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The manatee (Trichechus manatus), also called a sea cow, is a gray, waterplant-eating, gentle giant that reaches eight to fourteen feet in length and can weigh more than a ton. It was designated the state marine mammal in 1975.
Manatees are on the endangered species list, but chances for their survival are good if humans' activities can be controlled. Of all the known causes of manatee fatalities, humans are responsible for about half of the deaths. The most-common cause of death for manatees is being struck by boats and barges. Also, the propeller blades of speeding boats can cut a manatee's hide to ribbons. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 and later regulations have limited the speed of boats in waters populated by manatees during winter months, when more than 1,500 of the creatures swim to warm bays and rivers to avoid pneumonia and death.
The most endangered of all Florida's symbols is its state animal, the panther (Felis concolor coryi) which was chosen in 1982 by a vote of students throughout the state.
The Florida Panther is a large, long-tailed, pale brown cat that grows to six feet or longer. Its habitat is usually the same as that of the white-tailed deer, which is the mainstay of its diet.
Much folklore surrounds these seldom-seen cats, sometimes called "catamounts" or "painters," and they have been persecuted out of fear and misunderstanding of the role these large predators play in the natural ecosystem. Human population growth has been the primary threat to the panther's range and continues to diminish the quality of existing habitats.
The Panther has been protected from legal hunting in Florida since 1958. It has been on the federal endangered species list since 1967 and on the state's endangered list since 1973. The future of this large animal depends entirely on the management decisions that are made today on its behalf. The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission is responsible for management and preservation of this endangered State Animal, but only with your support will the Florida Panther remain a part of our unique wildlife community.
One of America's most-prized game fish, the Florida largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridamus) seems to grow to unusually large size in Florida waters. It can reach a length of more than twenty inches and weigh more than fifteen pounds. This black bass is an elongated sunfish, whose distinguishing feature, aside from its exceptionally large mouth, is a deep notch in the dorsal fin. Largemouth bass usually live in quiet waters that contain bountiful vegetation.
The 1975 legislature designated the Florida largemouth bass as the official state freshwater fish.
In 1987 the Florida legislature designated the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) as the official state reptile. Long an unofficial symbol of the state, the alligator originally symbolized Florida's extensive untamed wilderness and swamps. Alligators are found throughout Florida and in parts of other southeastern states. They prefer lakes, swamps, canals, and other wetland habitats.
Alligators eat fish, turtles, and a variety of other animals. In late June and early July, female alligators usually lay thirty to fifty eggs in mound-shaped nests made of reeds and other vegetation. Baby alligators hatch after an incubation period of about two months. When hatched, alligators are already fully developed and about eight inches long. Mature alligators usually range from six to twelve feet in length, with females rarely exceeding nine feet.
Because alligators are cold-blooded, we often see them sunning on logs or on banks near water. Gators can move surprisingly fast over short distances, and their powerful jaws and swinging tails make them dangerous to approach. Female alligators are particularly aggressive when guarding their nests. Alligators should not be fed, since this causes them to lose their fear of humans, and feeding is against Florida statutes.
Today, the alligator is no longer on the endangered-species list, because the reptile has successfully repopulated itself after having been over-exploited by illegal hide hunters. Alligators are now under controlled management by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission to preserve the species and the wetland habitats that they and other Florida wildlife inhabit.
Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) are not unique to Florida; they are found nearly everywhere there is warm ocean water. However, Florida sailfishing is legendary, especially in the Fort Pierce, Miami, and Keys areas during colder months. Sailfish migrate southward as the weather chills in the north.
The sailfish can reach speeds of sixty m.p.h. The average size of sailfish found in Florida is approximately six to seven feet and thirty to forty-five pounds. (The author Ernest Hemingway landed a nine-foot, on-inch sailfish off Key West in 1934.)
The 1975 Florida legislature adopted the Atlantic sailfish as the state's official saltwater fish.
The blossom of the orange tree (Citrus sinensis) is one of the most fragrant flowers in Florida. Millions of these white flowers perfume the atmosphere throughout central and south Florida during orange blossom time. The orange blossom was selected as the state flower by the 1909 legislature.
The sabal palm (Sabal palmetto) is the most widely distributed palm in Florida. It grows in almost any soil and has many uses, including food, medicine, and landscaping. The 1953 Florida legislature designated the sabal palm as the state tree, and the 1970 legislature mandated that the sabal palm should replace the cocoa palm on the state seal.
Stephen C. Foster wrote "The Swanee River (Old Folks at Home)" in 1851. After Foster wrote the song, he sold it to E. P. Christy, a businessman who operated a series of minstrel shows.
Foster is reported to have chosen the term "Swanee" because its two-syllable cadence fit nicely into the music he had composed. The composer was not familiar with the Florida section of the Suwannee River, because he never visited the state. A memorial center at White Springs, Florida, honors Foster, who authored about 200 popular songs during his prolific career.
Representative S. P. Robineau of Miami introduced House Concurrent Resolution No. 22 in 1935, designating "Swanee River" as the official state song. It replaced "Florida, My Florida," which had been adopted as the state song in 1913.
The Suwannee River flows in a southerly direction from the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. The river separates the Florida panhandle from the rest of the state.
The Swanee River
Way down upon the
Far, far away,
There’s where my heart is turning ever,
There’s where the old folks stay.
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for the old plantation,
And for the old folks at home.
All the world is sad and dreary
Everywhere I roam.
O brothers, how my heart grows weary,
Far from the old folks at home.
All ‘round the little farm I wander’d,
When I was young;
Then many happy days I squander’d,
Many the songs I sung.
When I was playing with my brother,
Happy was I.
Oh, take me to my kind old mother,
There let me live and die.
One little hut among the bushes,
One that I love.
Still sadly to my memory rushes,
No matter where I rove.
When will I see the bees a humming,
All ‘round the comb?
When shall I hear the banjo strumming,
Down in my good old home.
Coral is the outside skeleton of tiny ocean animals called polyps, which live in colonies attached to hard underwater surfaces. When alive, polyps combine their own carbon dioxide with the lime in warm seawater to form a limestone-like hard surface, or coral.
Agatized coral occurs when silica in the ocean water hardens, replacing the limy corals with a form of quartz known as chalcedony. This long process (20-30 million years) results in the formation of a "pseudomorph," meaning that one mineral has replaced another without having lost its original form. In 1979 agatized coral was designated the official state stone.
Agatized coral is found in three main Florida locations: Tampa Bay, the Econfina River, and the Withlacoochee/Suwannee river beds.
Whenever the words "orange juice" are read, written, or spoken, many people automatically think of Florida.
During the Second World War, scientists invented a process for making concentrated orange juice. Soon, a frozen concentrate was developed that transformed orange juice production into a multi-billion-dollar industry. In 1967 the Florida legislature designated orange juice as the official state beverage.
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