Collecting Fossils in Florida
In Gainesville, you can find fossil sharks teeth by sifting through the sand of the small creeks that run through the city. Hogtown Creek and Possum creek are popular sites, especially where they cross 8th Avenue. Look on gravel bars at bends in the creek or in pebbly areas.
Major Atlantic storms regularly turn up fossilized tiger shark teeth, as well as the fossilized bones of horses and giant ground sloths. The most productive area is south of Jacksonville Beach at Mickler Landing (photo below), just north of Guana River State Park.
Just offshore from Venice beach is a Pleistocene boneyard, a huge deposit of fossil bones and teeth from ancient mammals and giant sharks. Wave action and storms constantly wash shark teeth and other fossils out of the sands and onto the shore.
The adventurous can rent scuba gear and dive down to the deposit to get first pick – or, you can snorkel parallel to the shore about ten feet from the edge of the water and look for fossils on the bottom. (Look for small and large black shiny objects, or take a strong colander and sift through the sand). The third option, for non-swimmers, is to simply keep your eyes open while walking on the beach near the waterline. Whether it is scuba or snorkel, diving for fossils and shark teeth in this area is better in spring and early summer when the water is clear. Beach stores sell and rent special ‘Florida snow shovels’ – long handled devices with a basket at the end used to sift fossils from the sand.
The most productive time to search is at low tide, or after a big storm. Wade into the water and dredge through anywhere that looks to have dark gravel or pebbles. Blackish lumps are quite likely to be fossilized bones of dugong, whales, tortoise and alligator.
Until quite recently small, fossilized shark teeth used to be so common on Venice Beach that you could count on finding them everywhere. However in the 1990’s Venice began a beach renourishment program, and the beaches were fortified with a million cubic yards of sand dredged from offshore, which to some extent covered the original fossil rich sand. Today, teeth can still be found on the beaches, but they are not as plentiful as they once were; most of the real finds are made by people snorkeling or scuba diving just off the beach.
Venice beach is known as the ‘Shark Tooth Capital of the World’. The town holds an annual Shark tooth festival in early April each year, where fossil collectors from around the southeastern US come to sell and display their wares. In 2007, the festival was held Friday, April 20 – Sunday, April 22, 2007. For more information, visit www.sharkstoothfestival.com or call 941-412-0402.
Nearby Caspersen Beach, just south of the Venice Municipal Airport is sometimes better than Venice Beach. Depending on the water conditions, snorkeling just off-shore can be quite rewarding.
Note: It is rumored that Caspersen Beach is clothing-optional, but the County does not recognize it as a nude beach and clothing is officially required.
Peace River, FL
The Peace River flows through a large area rich in fossils. In the winter dry season – November to June – the river is usually shallow and clear, and the sand and gravel bottom is easy to search by wading or snorkeling. The gravel on the river bottom contains many well-preserved teeth and bones; the deep holes sometimes produce large bones and mammoth teeth. This is a wonderful river to canoe, snorkel, and wade. Canoe rentals are available in Arcadia. There are several access points where you can put a boat in or just wade if the water is not too high. Driving on highway 17 south from Bartow there are access points at Bowling Green, Wauchula, Zolfo Springs, Arcadia and Nocatee.
Note. There are alligators on the Peace River, so stay alert. For this reason it is probably not a good idea to bring a dog along on the trip as dogs tend to look like dinner to alligators.
Gardner (Arcadia, FL)
The boat ramp at Gardner is one of the best places for fossil hunting if you don’t have a boat. In the dry season, (Dec-May) the water is shallow and clear and you can walk in at the ramp and wade up stream and hunt as you walk. Look in the riverbank as well as in the gravel. Walk upstream to Charlie Creek, a good place for shark teeth.
Bring a screen, something to dig with, and bags to put your finds in. Most people bring a floating sifter – a screen kept afloat by floating ‘noodles’ – and a shovel and simply shovel the gravel into the screen, then pick through the larger pieces left on the screen. Take lunch – once you start its difficult to stop. To get there go south on Highway 17 south of Zolfo springs until you reach the small town of Gardner. Look for a graded dirt road on the right signposted with the boat ramp symbol. Go to the end of the dirt road – quite a way – the boat ramp is at the end.
A tributary of the Peace River, Shell Creek has it all. Shark teeth, fossilized shells, Paleo-Indian arrowheads and spear points – this creek can turn up anything. It is best to have a small boat or rent a canoe that way you can access the shallow areas and banks. There is a fish camp and a boat ramp near the bridge on Highway 17, or turn east on 764 loop just south of the Shell creek – 764 loops around and rejoins 17 just north of Shell Creek.
This link will take you to photos of some of the fossils that have been found on the Peace River.
Source: Wild Florida ecotravel guide