How much do you know about the Everglades? It is one of America's murkiest treasured in more ways than one. Home to abundant wildlife; verdant grasses and cypress trees; gator lovers and air boats. The Everglades were first inhabited by the Seminoles thousands of years ago, and time has buried their secrets. Since 1947, according to National Geographic, the wetland has been a national park and a nature reserve, and that isolation has obscured even more.
The land was first named Pa-hay-Okee by its original inhabitants. According to the National Park Service, the name "Everglades" comes from "forever" and the old English word for a "grassy open place."
It is the third largest National Park in the United States, but it is smaller than it was before Florida became more developed. The secret and the bizarre about those swamplands are gone, but there are so many more in the gator-filled waters of the modern national park. We've uncovered some of the weirdest and intriguing facts about the truly incredible Everglades National Park.
20 It isn't actually a swamp: it's a river.
This national park's other common name, the River of Grass, is a more accurate descriptor of this vast, verdant wetland. The Everglades are a shallow, very wide, and very slow-moving river. The water would have to be much more stagnant to make it a true swamp, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The whole ecosystem of the Everglades are a network of subtropical wetlands, lakes, and rivers, according to Live Science. This swamp-like river takes up a major portion of the tip of the Florida peninsula, though it has shrunk drastically. According to the Florida Museum, the wetlands covered 4,000 square miles, once upon a time. Today, they cover less than half of that acreage.
19 Although they’re obnoxious, mosquitoes are crazy important to the ecosystem of the Everglades
Mosquitoes bite, they buzz in your ears, they fly in your eyes. For humans, they are generally a nuisance, but they help maintain the balance of the Everglades' ecosystem. In the summer wet season, mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, and when the larvae hatch, they live in water. Female mosquitoes, who feed on blood, feast with abandon during this period to maintain the necessary protein levels to lay eggs, according to the National Park Service. The mosquito larvae are a food source for several fish species, including the Everglades Pygmy Sunfish. Did you know that mosquitoes can even bite alligators?
18 You can go “slough slogging”, a kind of very wet hike with rather limited appeal.
It's for some, but certainly not for all. Slough slogging is walking through the wetlands, which can have waters as high as waist-deep. This kind of hike is led by a ranger, according to the National Park Service – remember, there are a whole lot of gators in those waters. Even though this trek is guaranteed to be a soggy one, the rangers do take their sloggers off trail. For the uninitiated, a slough is a "a low-lying area of land that channels water through the Everglades," according to the National Park Service.
17 A “Lost Patrol” of planes disappeared while flying over the Everglades and has been associated with the Bermuda Triangle.
On December 5, 1945, five Navy torpedo bombers took off from Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station. The flight was a routine training mission, according to AJC. But their training took a fatal turn, and the squadron was never seen again. It has taken on legendary status as the Flight 19 "Lost Patrol", according to the Chicago Tribune. This Lost Patrol is a cornerstone of the Bermuda Triangle myth. Plane wrecks are found nearly as frequently in the underbrush of the Everglades as human remains. According to the Sun Sentinel, aviation experts believe that the planes went down in the Atlantic Ocean, but the belief persists that the planes crashed in the Everglades. The planes have yet to be found, but the searches for Flight 19 have uncovered other downed crafts.
16 In the 19th century, Chokoloskee Island in the Everglades was a remote hideout ideal for criminals and vagabonds, including the infamous Edgar Watson
Chokoloskee Island was wild and isolated for most of its existence. By the 1800s, it was the perfect place to go on the lam. According to Mysterious Universe, by the late 19th century, there was a community of fugitives that made Chokoloskee home. Enter Edgar Watson, who moved to the island in 1880 and started a sugar plantation. According to Mysterious Universe, he became known among villagers as a shifty character, in a community of shifty characters. There were abundant rumors that Watson had committed several crimes before coming to the island; once on the island, he nearly hurt a fellow villager following an argument. Seasonal workers on his island often disappeared after they finished working for Watson, and the remains of known former employees were found by villagers. Eventually, villagers had enough of Watson and he was no more.
15 The Everglades is the only place in the world where both alligators and crocodiles live
Can't always remember the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? Don't worry, we'll help you out. The most significant difference, according to Live Science, is that crocs usually hang out in saltwater environments, while gators tend to live in freshwater environments. Also, crocodiles have more V-shaped snouts that give them a grinning look while closed; alligators' snouts are more U-shaped and solemn (Live Science). Where the Everglades meet the coast, there is brackish and saltwater where crocodiles thrive, though they also travel farther inland, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In the waters of the Everglades, both reptiles are right at home.
