Above the surface of the water, springs are home to many of the most recognizable mammals in Florida. Some, like deer and otters, can be found at the springs year-round. Silver Springs and the Silver River are even the year-around home to several tribes of rhesus macaque monkeys. In the winter the springs, which maintain a constant water temperature of about 70 degrees, provide a warm-water refuge for species like the Manatee. Meet the furry residents of springs!
West Indian Manatee
The West Indian manatee is by far the most famous and recognizable of all the springs’ residents. These gentle, friendly mammals are most often encountered migrating into spring runs where they congregate in the winter to take advantage of the springs’ constant 70 degree temperatures and plant-rich waters.
Seeing a river otter slip quietly into the water along one of Florida’s many spring-fed streams is an exhilarating wildlife encounter. Otters are secretive, but commonly inhabit Florida’s springs where they den in the banks and swim the river in search of fish and crustaceans.
Though rarely seen during the day, the presence of Beavers along many of Florida’s springs is apparent by their obvious stick dams and small fallen trees where they have gnawed the bark off with their sharp front teeth. Beavers feed primarily on the bark of sweetgum and willow trees.
The common name refers to the tail; it is black/brown above and white below. White-tailed deer can be found throughout Florida from the panhandle to the keys. They prefer habitats with young, low-growing vegetation and edges where the intersection of two different habitats allows deer to easily feed and avoid predators. Deer are most active at dawn and dusk. They are primarily browsers, feeding on the leaves, shoots, flowers and fruits of trees, shrubs, and forbs.
The nine-banded armadillo, named for the nine breaks in the leathery armor that allow it to flex its stiff hide, is an odd-looking mammal about the size of a cat. When armadillos need to cross narrow water bodies, they often walk on the bottom underwater. If it is a wide body of water, they will inflate their stomach to twice its normal size, allowing for enough buoyancy to swim across. When startled, armadillos often leap high into the air, and then run quickly to a nearby burrow.
The cottontail is grayish-brown with a distinctive white “powder puff” tail. It measures 14 to 17 inches in length and weighs two to four pounds. The marsh rabbit is slightly smaller, darker brown, and has coarser hair than the cottontail. It has a small inconspicuous tail that is dingy white on the underside. Marsh rabbits will often walk rather than hop as most rabbits do.