Fish are an integral part of the Florida Everglades Ecosystem. The aquatic life of south Florida is inextricably entwined with the natural and cultural history of the landscape. Fish, in particular, are an integral link in the Everglades food web. They feed on algae, crustaceans, and aquatic insects, and provide a source of food for larger predators such as wading birds, larger fish, and the infamous alligators of the Everglades.
To the recreational angler, the Everglades have become a world-class destination for the pursuit of immense sport fish. The productive estuaries of the area continue to drive commercial harvesting operations outside the Everglades National park to this day, and have become one of Florida’s main tourist attractions.
Fishing would definitely top the list of fun things to do in Florida. Many travel from all over of the world to Everglades National Park to take part in this amazing experience. Prospective anglers should be aware that licenses are required and applicable regulations are enforced.
Nearly 300 different species of fish are known to inhabit the freshwater marshes and marine coastline of Everglades National Park. There are also some species of fish that are endangered or becoming sparse that reside within the safe haven of the Florida Everglades.
Some of the most renowned fish are:
The Bluegill is a species of freshwater fish. It is a member of the sunfish family. It is native to a wide area of North America, and has been widely transplanted to stock game fish for anglers. It is renowned as an excellent tasting fish. It is relatively common and easy to catch.
Of tropical sunfish body shape, the bluegill’s most notable feature is the blue or black “ear”. Its name, however, comes from the bright blue edging visible on its gill rakers. It can be distinguished from similar species by the (not always pronounced) vertical bars along its flanks. The bluegill grows to a maximum overall length of approximately 40 cm (16 in).
The brown bullhead is a fish of the Ictaluridae family that is widely distributed in North America. It is a species of bullhead catfish. The brown bullhead is also widely known as the “mud cat”. The brown bullhead thrives in a variety of habitats, including lakes and ponds with low oxygen and/or muddy conditions. Brown Bullheads are opportunistic bottom feeders. They eat insects, leeches, snails, fish, clams, and many plants. They are also known to eat corn, which can be used as bait.
The Channel Catfish is North America’s most numerous catfish species. It is informally referred to as a “channel cat”. In the United States they are the most fished catfish species with approximately 8 million anglers targeting them per year. The popularity of channel catfish for food has contributed to the rapid growth of aquaculture of this species in the United States.
The great barracuda is a curious, fearsome-looking, usually solitary predator common to reefs and shallows of Florida and the Caribbean. Distinguished by a torpedo-shaped body, large eyes and mouth, formidable teeth, a double emarginated (notched) tail fin with pale tips on each lobe the Barracuda grows up to 2meters in length. A fully grown fish would weigh nearly 50 kg!
Everglades Pygmy Sunfish
The pygmy sunfishes grow to a maximum overall length of 3 to 4 cm. They occur mostly in temperate and subtropical swamps, marshes, and other shallow, slow-moving, and heavily-vegetated waters. The blue barred, Carolina, and spring pygmy sunfishes have small localized populations and are considered Vulnerable.
The pygmy sunfishes are too small to be game fish, but are popular as aquarium fish because of the males’ iridescent colors and fascinating breeding behaviors.
The Gulf killifish
The Gulf Killifish is one of the largest killifish species (to 18 cm), with a blunt head and short snout. Gulf killifish are bronze-gray in color, although spawning males will be darker with glittering specks of color. It has only one dorsal fin and no spines in any of its fins.
The gulf killifish can tolerate low oxygen and variable salinity ranging from fresh water to salt concentrations several times that of seawater. They also have high tolerance for temperature variability. They feed primarily on crustaceans and other smaller fish species.
Blue fin Killifish
The bluefin killifish is a handsome species. Adult males have a bright blue, black-edged dorsal fin, the base of which is green at the front and deep orange to red at the rear. This species has a slender, compressed body and a strongly upturned mouth adapted for life at the water surface. The bluefin killifish is frequently associated with spring habitats. It occurs in shallow, vegetated margins in association with extensive organic debris and cypress knees. The bluefin killifish feeds on small insects, crustaceans, and plant material.
The rainwater killifish has a slightly compressed body, a small, upturned mouth, and a strongly compressed caudal peduncle. Most scales are edged in black, giving them a diamond-shaped appearance.It can be found in freshwater, brackish, and marine habitats. It usually prefers quiet, vegetated waters, away from the surface area. Maximum length is approximately 7 cm, but it usually grows to about 5 cm.
The Mosquito fish
The Mosquito fish is a species of freshwater fish that is native to the eastern and southern United States, and grows to 3.5 cm in length.
The mosquito fish is found in the southeastern United States and has become an invasive species in Australia, where they were released as a method to decrease mosquito populations This species thrives in water that is shallow. It has been shown that the mosquito fish can survive in water with pH and chemical levels known to kill other fish.
Sailfin mollies are most commonly observed as the shallow surface waters along the edges of marshes, lowland streams, ponds, swamps, estuaries and even ephemeral water bodies such as roadside ditches. Small to large aggregations of the species are most commonly found under floating vegetation or near structures in the water. The sailfin molly is a tolerant species, as it can exploit the thin film of oxygen rich surface water with its upturned mouth and so is able to survive oxygen depleted habitats.
Here is a list of fish commonly found in the Everglades for quick reference:
• Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus)
• bowfin (Amia calva)
• tarpon (Megalops atlantica)
• brown bullhead (Ameiurusnebulosus)
• channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
• tadpole madtom (Noturus gyrinus)
• gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis)
• diamond killifish (Adinia xenica)
• bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei)
• rainwater killifish(Lucania parva)
• golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
• taillight shiner (Notropis maculatus)
• coastal shiner (Notropis petersoni)
• lake chubsucker (Erimyzon sucetta)
• sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus)
• golden topminnow (Fundulus chrysotus)
• flagfish (Jordanella floridae)
• mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)
• least killifish (Heterandria formosa)
• sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna)
• brook silverside (Labidesthes sicculus)
• Everglades pygmy sunfish (Elassoma evergladei)
• largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
• spotted sunfish (Lepomis punctatus)
• redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)
• bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
• bluespotted sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus)
• swamp darter (Etheostoma fusiforme)
• crevalle jack (Caranx hippos)
• gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus)
• sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus)
• striped mullet (Mugil cephalus)
• great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)
Weather conditions that affect fish
During the drought seasons, these fish are all threatened by low water levels and unable to inhabit certain areas of the Everglades region. During this season water fish become limited to deeper water habitats and gator holes. The lower water levels in marshes often leave the fish vulnerable to predators because they have nowhere to hide. But during the rainy season they are in abundance. Flooding scatters fish across the everglades. Changes in water level and dissolved oxygen concentrations require fish to be specially adapted to this ever-changing environment. Some fish are able burrow into the sediments and aestivate (live in a dormant state) during the dry season.
Threats for Everglades Fish
Unfortunately, today, the Everglades are an ecosystem in danger of extinction. Canals and levees capture and divert its water for human use, disrupting the natural cycles of feeding and nesting which depend on these waters. Much of the time the water is contaminated by pollutants.
Faced with loss of habitat, disruption of water flow, and the invasion of nonnative species, many animals have declined dramatically in number. Some have virtually disappeared.
For fish and other creatures who call this subtropical wetland home, it might only be a matter of time before they have to seek new homes because the Everglades can no longer accommodate the needs of their species.