Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to many common, and some not so common questions asked by our visitors. If you feel we've left one out, please let us know!



How many Florida panthers exist in the wild?
The panther population is estimated between 130-160 cats within the state. Big Cypress National Preserve is home to approximately 30-35 of those cats. Discover more about panthers by clicking here. Find a fact sheet here.

What is the difference between an American alligator and an American crocodile?
Both are large reptilians that can be found in south Florida, the only place in the world where the animals coexist. Primarily alligators are found in freshwater habitats and crocodiles in coastal estuaries (they are better at expelling salt from the water).

Other differences include their coloration, alligators are black while crocodiles tend to be an olive green. Finally, the main way to tell the difference is by the shapes of their snouts. Alligators have a blunt "U" shaped nose while crocodiles have a more pointed "A" shaped nose.

Alligators can be found in several areas of the Preserve, while there has been only one recorded sighting of a crocodile. Primarily, crocodiles are found near Key Largo, and in Florida Bay. The crocodile is an endangered species with an estimated population of about 1,500 animals, all of which are in Florida within the United States. Find a fact sheet here.

Do you feed the alligators? Why are there so many here?
Since all of our alligators are wild, we do not feed them. In fact doing so is dangerous and illegal. Fed alligators lose their natural fear of humans and become a threat to public safety, and in some instances must be destroyed -- "a fed gator is a dead gator." Click here for More information regarding getting along with alligators.

Some areas of the Preserve, such as the Oasis Visitor Center are a natural draw to alligators due to the ideal habitat for them, especially during the dry season's which is typically from December through May. Find a fact sheet here.

What areas are good for wildlife viewing?
HP Williams Roadside Park, Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center, and Oasis Visitor Center are good for viewing alligators and manatees. Canoeists can paddle Turner River during the winter through mangrove tunnels and view a wide variety of wading birds. Kirby Storter Roadside Park offers a great opportunity to walk through an impressive cypress strand without getting your feet wet. Manatees can often be seen at Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center during the winter months.

Should I be concerned about venomous snakes? Alligators? Toxic plants?
Four species of venomous snakes - the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, dusky pigmy rattlesnake, water moccasin (cottonmouth), and coral snake- live in South Florida. Snakes usually shy away from people. If you see a snake, and you are unsure what kind it is, give it a wide berth and it will not bother you. Never pick up a snake.

Despite their fearsome appearance, alligators are normally wary of people; unprovoked attacks on humans are rare. Alligators can become habituated to people and may become more aggressive. Prevent this by not feeding alligators, it is illegal to do so within Florida. As with all wild animals, it is necessary to keep a safe distance.

Certain local plants, some found nowhere else in the US, contain toxins which can cause skin reactions if contacted. If you plan to leave the trails, learn how to identify poison ivy, poisonwood, manchineel, and other poisonous plants.

What's that big black bird I see swimming and diving in the water? Why do they bask in the sun with their wings outstretched?
Approximately 206 different species of birds may be observed at the Preserve. Two of those are the cormorant and anhinga. They both swim and dive for fish. A great way of identifying them is by their beak. A straight, long beak belongs to the anhinga. If the beak has a curve at the tip, it's a cormorant.

Unlike the feathers of other birds, the cormorant and anhinga have a minimal coating of oil that repels water. The minimal amount of oil allows them to be less buoyant and better able to dive and catch prey. In order to dry off after hunting, they must later sun themselves with their wings outstretched. They also do this to warm their bodies after swimming in cool water. Find a fact sheet here.

Why are all the trees dead?
The trees devoid of needles or leaves are not dead, but dormant. These are the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) commonly found throughout Big Cypress National Preserve. The bald cypress is a deciduous conifer, meaning that they lose their needles at some point throughout the year. This loss of needles occurs in the winter months in Florida, making the branches appear dead from November to April. In early spring, they come alive again with new bright green needles, just in time for summer storms and infamous humidity.

I've seen references to "strands" and "hammocks." What are they?
A strand is a long channel of trees, usually cypress, that follows an intermittent waterway within the preserve. They tend to follow north-south orientation. They result from the underlying limestone eroding away.

A hammock is a raised "island" of hardwood trees that rise from peat deposits or limestone outcrops. Here, where pines and hardwoods have been able to colonize, their roots penetrate the underlying crevices and break up the rocks, creating, or enlarging openings in the cap-rock beneath and thereby perpetuating the hammock.


What is Big Cypress National Preserve? Why is it important?
Big Cypress National Preserve was created to protect the fresh water's natural flow from the Big Cypress Swamp into the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands. In the Preserve, fresh water feeds a mosaic of five distinct habitats in its 729,000 acres and is vital to the health of southwest Florida's estuaries and the Gulf of Mexico. Big Cypress National Preserve contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including the endangered Florida panther.

The preserve also protects the customary use and occupancy by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida as well as a variety of traditional recreational activities enjoyed by many.

When was Big Cypress National Preserve established?
October 11, 1974
How can I become a volunteer at Big Cypress National Preserve?
With over 30,000 hours of annual volunteer service, Big Cypress National Preserve has an active volunteer program! Volunteers participate in a variety of positions, including maintenance, resource management, education and outreach, and visitor services. For more information, click here.
How did the "Tamiami Trail" get its name? When was it built?
The name is a contraction of Tampa to Miami. The road was completed in 1928. The canal alongside the highway results from the excavation; soil and rock were taken from the canal to elevate the adjacent roadway above the normal water table. Built before the days of environmental awareness, the highway has a significant hydrologic impact: It constitutes a dam, or barrier, that obstructs the gradual southerly flow of water. Look closely, and you'll see differences in the landscape north and south of the road as a result of the available moisture.
Where can I bring my dog into Big Cypress National Preserve?
For the safety of your pet and wildlife, dogs and other pets are required to be on a 6-foot leash. Your pet is allowed in the campgrounds, picnic areas, around buildings, such as the Oasis Visitor Center and Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center, and parking areas. Be in control of your pet at all times and be aware of your surroundings.

Last updated: July 31, 2018

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33100 Tamiami Trail East
Ochopee, FL 34141


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