Mangroves make a perfect home for many creatures because of their ability to provide nutrients and protection. These floating forests use bacteria to break down organic matter and energy from fallen leaves and branches, and then release important nutrients into the water for the animals that live there.
In addition to various fish, crabs, shrimp, mollusks and amphibians, many birds—such as the beautiful scarlet ibis—thrive in the mangroves. You can find one of these bright-pink birds in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, where their diet closely resembles that of their brothers in the wild: fish, crustaceans and insects. Their long, curved, pinkish-brown bills come in handy in mangrove forests, where they use it to pluck their next meal out of the shallow water and grasses.
The scarlet ibis typically inhabits mangrove swamps ranging from northern South America southward along the coast of Brazil, occasionally making visits in Florida. You probably wouldn’t recognize this bird as a juvenile since it actually develops its bright hue later on in life, thanks to a heavy diet of red crustaceans.
The scarlet ibis is just one of many animals threatened in some areas due to habitat destruction—more than half of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed in the past 30 to 40 years for commercial purposes, such as shrimp farming, agriculture and coastal development. Conservationists are struggling to find ways to protect these environments by restoring damaged mangrove forests and establishing more marine reserves in mangrove-lined coastlines.
National Aquarium, Scarlet Ibis
Ocean Focus, Mangroves
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Mangroves are a group of trees and shrubs that live in the coastal intertidal zone
Florida Museum of Natural History, Adaptations: Morphological and physiological
Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, General characteristics and adaptations
World Wildlife Fund, Mangrove forests: Ecosystems
Florida Museum of Natural History, Mangrove life: Fish
World Heritage Convention, The Sundarbans
University of Florida IFAS Extension, Mangrove swamps
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ten Thousand Islands
Natural History Museum, The Secret Life of Barnacles
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