Chassahowitzka's diverse natural communities
sustain a large variety of wildlife. Extensive hardwood swamp in
association with uplands creates good habitat conditions for
far-ranging species and allows seasonal movement of animals in
response to fluctuating water levels and food supplies.
Wildlife viewing is best in the morning hours on non-hunting days January through March
and August through October. Hunting is most intense November
through early January. Be prepared for hot, buggy conditions in
June and July. From the Indigo Road trailhead, walk one or both of
the hiking trails or take the more than 8-mile scenic driving loop.
Gopher tortoise and Sherman's fox squirrel are found on the area.
Birders will enjoy numerous songbirds and the lucky visitor might
see a bear track.
Wildlife Spotlight: The Bears of
In 1997 the University of Kentucky began a
five-year study of the black bears inhabiting the mixed hardwood
swamps, pine flatwoods, scrub, and coastal marshes of Citrus,
Hernando, and Pasco counties. Wildlife biologists used
radiotelemetry and other methods to learn more about population
size, home ranges, and habitat use. Bears were captured, fitted
with special collars, and tracked using small planes. The bears
were ear tagged, examined, and weighed and measured. The population
is also monitored using hair snares and remote cameras to identify
Wildlife biologist fits tranquilized bear
with radio collar
According to University of Kentucky researcher Mike
Orlando, the Chassahowitzka or west central Florida black bear
population consists of less than 20 individuals and may be the
smallest known bear population in North America. The Chassahowitzka
bears appear to have adjusted their behavior to avoid humans. Many
bear populations are active during the day. The west central
Florida bears are active at dawn and dusk and at night.
Wildlife biologists Greg Batts and Diana
Donaghy working on a 350-pound male bear
Virtually no nuisance complaints have been made
against these bears although they have been documented traveling
within 50 meters of upscale residences. They do not raid trashcans
or bird feeders as bears commonly do in other parts of Florida.
Their home ranges are elliptical rather than the more typical oval.
Because the bears are constrained by roads, they move farther north
and south than they move east and west.
The Chassahowitzka bears live in a habitat that is
being encroached, circumscribed, and fragmented by humans. Roads
are a threat to bears here as they are in other parts of Florida.
In September 2001 the only known cubs produced this year (twins
born to an uncollared female) were both hit by a vehicle and killed
on CR 595.
According to Closing the Gaps, a 1994
publication of the then Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish
Commission, even the existing habitat is much too small to sustain
a population in the long run without dispersal. Since the bears
have no opportunity to breed with bears from other populations,
genetic depression is also a concern although no abnormalities in
fertility or vigor of the population have been noted. A very small
population of bears has been reported in the Green Swamp, but
linkage between the Chassahowitzka and Green Swamp populations
would require connection of existing conservation areas and
containment of human population growth and development, an unlikely
prospect in one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.