14 Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 crashed in the Everglades in 1972 and the ghosts of the passengers haunt the crash site
While the Flight 19 aircraft have never been found in the Everglades, a whole host of other crashed planes have been found rusting among the grasses. One of the biggest Everglades crashes, Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, was found long before it could rust. On December 29, 1972, Flight 401 was flying from JFK Airport in New York to Miami; while over the Everglades, the crew noticed a malfunction with the landing gear light, and were distracted enough that they didn't notice that the autopilot had been turned off, according to Mysterious Universe. The plane lost altitude and crashed in the Everglades. According to Mysterious Universe, some of Flight 401's parts were salvaged and used for other planes, and 401's passengers are said to haunt these repaired planes. But the crash site is reportedly haunted, too.
13 There are several major cases of people simply disappearing in the Everglades
It is murky, muddy, and home to vicious predators; it's rather unsurprising that people on occasion disappear into thin air. According to Mysterious Universe, the swamp has had this reputation for gobbling people up, but since the nineties, there have been high profile disappearances. In 1998, fourteen-year-old Wendy Hudakoc went missing in the area, and Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos went missing in 2003, and seven-year-old Adji Desir went missing in 2009. As of 2018, none of the missing people have been discovered.
12 There are only 2 seasons in the Everglades
Quite simply, there's a wet season and a dry one. The changes of season aren't marked so much by the change in temperature or verdure as the change in water level. The dry season is in the winter, when the rains take a vacation, from December through April. Wet season is in the summer and part of hurricane season, and lasts from mid-May to November. According to the National Park Service, the dry season is when northern birds migrate to the Everglades to enjoy the warmer climates. Many also nest, lay eggs, and care for their young in the Everglades' dry season.
11 The Everglades is a freshwater ecosystem, but is also home to some saltwater fish
Remember those brackish and saltwater regions of the Everglades we talked about earlier? Those areas support saltwater fish, just like they support crocodiles. And there sure are a lot of saltwater fish. Some species include the Gulf Killifish and Tarpon; the latter fish is among the most popular for fishing in the region, according to the National Park Service. With over 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish living in the Everglades National Park, it is a popular destination for recreational fishing.
10 This renowned wetland catches on fire, a lot
Like any other forested area, the Everglades needs periodic fires to maintain the environment. Even though the environment is very wet – most of the time. There is a dry season with drought-like conditions that result in lots of tinder-dry grass and underbrush, according to Everglades Holiday Park. The National Park Services maintains a regular schedule of controlled burning, which it says is crucial to maintaining the biodiversity of the park. The Park Service conducts several "prescribed burns" per year, usually of several hundred to a thousand acres at a time. After the dry season, the rains come and the Everglades are returned to their soggy, swampy goodness.
9 The Everglades is a great place to hide things – especially evidence
That evidence is usually a body. Hundreds of corpses have been found among the grasses and muck of the Everglades. According to Mysterious Universe, US 41 and the road known as "Alligator Alley," which both wend their way through the empty grassland and the very sparsely populated Collier County, have proven popular dumping grounds. During the 1970s, so many bodies were found in the Everglades, according to Mysterious Universe, that officials suspected they might have a person of interest at large. (They didn't.) The discoveries hardly abated during the 1980s. Despite the large number of crimes, relatively few of the persons have been identified or their murders solved. There have been 175 unsolved cases in the Everglades since 1965, according to Mysterious Universe. And these are only the ones that were discovered.
8 The Everglades are being invaded! By Burmese pythons
A lot of factors have threatened the wellbeing of the Everglades, from commercial expansion to climate change. And then there are invasive species, in this case Burmese pythons. Burmese pythons are not native to Florida, but to Southeast Asia. According to the English edition of Deutsche Welle, these giant snakes were introduced to the Florida wild in the 1970s, when people released their pet pythons into the Everglades. The pythons have no predators in this nonnative environment, so they reproduced and thrived in the Everglades unheeded. According to the Sun Sentinel, a Burmese python can eat deer or alligators whole. By 2017, the impact on the native wildlife of the Everglades had gotten severe enough that the National Park Service started an official python-hunting program, according to the Sun Sentinel. They had a successful year, but there is still a long way to go to turn the tide on the python invasion.
