Florida Keys fun fact: Once upon a time, during an action-packed confrontation between Arnold Schwarzenegger and a pack of dastardly villains, missile strikes blew up the Keys’ Old Seven Mile Bridge.

Mermaid playing harp in Florida Keys

“Mermaid” Donna Whitney strums a harp during the 2023 Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, a popular annual event that promotes reef preservation. (Photo by Frazier Nivens, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Okay, that statement isn’t STRICTLY factual, but it’s based on fact — one of many facts about the Keys that are offbeat, slightly improbable and add an engagingly weird vibe to the colorful island chain.

So what’s the real story? Well, in the early 1990s, before he became California’s governor, Arnold starred in a film called “True Lies” that was shot partially in the Keys.

The plot, featuring a spy whose personal and professional lives collided in a madcap caper, involved a sequence of helicopter stunts and an explosion on the iconic Middle Keys bridge.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the real bridge — but the narrow expanse of roadway unrolling above blue water sure looked like the real thing.

Throughout the Keys, you’ll hear stories that sound as unlikely as the saga of Arnold and the exploding bridge. Some are flat-out tall tales, but a surprising number are true. For example …

Key West rooster

Key West’s local poultry population, like this majestic rooster, is a colorful, quirky part of the island’s unique vibe. Some years back, the wandering fowl even inspired their own feathered festival. (Photo by Rob O’Neal)

FUN FACT ONE: Key Largo is the site of the world’s only underwater hotel. It’s called Jules’ Undersea Lodge, and dive enthusiasts can spend the night there (with amenities including pizza delivery) among the marine life of the Keys. Imagine waking up to see vividly colored fish peering into your bedroom window, trying to catch a glimpse of the strange human creatures unexpectedly sharing their habitat.

FUN FACT TWO: Speaking of unusual things beneath the sea, every year the Lower Keys stage what is probably the world’s only Underwater Music Festival. Created to encourage coral reef protection and eco-conscious diving, the quirky annual concert draws divers, snorkelers, curious fish and even characters costumed as mermaids and other denizens of the deep. It’s held at the acclaimed Looe Key Reef, with water-themed music broadcast by a local radio station and piped undersea by special speakers.

FUN FACT THREE: Moving from oceanic to land-based elements, many visitors to Key West are surprised to find roosters and chickens running wild in the historic Old Town neighborhood. The free-range fowl are supposedly the descendents of chickens kept for food and roosters bred for cockfights before the practice was outlawed. Today, at Key West’s funky Blue Heaven (a renowned eatery whose fans included the late singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett) “breakfast with the roosters” is served in an outdoor courtyard where resident hens and chicks wander freely.

Florida Keys beachside snow

Kids play on a mountain of snow in balmy Islamorada. The white stuff is specially imported each year for the Florida Keys Holiday Fest. (Photo courtesy of the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce)

FUN FACT FOUR: In the Middle Keys (yes, the area where Arnold had his adventure on the bridge), dolphins instead of chickens take center stage — for their math skills! That’s because Dolphin Research Center, a renowned research and educational facility that’s home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, spearheaded a groundbreaking study some 20 years ago that showed dolphins have the mathematical ability to compare quantities — and can understand the numerical concept of “less.” Today, dolphin cognition studies continue at the respected center.

FUN FACT FIVE: Islamorada may not have mathematical dolphins, but each December it’s the site of another unusual phenomenon: snow. Now, bear in mind that weather forecasters have never officially recorded snow in the Keys. But during each year’s Florida Keys Holiday Fest, a 30-ton mountain of the white stuff mysteriously appears for young attendees to play on (and even make snowballs!). It’s an eagerly anticipated delight in Islamorada’s subtropical December temps.

Want additional Florida Keys fun facts to startle and amaze your friends? Trust me, there are plenty more. So make plans for a visit soon — and enjoy discovering them while exploring the wonderfully wacky island chain for yourself.