The FWC approved a panther position paper at its September 2015 Commission meeting to provide strategic direction to staff moving forward with panther management and conservation efforts. Florida panther conservation has reached major milestones and is an impressive success story. This position paper reaffirms the FWC’s commitment to work with partners to conserve and protect panthers.
- Slash pines
- Saw palmettos
- Wax myrtle
Pinelands, in particular pine flatwoods, are the most common natural community throughout Florida and generally occur on flat plateaus with sandy soil. Within the panther's range are found pine flatwoods as well as the much less common rockland pine, areas of thin soil on top of ridges of limestone. The Long Pine Key area of Everglades National Park is an example of rockland (also sometimes called rimrock) pine. It is not an island surrounded by water but an "island" surrounded by freshwater marsh. Panthers are known to use the Long Pine Key area. Pinelands are usually moist during the rainy season and are sometimes even flooded. Periodic fires are necessary to prevent their transformation to hardwood forests. After fires, new plant growth is particularly attractive to white-tailed deer. Wild hogs may also be present in pinelands. Vegetation density in pinelands varies from nearly closed to open and almost savanna-like (Alden et al., 1998). Thickets of saw palmetto are frequently present.
Wild hogs in southwest Florida today are descendants of escaped hogs brought to Florida by the Spanish and of hundreds of wild hogs released into Big Cypress for humans to hunt between 1961 and 1977.
Hogs are an important part of the panther's diet and may have been critical to the survival of the panther during times of deer scarcity. For example, between 1939 and 1941 thousands of deer were killed in south Florida because it was thought they harbored the tick that caused cattle fever.
Wild hogs will eat almost anything: bulbs, roots, leaves, seeds, fruits, grasses (including aquatic grasses), tubers, acorns, mushrooms, berries as well as snakes, insects, lizards, baby birds and even carrion. Females, called sows, and their offspring usually travel and forage in groups, whereas males, called boars, are usually solitary except when mating.
White-tailed deer are graceful, swift, and agile. They can run over 48 kilometers per hour on open range and can bound over 2-meter fences from a standstill. They were named for their habit of lifting their tails like flags, flashing the white underside, when they run.
As the most consistently found large prey item, white-tailed deer are critical to the health and survival of the Florida panther.
Deer are herbivores and are most abundant along the edges of forests where cover and forage are available. In southwest Florida, marsh vegetation is also an important component of their diet. They feed on new shoots of many types of trees and shrubs as well as on leaves and twigs. They also eat acorns, fruits, berries, and even mushrooms. They eat the bark of several types of trees, scraping it with their bottom incisors. They generally feed around dusk and dawn and rest during the day in thickets or in patches of dense tall grass.
Deer have excellent eyesight and hearing and a keen sense of smell. Because they don't eat meat, deer lack upper incisor and canine teeth.
Males (called bucks) grow antlers each spring and shed them each winter. Growing antlers look like they are covered with velvet. The size of antlers and the number of points is determined by nutrition and genetics. Young deer (less than 3) and older deer (older than 8) have fewer points and smaller racks than deer in their prime (3-8). Biologists think this is a result of physical condition as well as genetics (McCown: personal communication).
Found throughout Florida, the saw palmetto has fan-shaped segmented leaves armed with sharp spines resembling a saw blade.
According to biologist David Maehr, "saw palmetto is the single most important plant species for the Florida panther." Panthers use palmettos to rest during the day, as dens for their kittens, and as cover while stalking prey. Panther kittens are nearly impossible to see on the sandy soil among palmetto stems, old flower stalks, and dried fronds.
Many other animals depend on palmetto for cover and food.saw palmetto with fruit Bears and hogs are especially fond of palmetto fruits. Bears make their winter dens among palmetto roots. Vultures nest among palmettos, and hundreds of vertebrates and insects depend on saw palmetto at some point in their lives.
Bachman's sparrow, threatened bald eagle, black vulture, chuck-will's-widow, common nighthawk, eastern meadowlark, eastern screech owl, endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow, long-billed wren, endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, red-winged blackbird, turkey vulture.
Armadillo, black bear, bobcat, cotton rat, gray fox, possums, raccoon, striped skunk, white-tailed deer, wild hog.
Reptiles and Amphibians:
Black racer, cottonmouth, threatened eastern indigo snake, king snake and lizards.
Bluestem, cabbage palm, gallberry, hatpins, maidencane, saw palmetto, south Florida slash pine, sundews, St. John's wort, wax myrtle and wiregrass.