7 Throughout the 19th century, businessman tried to drain the Everglades to "reclaim" the land for agriculture
The leaders of the young United States were not as concerned about environmental conservation as we are today. As Florida became part of the Union and also more settled, businessman and government officials looked to Florida's swamplands, the Everglades in particular, to drain for use as agricultural land, according to the University of Florida. Hamilton Disston, a Philadelphia industrialist, bought 4 million acres of land and tried to drain the Everglades by building drainage canals. According to the University of Florida, this endeavor was ultimately unsuccessful, and Disston parceled up this land and sold it. Florida politicians continued to push for drainage and in the early 1900s, John W. Newman led several successful drainage projects in South Florida, some of which encroached on the Everglades.
6 A missile base was built in the national park during the Cold War and it’s still there
Built in 1965 by the Army Corps of Engineers following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, this base in one of the best preserved sites of the US Cold War era technology. The base houses two Nike Hercules missiles, according to the National Park service. When active, the site employed 140 officers to man the base in case of an attack from Cuba. Eventually the threat from Cuba lessened, and the site was not active after 1979. The Department of the Interior added the base to its Register of Historical Places in 2004. According to the National Park Service, the site is generally open to visitors from December to March, though availability fluctuates, so check with the NPS before planning a visit.
5 The Everglades is a major source of freshwater for the whole state of Florida.
If there's one thing to be said about the Everglades, it certainly has a lot of water. Enough so that it has been put to good use and provides water for one out of every three Floridians, according to Florida Trip Guides. According to the NPS, in addition to keeping Florida residents supplied with water, this also helps ensure that the Everglades don't become too waterlogged – water balance is key to the maintenance of the Everglades environment. According to WLRN, the environment acts as a natural filter for the water. The water flows into the Biscayne Aquifer in the southeast Everglades, which furnishes municipal water supplies.
4 There is a ghost town in the middle of the swamp, known as "Lost City" or "Ghost City"
Uncharted, overgrown, and little known, the three-acre settlement of the Everglades' "Lost City" holds many secrets and affords few answers. According to Mysterious Universe, was once a Seminole settlement, which was abandoned abruptly, for unknown reasons. The former Seminole tenants left behind a range of artifacts, including a canoe and distilling vessel that were 1,000 to 2,000 years old. Today, there are ancient ruins as well as several crumbling cabins left behind, and mysteries persist about who lived in them and why. It is rumored that 30 to 40 Confederate soldiers used the area as a hideout during the Civil War, after they allegedly stole gold from the Union.
3 There is a rumor connecting known gangster to the Lost City in the Everglades
The most rumored and fantastical story about the Lost City needed its own item. The Lost City is suspected to have been the site of a clandestine bootleg operation in the 1930s run by Chicago mob boss Al Capone, according to Mysterious Universe. This period was the Prohibition era, when the production, sale, and transport of alcohol was illegal, so the booze business went underground, and people like Capone ran it. The Lost City likely produced moonshine for Capone, who owned a saloon and dance hall off the Tamiami Trail, according to the Sun Sentinel. The Lost City was isolated enough that it would have been difficult for the authorities to locate the operation.
2 The Everglades are supposedly home to a ghost pirate ship
The nearby Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the coast of Florida have an illustrious history of swashbuckling. It seems natural that there should be a pirate story associated with the Everglades – a ghost story no less. Whether sanctioned privateers or straight criminals, piracy in the region started in the 16th century with Spanish pirates and extended until the 19th century, according to Mysterious Universe. The story, as detailed by a 1901 edition of the Chicago Tribune, is that in the 1600s a pirate ship captured a merchant ship off the coast of Florida. They gave the pirates chase and gave them enough trouble that the pirates made every crew member walk the plank, while retaining the captain's wife to make her watch. She cursed the pirates and, according to legend, they are doomed to roam the Everglades on their ship in perpetuity.
1 The Everglades are supposedly home to two cryptids: the Skunk Ape and Gator Men
Like many a wild place in the United States, the Everglades is supposedly home to cryptids – according to those who believe, anyway. The Oxford English dictionary defines a cryptid as "an animal whose existence is disputed or unsubstantiated." And the Everglades has two. The first is the Skunk Ape, a Sasquatch-like creature covered in red hair that is 7 feet tall and stinks (Everglades Adventure). Very badly. A creature of similar description was long reported by Natives in the area, and there have been sightings reported and photographs taken in the modern day. The other Everglade cryptid is the Gator Man: half gator, half man. Mysterious Universe says that sightings have been reported since the 1700s. Who knows?
References: Mysterious Universe; Sun Sentinel; Chicago Tribune; National Park Service