Fossil Hunting on the Peace River in Florida
If you’re looking for a very different, yet exciting and adventurous activity for your next trip to Florida, consider heading to the Peace River for some good old fashioned fossil hunting. The Peace River located in southwestern Florida is a virtual graveyard from prehistoric times and includes fossils of the giant carcharodon shark otherwise known as megalodon.
Other finds may include the fossilized remnants of the mastodon, mammoth, camel, horse, bison, whales, and alligators, in addition to a host of other creatures. If you've never heard of megalodon then you may be surprised to discover that this shark was one of the largest and most powerful predators to ever grace this planet. How does 55 to 60 feet in length grab you? And you thought a great white shark was big and mean. Luckily for the great white this monster of the ocean is extinct, having disappeared roughly 1.5 million years ago.
Megalodon vs. Great White
Before I digress into the history of the megalodon, let’s take a trip down to the Peace River and see if we can’t dig up one of the giant 7-inch teeth that occupied the gaping mouth of this predator. Undoubtedly, finding one of these teeth is like finding the holy grail of shark fossils.
While finding one of these giants is rare, it is not uncommon to find fairly large fossilized shark teeth and other prehistoric fossils, such as mammoth teeth and large mammal bones. This area is unique in that it has undergone numerous cycles alternating between being dry and submerged under water, so both land and sea creatures once inhabited this area. The Peace River is essentially cutting a path down through the various layers of sediment to expose the alternating layers of both land and marine fossils.
I can assure you that once you start dredging up the mud and silt from the river bottom you are not going to want to leave until you find something big. This is a great way to add an adventurous and educational outing to your Florida trip. So how does one go about doing some fossil hunting in the Peace River? Let look at the options.
Where Is It?
Located in southwestern Florida the Peace River runs for 106 miles from northeast of Bartow through Polk, Hardee and DeSoto Counties before emptying into the Charlotte Harbor estuary near Port Charlotte. It makes for an easy day trip from either Fort Myers or the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. See the map at the bottom of the article.
Fossil Hunting Options
There are a few options available to you for fossil hunting on the Peace River, including hiring a local guide. For our trip we utilized the services of Mark Renz, who along with his wife Marisa started Fossil Expeditions back in 1990. They were pretty much the first to start offering fossil expeditions on the Peace River, and no one knows this river better than Mark.
If you don’t want to hire a guide you can always venture out on your own, but make sure you are aware that a permit ($5) is required if you are fossil hunting on any state owned property that the river or creek runs through. While fossils can be found almost anywhere along the Peace River, the best locations are from Wachula south to Arcadia. Most of the areas that are readily accessible to the general public, such as boat launches, have most likely been pretty well picked over so it pays to either rent a canoe or kayak and head away from these areas or go with a guide who can take you to the spots that are a little more remote.
As a general rule, the best fossil hunting conditions are when the water level is low as it provides for better clarity and visibility.
- Fossil Expeditions, Call Mark Renz 1-239-368-3252
Professional fossil guide service offering shark, mammal and reptile fossil collecting day trips in SW Florida. The books we authored are available in our book store and we have an on-line museum to assist you in identifying your fossil finds.
Time to Get Wet
Once you are on location it’s time to get wet. The fossils are not just sitting on the river bank waiting to be picked up. You will need a shovel, a screen, and the desire to dig. The best advice that Mark gives about searching for fossils is to pick a spot and just keep digging. The deeper you go, the more likely that you will find something unusual.
The Peace River meanders along at a very slow pace, so don’t worry about getting swept away in the current. In fact, if it happens to be a typically warm to hot Florida day this makes for a great way to stay cool.
This slow plodding current is part of the reason that the fossils are so well preserved here in the Peace River. But, as always, if you are taking your kids along you will want to always remain vigilant and make sure they do not wander too far. We did this trip with our kids and some nephews, and I can tell you that the look on their faces when they dug up a large fossilized shark tooth was priceless. I don’t know if they still do show and tell in school these days but what a great object to bring in if they do.
Words of Caution
Whenever fossil hunting in Florida one needs to be aware of their surroundings and that means that when we are in the rivers and creeks concentrating on digging up fossils we need to remember that we are in their element. By "their", I'm referring to the snakes, turtles and alligators that call the waterways of Florida home. To be honest, on our day spent in the Peace River we did not see any alligators or snakes, but that does not mean that they are not there. Just be vigilant and have a great time.
While fossil hunting may not be for everybody it’s a great alternative to the usual Florida activities. Both you and your kids will have some great stories to tell not to mention some great souvenirs to bring home with you. We didn't find the "big one" this time, but we did come home with a great assortment of fossilized bones and shark teeth and we can't wait to return. Happy hunting.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio