13 Things People Living in Florida Wish You Knew About Their State
From exotic fruit to unique wildlife, learn the lesser-known facts about Florida.
Welcome to Florida–the land of sunshine, Miami Vice, and Disney World. If you've watched Golden Girls or been to Orlando, you might think you know everything there is to know about Florida. The truth is, Florida is a little more complicated than that. Sure, we do have amazing weather, hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, and a very famous mouse. But we're also home to everything from tiny deer that you can't find anywhere else on the planet to giant flying cockroaches. Want to get to know us better? Here are 13 things people living in Florida wish you knew about the Sunshine State.
Real mermaids live here.
To most of the world, the fish-human hybrids are just mythical beings. In Florida, they're real—and they've been here for decades. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, located about an hour north of Tampa, has been the home of a famous mermaid show since 1947. The mermaids and mermen swim in a natural spring, while visitors watch from a 400-seat amphitheater that's actually underwater. If you really need to know the secret, the mermaids breathe through air hoses hidden throughout their underwater lair using technology designed during World War II.
We have our own deer and panthers.
Florida is the home to some pretty exotic wildlife, and a trip to Everglades National Park or most any state park yields multiple bird—and alligator—sightings. In the winter, dolphins and manatees can be seen in our waterways, and in the spring and summer, sea turtles nest on our beaches. But Florida is also home to some rare species found only here. You might never see a Florida panther—there are only about 200 in the state—but this species of cougar does live in the Florida Everglades, the Big Cypress National preserve, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
You're much more likely to spot Key deer. These tiny deer, roughly the size of a medium-sized dog, number around 800. They live in the Lower Keys and have their own refuge, but keen eyes can spot these creatures around dusk—especially in Big Pine Key, where they wander into backyards and on the beaches. Drivers are urged to slow down with signage on the scenic road that connects the Keys to the Mainland.
We grow lots of exotic fruit besides oranges.
Florida is known for its orange groves, but did you know that local farmers also grow some of the world's most exotic fruit? Some houses have mango and avocado trees literally growing in their front yards, and our climate—very much like South East Asia's—allows growers to harvest a vast cornucopia of exotic fruits. In the summer, expect to see lychees, dragon fruit, papaya, rambutan, mamey, jackfruit, persimmons, and more. In Homestead, about an hour from Miami, there's even a park devoted to rare fruits, Fruit & Spice Park, where you can eat anything that's already fallen from the tree.
And iguanas really do drop out of the trees.
Speaking of fruit trees, you really will see iguanas drop out of trees here in Florida. Considered an invasive species, green iguanas grow up to five feet in length and can be found sunning on docks, climbing on trees, and hanging out in backyards all over South Florida. These cold blooded creatures thrive in Florida's climate, and when the temperature drops down to the 30s and 40s—which might happen a few nights a year—these creatures freeze up and fall out of the trees. Don't worry, they're not actually frozen: They're just stunned by the cold. If left alone, once they warm up, they just get up and go along their merry way. But yes, each year, local meteorologists issue "falling iguana" warnings along with their weather reports.
And Florida has giant flying cockroaches that smell bad if you squish them.
They're called American cockroaches, or palmetto bugs. Unlike German roaches, these guys get around an inch-and-a-half long. They live in trees, sewers, docks, and anywhere else that's damp, so they adore Florida's humid climate. Though they mostly scuttle on the ground, beware: If you chase them to squish them, they can fly—and they will do so right at your face! Once they're scared, they can also emit an odor that smells a little like dirty old newspapers.
The lightning capital of the U.S. is right here.
With an average of 70 to 100 thunderstorm days per year, Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S. According to the City of Vero Beach in Eastern Florida, lightning injures about 40 Floridians and kills about 10 annually. Storms come in fast and furious, sometimes without warning, so if you see lightning in the distance, you're advised to seek shelter immediately. From a safe place, you can marvel at the light shows that occur, and the rainbows that usually appear when the storm passes.
Hurricanes are a reality of living here.
Hurricanes and tropical storms are a fact of life in Florida. Hurricane season lasts from June 1 through Nov. 20, according to the National Hurricane Center, and many Floridians take the threat of a hurricane seriously by stocking up on bottled water, canned goods, and other non-perishables. Several major hurricanes have hit Florida, causing millions of dollars in damage and taking lives. The most infamous is Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 hurricane that demolished much of South Florida in 1992, and caused $26.5 billion in damage.
Most of us have never seen snow.
Many native Floridians have never seen snow. The average temperature in Florida is 70 degrees, and the state has about 2,800 hours of sunlight yearly, hence the nickname "the Sunshine State." But that doesn't mean it has never snowed in Florida. As recently as 2018, the Florida Panhandle got flurries. Most Floridians never even bother to buy winter jackets, making do with a heavy sweatshirt for the few winter days when temperatures drop into the 50s.
Florida has its own Bigfoot called the Skunk Ape.
The Pacific Northwest may have Bigfoot, but Florida has the Skunk Ape. Stories of this mythical creature, who allegedly lives in the Everglades and Big Cypress swamp, date back hundreds of years, when indigenous people and early settlers told tales of seeing a large apelike creature walking through the swamps of Southern Florida. The Skunk Ape Research Center, located on Tamiami Trail, halfway between Miami and Naples, offers alleged photographic proof of the Skunk Ape, along with some giant replicas for selfies. There's also a camping site, in case you want to do your own research at night.
Forget trying to make your hair look good.
According to Florida State University's Climate Center, Florida is the most humid state in the U.S., but if you're a Floridian, it doesn't take a college professor to tell you that. You can spend two hours straightening your hair, but in the summertime, at some point, you'll end up with a head full of frizz. During normal days, ponytails are the hair trend of choice, and some women permanently straighten their hair in order to maintain a silky look. What does 90 percent humidity feel like, by the way? Imagine someone placing a warm, wet mop on your head and you'll get the general idea.
There's a marathon devoted to astronauts.
Each year around Thanksgiving, the Space Coast Marathon and Half Marathon takes place in the city of Cocoa in the part of Central Florida known as the Space Coast. Just a few miles from the NASA facilities in Cape Canaveral, the race boasts water stations manned by people in Space Shuttle uniforms, along with Tang stations—the orange-flavored powdered beverage made famous by astronauts. Most race participants dress in space costumes, with the course filled with Star Wars Stormtroopers, Martians, and more otherworldly creatures.
Yes, locals do go to Disney World, and we are obsessed with it.
If you thought that Floridians are jaded when it comes to being the epicenter of theme parks, think again! Orlando is right in the middle of the state, making it perfect for just about anyone who lives here for a day trip or a quick weekend getaway. In fact, Floridians are completely obsessed with Disney—including adults. We hold our weddings at the Magic Kingdom and get Disney tattoos. Our Facebook pages are filled with selfies with Stitch and Pluto. Floridians even get special discounts at those parks. Don't believe our deep obsession? Many Florida cars boast a sticker with the initials AP—that stands for Disney Annual Passholder.
A rich cultural tapestry of people makes up Florida.
Florida is a culturally rich and diverse place to live. Native American tribes like the Seminole and Miccosukee settled here long before Florida received statehood, and the state gets Spanish influences from Ponce de León and other settlers who came here in the 1500s. The northern parts of the state most resemble the traditional South, while the city of Tampa derives major influences from Cuban cigar makers who settled here in the late 1800s.
Farther South, Miami is now a cultural hub for street artists who have turned the Wynwood neighborhood into an outdoor (and free) art museum. Miami is also home to Little Haiti and Little Havana, two neighborhoods filled with food, music, and art from Haiti and Cuba. With a growing economy and sunshine for days, Florida—especially South Florida cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale—have attracted people from Russia, China, Venezuela, and Italy, who have proudly made it their home.