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Fossil Hunting on the Peace River in Florida

Updated on August 12, 2017
bdegiulio profile image

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures, experiences, and makes the world a better, more tolerant place.

Fossilized shark teeth from the Peace River
Fossilized shark teeth from the Peace River | Source

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. That’s right; 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

A Megalodon tooth next to a Great White tooth.
A Megalodon tooth next to a Great White tooth. | Source

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 seas 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.

Fossilized vertabrae
Fossilized vertabrae | Source

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.

An assortment of shark teeth
An assortment of shark teeth | Source

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.

That's Mark Renz of Fossil Expeditions checking our finds.
That's Mark Renz of Fossil Expeditions checking our finds. | Source
The Peace River
The Peace River

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 and 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.

Fossilized horse tooth and a mouthplate (unknown species).
Fossilized horse tooth and a mouthplate (unknown species).
Fossilized Tiger Shark tooth
Fossilized Tiger Shark tooth | Source
Time to get wet
Time to get wet | Source
Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade | Source

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.

Checking their finds
Checking their finds | Source
show route and directions
A markerBartow, Florida -
Bartow, FL, USA
get directions

B markerWachula, Florida -
Wauchula, FL 33873, USA
get directions

C markerArcadia, Florida -
Arcadia, FL 34266, USA
get directions

D markerPeace River, Florida -
Peace River, Florida, USA
get directions

© 2012 Bill De Giulio

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    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 19 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Alun. Yes, the search for the elusive Megalodon tooth. We have searched and searched but have not found one yet. Perhaps next time. I must say I much more enjoy hunting for fossils and shark teeth or kayaking than fighting the crowds at Disney.

      How exciting knowing you will have the time to do the things you really enjoy when you want to do them. I'm sure you are counting down the days :)

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 19 months ago from Essex, UK

      Very useful article Bill. So many tourists visit Florida for the obvious reasons (sunshine / Mickey Mouse), but for those who have an interest in something else such as natural history, or in this case palaeontology, this would really add a special and different experience to the vacation.

      I've always had an interest in this subject, and I have a number of fossils myself, but most are bought specimens - I've not had sufficient opportunity or dedication or luck to find specimens of the quality which can be bought. I've got a couple of sharks teeth, but sadly not a Megalodon! Maybe in a few months time, Bill, I'll have the opportunity to spend more time fossil collecting :)

      If ever I come to Florida again, and have the time, I would definitely strongly consider taking part in the fossil hunting trip you describe (but only if I'm allowed to take my finds out of the country!) Cheers for the article and for the day-trip idea it contains.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Jacqueline. Thanks for stopping by to read. And welcome to HubPages, it's a great community. If I ever retire down to Florida I will look up one of these clubs. Have a great day.

    • Chicks With Ticks profile image

      Jacqueline Levine 4 years ago from Lakeland, FL

      Our family loves this pastime....there are local clubs that charge minimal fees to join and benefits are out of this world!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Sheila. I can tell you that it is great fun. We had such a good time on the day that we went fossil hunting on the Peace River. I think you would love it!

      Thanks for the read, comment and of course the vote. Have a great days.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      If I ever get the chance to go back to Florida, I am definitely going here! I would LOVE to do some fossil hunting! I have found a lot of petrified wood on our place and always hope to find some type of fossil! I would SO enjoy this! Voted up and awesome! :)

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Prasetio. Thanks for stopping by to read. If you ever visit Florida you can give this a shot, it is great fun. Appreciate the vote, have a great day.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Margaret. The Peace River is one of the premier sites for fossil hunting in Florida. We also love to comb the beaches looking for shark teeth but the ones you find on the beach tend to be smaller.

      Thank you for the vote.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suzette. My sister actually discovered this years ago and then we went down to give it a try. It is great fun and so rewarding when you find a large shark tooth. Thank you for reading and have a great day.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi James. Glad you enjoyed the hub. The more you find the more addicting fossil hunting becomes. The megalodon must have been one scary shark.

      Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Peggy. Give it a shot on your next trip to Florida, I think you'll find it's a lot of fun. Thank you for reading commenting and the vote and share.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very informative hub and I learn many things from you related with fossil hunting. Good presentation and I love the pictures as well. Good job, my friend. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!

      Prasetio

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I'm familiar with the Peace River. I camped on it a few years ago, but never realized that were fossils there. Very interesting and well put together hub - voted up, interesting and useful.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      This is quite interesting. I live in Florida and did not know about this at the Peace River. I think it is neat that you get to keep the fossils you find. Great photos also to go along with this article. I enjoyed reading this. Very enlightening.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      What a fascinating hub, I used to do a bit of fossil hunting on the Dorset coast in England, and most of the time all I would find were ammonites and other small sea creatures. Finding the teeth of megalodon must have been awesome, their name literally means 'big tooth' the mostly aptly named animal of all time! Great stuff.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Of all the things I have gotten to do and see in Florida, fossil hunting was not one of them. However my uncle used to regularly find sharks teeth on the beaches and amassed quite a collection of them. Thanks for telling us about this interesting way to find genuine fossils. Up votes and will share.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Nancy. Give it a try, you will love it. We had a great time searching for fossils in Peace River. Thanks for reading and commenting. Happy fossils hunting.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      I have been to the dig site for Florida Calcite in Okeechobee but never searched for fossils. What a cool hub. Thanks we have something else to do when we visit.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Lenzy. We certainly were concerned also about gators but Mark Renz assured us that he has never had anyone get get hurt while hunting fossils. The Peace River has a plentiful food supply for the gators so they are more apt to ignore us. Because we had kids with us though I kept scanning for anything unusual. Most of the time the visibility in the water is very clear and not that deep so you can see what's lurking below. In the area that we were in the water was a little deeper than normal but we had no problem. It was great fun. Thanks for reading and stopping by.

    • Lenzy profile image

      Lenzy 5 years ago from Arlington, Texas

      Bdegiulio, this sounds like an interesting trip. I am a little nervous about the idea of getting sideswiped by an alligator. How likely is it to get hurt by one out there? I would love to find one of those big old teeth. Thank you for the interesting hub. Lenzy

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks for the tip molometer. I'll make a note of that for when we get to GB. Hopefully soon.

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      It is a great read thanks for sharing it with us. We have some great places in Britain for fossil hunting. Lyme Regis on our Jurassic coastline is great for a visit if you get the chance.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks molometer. We had a great time doing this and brought home bags full of fossils and shark teeth. It something a little different but great fun. Thanks for reading and the votes.

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      What a great read. The Megalodon tooth just shows how massive these creatures were.

      I love fossil hunting too.

      Well done and thanks for sharing.

      Voted up and 4/5 buttons.