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Key Largo

Key Largo School has an established nature trail that highlights one of the important ecosystems in the Florida Keys: the hammock. On the island of Key Largo where elevation is above five feet, the upland hardwood hammock dominates the plant community. Native Americans of Florida named cool shady places "hammocks." If the forest is not fragmented by development, it is a cool shady place. Upland hammocks will have their own microclimate. Humidity, temperature, sunlight and air movement within the hammock will be noticeably lower. The trees here form a dense canopy as high as sixty feet and create a shady understory. Many of the trees are considered tropical. The climate of the Florida Keys and South Florida provides enough warmth and rainfall for their successful growth, even though the geographic area is not within the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. There are two distinct seasons here-wet and dry. Most of the rain occurs during the summer months between May and October.

Islands like Key Largo provide homes to many small animals. There is not enough space to support populations of large animals like deer. Look for squirrels, opossums and raccoons in the understory. Leaf litter is home for the Key Largo woodrat and the Key Largo cotton mouse; both are on the endangered species list. Hermit crabs can also be found under the leaves. Anoles (a type of lizard) are easily spotted as they dart about the forest floor. Snakes are here but they are hard to find. Rat snakes are the most common. Golden orb weavers spin their webs between the trees in an attempt to catch the many flying insects that live here. Stories say the web is strong enough to ensnare small birds. Mosquito control makes the Keys a pleasant place for people, but many butterfly and other insect species suffer from the mosquito spray. Several other threatened or endangered species that rely on the hammock for their existence are the Schaus' swallowtail butterfly, tree snails and white crowned pigeons. Clearing of forest for development was and may still be the biggest threat to this habitat.

Copyright © 2010 The Florida Geographic Alliance