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Take a Hike around the Park

Welcome to Vitambi Springs, situated on the east side of the Devil’s Garden Area of the Everglades, just 20 miles south of Lake Okeechobee. Being surrounded by orange grove and sugar cane fields, we are an important natural habitat for the local wildlife. On our 269 acres are found many of the different Everglades habitats, all easily accessible in one park. We have open prairie, wetlands for wading birds, pine flats for the high flyers and countless tree hammocks bursting with life from the ground up.

This area, called The Devil’s Garden, since the Seminole Indian wars, when once these dry islands gave refuge to Indians at war in the midst of this vast “River of Grass”. Invaders were dreading alligators, snakes, spiders and mosquitos. The god-fearing soldiers dared not enter The Devils Garden. The local Seminole tribe lays claim as the only U.S. tribe of “Unconquered People”.

Having been drained for agriculture in the early 1900s, these natural habitats are now easily accessible. Be sure to bring your binoculars and camera. You will also need a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. We recommend boots, pants and lightweight long-sleeve shirt. Of course there are those that wear nothing at all while hiking in our piece of The Devil’s Garden.

Around the lake district and it’s wetlands; Sandhill Cranes, Ibis, Limpkins, and if you’re lucky some Roseate Spoonbills can be seen. Keep an eye out for the Snail Kite that thrives here feasting on snails and other treats found in the wetlands. The feather in your cap comes with spotting a Crested Caracara that looks like a hawk, behaves like a vulture but is technically a falcon. It’s instantly recognizable by its large size, yellow legs and neon orange face.

By day, the Red Shouldered Hawk is the master of the oak hammocks, easily picking off snakes, rodents and frogs, but by night it’s the Barred Owls’ domain. Be aware, you may walk within inches of these silent night hunters without noticing.

Making a lot of noise by night are the nine-banded armadillos. They are common here in So. Florida but not native, introduced here in the early 1900’s. Nine bands of plates cover the body and 12 bands cover the long tail. It has a small, tapered head and snout and a long tongue. It is primarily nocturnal, and a burrower. It digs a series of dens with multiple entrances, usually protected by stumps of trees. Its diet is composed of insects, especially beetles, and other invertebrates plus some plant foods such as roots and berries. When someone runs in and swears there was an elephant just outside their tent – it was always an armadillo. Yellow Belly Turtles occupy the ponds, swamps and marshes here and are most active in the morning, often seen basking in the sun. The shell of the adult yellow belly turtle averages between 8 and 10 inches, females are slightly bigger and can sometimes reach 11 inches. Its skin is predominantly olive-green, but features odd patches of yellow on the legs and neck. Males eat more meat than females; hatchlings also eat more meat, in the form of insects, tadpoles, spiders and worms, than adult turtles do. You’ll often see a female walking around looking for a comfortable place to dig a hole and lay eggs. Unfortunately, a raccoon is usually nearby watching.

Snakes are found all over Florida and the majority are harmless. Of the 50 established species and 45 subspecies found in Florida only 6 species are venomous. All snakes are carnivorous and a benefit to humans. For example, rat snakes eat rodents such as mice and rats, and king snakes eat these rodents as well as other snakes, including venomous snakes.

Wild boars were brought to Florida in 1539, when swine were brought to provision a settlement close by at Charlotte Harbor in Lee County. They enjoy wallowing in the mud and do so to stay cool when hot and to keep pests at bay. They rub against small trees to sharpen their tusks and to relieve itching. Wild boars have excellent hearing and a great sense of smell but their eyesight, although not terrible, is not as strong as their other senses. The wild boar will eat a large variety of foods; it is classified as an omnivore. Both the males and females have tusks that they use to keep themselves or their young from harm.

A beautiful family of White-tailed Deer live here at Vitambi feeding primarily on twigs and leaves and often acorns, fruits, and mushrooms. Only the Males have antlers and are largest at 6-10 years old. They shed their antlers in late winter and regrow 6-8 weeks later. Breeding season is from September to March. About 200 days later, a litter of 1-3 fawns is born. The young will remain with her until they are 6-18 months old. We have named all the males, Buck (there’s one called Washington) all the females are just, Mom. Then of course, you’re sure to see the “one” everyone calls, Bambi.

The Florida otter’s body is very streamlined and flexible, generally 18 to 42 inches in length with the male being larger than the female. Their coat is water repellent, short, smooth and dense having short legs and webbed toes to aid them in swimming. Otters can swim 3-4 mph underwater and up to 6 mph on the surface. They can stay submerged for up to 4 minutes When the mothers have established their domain; they give birth to several kits. Litter size can reach five, but usually ranges from one to three. A family has been spotted living near our Palm Forest RV Park

The Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammals on earth. It is tawny brown on its back and pale gray underneath. Their population is Estimated at 100-160 adults in the only known breeding population (South Florida). They are solitary and territorial animals that travel hundreds of miles within their home range. Panthers are mostly active between dusk and dawn, and rest during the heat of the day. Males have a home range of 200 square miles and females about 75 square miles so their sighting are rare in these parts but not unheard of.

Bobcats in Florida are neither rare nor endangered, as a limited bobcat season exists statewide. Their density runs as high as 80 individuals per 100 square miles. But they are reclusive creatures. The bobcats tend to stay out of the developed areas, but they often aren’t far away. Weighing in at less than 35 pounds, the average bobcat sticks to a territory of between five and six square miles. Primarily hunting at night, they track down rabbits, rats, small mammals and occasionally a small unlucky bird.