Florida’s warm climate and lush landscapes have drawn visitors and out-of-state residents for decades. But it’s not just the people who have moved to this state from faraway places. Florida is plagued by more than 500 species of non-native plants and animals, and the problem is that some of them are wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems throughout the state.
There are several non-native animals in Florida that do not cause complications, but another part is invasive. This means they negatively affect native fish and wildlife, cause damage that is costly to repair, or pose a threat to human health and safety.
Pythons invaded Florida when pet snakes were released or escaped and thrived in the warm, predator-free conditions.
These nonvenomous constrictors can grow to enormous lengths. In the Everglades, they feed on frogs, native snakes, and endangered birds along with their eggs.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) notes that people should remove or report wild pythons when they are detected.
Green iguanas have been steadily making their way north since they first appeared in the wild in South Florida in the 1960s. These large, spiny lizards can damage structures by digging burrows under foundations, as well as leave their feces everywhere.
Most iguanas feed on plants, but they are known to eat snails and bird eggs as well. Adult iguanas, which are not always green, can measure more than 1.50 meters long and weigh up to almost eight kilos.
black and white tegu
Another species of large lizard: the black and white tegu can grow up to four feet long.
This animal is known for burrowing into the nests of turtles and alligators and eating the eggs. While not aggressive toward humans, tegus pose a threat to native reptiles and ground-nesting birds.
Residents are encouraged to report sightings of tegus as officials continue to work to control the spread of the lizards in Florida.
Lionfish are believed to have first been introduced to the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean when they were released by aquarium owners. Native to the Pacific Ocean, they were first seen in Florida in the 1980s and have spread throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Lionfish are voracious eaters and mostly feed on smaller fish. They like to hunt around coral reefs and in seagrass beds. Due to their poisonous spines, they have very few natural predators.
Lionfish are upsetting the balance of coral reefs off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean as they eat away at native fish populations.
giant african snail
Miami residents have been hard at work since 2011 trying to eradicate these invasive snails. They eat almost all kinds of native plant species, and when they can’t find enough calcium in the environment to build their shells, they may eat stucco from buildings and paint from cars. If that wasn’t bad enough, they carry a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans.
The good news is that the humans are winning. Snail sightings are becoming rarer and officials are hopeful they will be eradicated soon.
Cuban Tree Frog
Probably brought to Florida in the 1920s as hitchhikers on cargo ships, Cuban tree frogs have become a major pest in South Florida.
They prey on much smaller native Florida tree frogs and small snakes, and their tadpoles compete with those of native species for space and resources.
Cane toads are native to the Amazon Basin in South America and north to the lower Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas.
These are dangerous to animals because they secrete a toxic substance when bitten. Dogs are the most frequent victims and can go into convulsions when exposed to the toads’ secretions. They are often confused with the native southern toad, which secretes a substance that can irritate the skin, but is not toxic.
Cane Toads eat everything, including native frogs, insects and fish, and are even attracted to pet food.
Wild pigs in Florida can trace their ancestors back to the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The first European settlers brought livestock, including pigs, and some of them ran away.
These animals are prolific breeders and can maintain sizeable populations despite being a popular target for hunters. And while they eat mostly plants, their rooting habit can cause considerable damage to native ecosystems.
They are also dangerous to humans. Wild pigs can weigh several hundred kilos and are aggressive.