25 Sun-Soaked Facts About Florida

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron / Chloe Effron

Ah, Florida. The land of palm trees, sunshine, and … a carnivorous pink cloud? To celebrate the 175th anniversary of Florida's statehood, here are more facts about the home of Walt Disney World and the world's worst superhero.

1. The full title of the Florida state song is “Swanee River (Old Folks at Home).”

The choice of "Swanee River (Old Folks at Home)," a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1851, makes sense when you consider that the retirement industry is the state's second-biggest economic driver, and that by 2030, one out of every four Florida residents will be older than 65 [PDF]. The state officially adopted revised lyrics to "Swanee River" in 2008, replacing its original, racist ones.

2. Florida is 8223 square miles bigger than England.

The state has an area of 58,560 square miles, but a lot of that is swampland. Land totals 54,136 square miles and water covers 4424 square miles.

3. A 3500-year-old cypress tree named The Senator was the pride of Longwood, Florida.

The Senator was among the oldest known trees in the world. Then in 2012, a meth addict climbed inside the trunk and lit up. Senator was reduced to ashes. “I can’t believe I burned down a tree older than Jesus,” she later said.

4. People really, really love Walt Disney World—and some of them never want to leave.

It’s not legal to scatter human ashes in the Disney theme park, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it on the sly. The Haunted Mansion is an especially popular choice. But the effort probably isn't worth it: staff members who find suspicious piles of dust call code “HEPA cleanup,” after the special vacuum the custodians use to suck up what’s left of Grandma.

5. South Florida is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles coexist in the wild.

Even if you're not quite sure of the difference between alligators and crocodiles, you can feel confident knowing the ranges of both animals overlap only in South Florida. American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) live across the Southeast from Texas to Florida, while American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) mostly inhabit the Caribbean.

6. Miami banks were losing business in the mid-'90s because rollerbladers didn’t feel like taking off their skates to go inside.

To accommodate banking on the go, one Citibank installed a custom-built rollerblade ATM, complete with a flashy pink ramp. “Hey, that's a great thing for skaters,'' one waiter on wheels told the Orlando Sentinel. ''I'll be using that baby all the time.''

7. A 1998 Florida law requires all state-funded daycare centers and preschools to play classical music to children.

“I want all the kids in the state of Florida to be the best and brightest,” state senator Bill Turner said. The so-called Mozart effect has since been debunked, but the law [PDF] holds.

8. Florida’s nasty mosquitoes have inspired some creative pest-control efforts.

In 1929, the owner of a Florida Keys fishing lodge spent $10,000 of his own money to build a 30-foot wooden tower in the hopes of attracting mosquito-eating bats. Equipped with “all the conveniences any little bat heart could possibly desire” and smeared with pheromone-rich bat poop, the tower would have been a big hit—if any bats had ever shown up.

9. You should keep your distance from Florida's beloved (and endangered) manatees.

The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 makes it illegal to disturb the creatures in any way; violators may face fines up to $500 and be sentenced to up to 60 days in jail. Manatees are also protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. People convicted of violating the federal laws can be sentenced to a fine of $100,000 and a year in jail.

10. Florida's state bird is not the flamingo.

Instead of those ubiquitous plastic lawn ornaments, Florida's state bird is the Northern mockingbird. The rather drab songbird, though an excellent mimic and singer, is a somewhat pedestrian choice for a state that is home to some spectacular species rarely seen anywhere else in the United States—like the roseate spoonbill, purple gallinule, and anhinga.

11. In 1982, the Florida Keys seceded from the United States and declared themselves the Conch Republic.

The move was to protest the placement of a Border Patrol-run road block in Florida City, the mainland gateway to the island chain. Key West mayor-turned-prime minister Dennis Wardlow declared war against the United States. The campaign was short-lived; within two minutes, Wardlow had surrendered and requested $1 million in foreign aid.

12. Florida has its own Bigfoot.

It's an 8-foot tall, hairy, smelly monster known as the skunk ape. Sightings were so frequent in the '70s that legislators feared it was just a matter of time before the skunk ape was caught or killed. They tried to make it a misdemeanor to “take, possess, harm or molest anthropoid or humanoid animals.”

13. A Florida man owns the world’s largest collection of fossilized poop.

Scientists can learn a lot about past flora, fauna, and entire environments from fossil poop, a.k.a. coprolites. Jacksonville resident George Frandsen has amassed more than 1200 of the ancient turds and operates an online museum called the Poozeum.

14. Florida’s lush climate makes it a haven for escaped or introduced non-native plants and animals.

The Everglades teem with invasive species, including 8-inch-long giant snails, boa constrictors, two types of pythons, and crocodile-like reptiles called caimans.

15. Tourists in Florida have been chased by an evil pink cloud.

Travelers in the 1950s and '60s reported being pursued through the woods near Daytona by a strange pink cloud. Citizens told of a carnivorous cloud that would absorb people whole and spit out their bones.

16. Sarasota, Florida, is home to what may be the only Amish beach resort in the world.

Pinecraft is a small community of Amish and Mennonite snowbirds who bring a piece of Pennsylvania Dutch culture with them down south. Amish restaurants and shops in and around Pinecraft welcome all visitors.

17. In 2013, a Florida woman named Linda Ducharme renewed her vows to a Ferris wheel named Bruce.

After a short ceremony, the bride fed the groom a slice of pizza.

18. Florida was Spanish territory for a total of 280 years.

That's longer than the U.S. has existed.

19. NASA built a rocket test facility in Homestead, Florida, in the 1960s.

When the project ended, the government left the site intact—and there’s still a rocket there today.

Brett Levin, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

20. One of Florida's prisons used to serve lobster.

The minimum-security prison at Eglin Air Force Base was so cushy that it was known as “Club Fed.” White-collar inmates enjoyed rounds of golf and lobster bakes before the party ended in 2006.

21. A major annual beach party in Florida includes dead fish.

Participants in the annual Interstate Mullet Toss throw dead mullet—a silver fish common in the Gulf of Mexico— over the state line from Florida into Alabama.

22. Florida was once called the "lightning capital of the world."

That was until NASA discovered that Rwanda actually deserves the title. Still, approximately nine people are killed by lightning strikes in Florida each year, far more than any other U.S. state.

23. Florida got its name from Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.

Ponce de Leon sailed from Puerto Rico to what is now the area of St. Augustine, Florida, in 1513 and is credited as the first European to visit the place. He named the territory Florida because he landed there around Easter (Pasqua Florida in Spanish) and because of its lush tropical foliage.

24. In the 1950s, Miami’s Opa-locka Airport served as the CIA’s base of covert operations against Guatemala and Cuba.

The airport also played a role in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

25. Wherever you are in Florida, you're never more than 60 miles from the nearest body of salt water.

Florida also boasts 7700 lakes, 11,000 miles of river, almost 3000 miles of tidal shoreline, and 700 freshwater springs.