It sounds like something out of science fiction novel.
But, it’s not. These are just some of the ways invasive and nonnative species have wreaked havoc on Florida’s ecosystem and wildlife. Florida is home to more than 500 nonnative species, and that’s not including plants. Florida’s warm, subtropical climate makes it a perfect place for nonnative species to take root.
From lionfish with 18-venomous spines to 6-inch cane toads, here’s a list of Florida’s most pesky species.
Perhaps the most well-known invasive species in Florida is the Burmese python. Although non-venomous, it’s known for annihilating populations of raccoons, foxes, opossums, and other small mammals in the Everglades.
The Burmese python is native to southeast Asia but are believed to have been released into the Everglades as early as 1979, according to the FWC. It’s also believed that some of these pythons escaped a breeding facility after it was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Averaging between 6 and 9 feet, the Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world.
Even when it’s outsized, these pythons have been known to take on creatures bigger than them. Last year, a 31.5-pound Burmese python swallowed a 35-pound white-tailed deer, marking what was considered the largest predator/prey ratio ever recorded for that specific species.
It’s hard to put an exact number of how many pythons reside in the Everglades. Estimates range from 10,000 all the way up to 100,000, according to the Associated Press. In an effort to curb the number of these snakes, the FWC encourages people to remove and kill pythons from private lands whenever possible.
Cane toads look the part of an invasive species. The toads are characterized by their warty, brownish skin and their large triangular glands that excrete poisonous toxins.
If a pet eats or bites a cane toad, it can die in as little as 15 minutes, according to the FWC.
Cane toads were first brought to Florida in the 1930s and to help curb agriculture pests in sugar cane fields. However, current populations are plaguing residents in South Florida who fear their poisonous venom could harm their pets.
Ray Simonsen Sr., who owns a wildlife removal company known as Ray the Trapper, has been trapping and euthanizing cane toads for seven years in Collier County. He wears 2 to 3 pairs of gloves at a time to protect himself from the toads.
“I’m not the biologist,” Simonsen said. “I’m the trapper. I’m on the biting end, or the bad end of this deal.”
He said cane toads breed year-round, but are more prevalent during the rainy, warmer season. On a typical round up, Simonsen said he can snag 100 to 150 toads every hour or two.
The name lionfish may seem like a misnomer, given that it bears no resemblance to a lion. However, with no known predators, the lionfish has become a king of the ocean.
The predatory reef fish is known for its zebra-like stripes and venomous spines that protrude from it’s stomach. The lionfish threaten wildlife by eating native fish, including some fish that keep algae at bay.
“It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” said LeRoy Creswell, who works for the University of Florida-operated Florida Sea Grant. “It’s by far the most impactful invasive species in Florida.”
Lionfish are highly reproductive and lay large clusters of eggs at a time. Females lay 12,000 to 15,000 eggs each, and can lay eggs every two weeks.
For years now, competitions have been organized around the state to hunt lionfish, and companies like Whole Foods and Publix sell lionfish.
Green iguanas may seem innocent, as a lot of them end up in Florida toilet bowls, but the large reptile is notorious for damaging infrastructure such as seawalls and sidewalks by digging. The iguanas are also known for their appetite for landscape plants.
The earliest official reports of iguanas in Florida was in Miami-Dade County in 1965, according to previous Times reporting.
Rhesus macaque monkeys
The rhesus macaque has a unique coming-to-Florida story.
Back in the 1930s, the captain of a boat operation put six monkeys on a small piece of land in the Silver River, near Central Florida, to attract tourists. But soon after, the monkeys swam to the surrounding area and grew their numbers.
The rhesus macaque monkey can carry severe diseases including herpes B. There have been 18 incidents of rhesus macaque bites and scratches reported in Florida, but it’s worth noting that there have been no confirmed cases of a human contracting herpes B from a rhesus in the wild, according the the FWC.
Also, don’t feed these guys. The monkeys are said to be aggressive when fed, and the FWC passed a rule in 2017 barring people from feeding any wild monkeys in the state.
The FWC encourages the public to report any sightings of nonnative, invasive wildlife to the Exotic Species Hotline at 888-IveGot1 (888-483-4681), online at IVEGOT1.org or by using the free smartphone app IVEGOT1.
Are there any invasive species that have bothered you? Let us know in the comments.