their bodies to help sweep the krill into their mouths. 

In summer they enjoy ice-cold polar waters, however, in winter they migrate towards the Equator. Female whales are bigger than their male counterparts and give birth to just one calf after a year of gestation. This species is protected from commercial whaling due to a massive decrease in numbers during the latter part of the  20th century. 

If you want further details about blue whales, you can find 101 facts about them from me here.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

These social creatures prefer warm to tropical waters and are found only in the Atlantic ocean. Dolphins are complex creatures who live in pods, which vary in size depending on site.  WIthin these pods, they have a social hierarchy divided by age and gender. 

Males and females are generally the same in length at 2.3 meters with the females reaching sexual maturity about eight years before the males at around ten years of age. 

Atlantic spotted dolphins have been known to mate with the bottle-nosed dolphins, who are more commonly found in Florida. They communicate with one another through a variety of squawks and whistles, while a third sound, the click, is used for navigation, hunting and as a defense mechanism against predators.  

If you’re headed to Sarasota, the best time to spot dolphins is in the morning during their feeding time.

Bryde’s Whale 

These social creatures prefer warm to tropical waters and are found only in the Atlantic ocean. Dolphins are complex creatures who live in pods, which vary in size depending on site.  WIthin these pods, they have a social hierarchy divided by age and gender. 

Pronounced ‘Brood-dess’, they were named after Johan Brydes who built a whaling station in South Africa. They are found throughout the world but restrict their travel to tropical and subtropical waters only. 

They live alone or in pairs and feed on krill, plankton, and various crustaceans. They feed through a method known as lunge feeding. They swallow large quantities of water teeming with prey, which is then filtered out using coordinated movements of their throat pleats, Y-shaped cartilage, and lower jaw. This method helps whales maintain their gigantic size. 

Harbor seal 

The harbor seal is found in numerous locations throughout the north Atlantic, and North Pacific oceans, with the western Atlantic harbor seal occasionally wondering into Florida’s waters as they prefer ice-free water. 

Seals are social creatures who live in large communities and feed on all types of marine life from fish, mussels, and crustaceans. They have flippers and are excellent swimmers.  Fisherman generally considers Harbor seals a nuisance.

Where To See Them

If you are interested in seeing any of the fantastic mammals that Florida has to offer, there are many parks and wild refuges you can visit. The following are a few of many places you might consider:

  • Myakka River State Park (Armadillo)
  • Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
  • Big Pine Key (Key deer)
  • National Key Deer Refuge (Key deer)
  • Blue Spring State Park (Manatees)
  • Three Sisters Springs (Manatees)
  • Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (Manatees)
  • Wekiwa Springs State Park (Florida bears, Bobcats)
  • St Marks National Wildlife Refuge (Bobcats)
  • Ochlock River State Park (Fox, Squirrels)
  • Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (Florida panthers)
  • The Everglades (Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, Florida panthers, Manatees)

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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