Why Are They Here?There are more than 200 species of exotic animals living and breeding in the state of Florida. Most of these animals were once pets, or they are the offspring of pets. Once they escape or are set free by pet owners, many non-native animals find Florida a great place to live.
There is plenty of vegetation here for animals to consume and, because of the lush year-round plant growth, there are lots of insects and birds, rodents and other edible creatures. Our waterways are full of fish, algae and plants. Florida winters are mild, enabling all sorts of species to survive in the wild. Animal species native to tropical climates can live and breed throughout the year here. This is especially true in South Florida, where the temperature rarely dips below 40 degrees.
Photo courtesy of Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service
Why is it Such a Big Problem Now?Non-native animals have been living in Florida for a long time. However, over the past 30 to 40 years, the pet trade has been bringing an increasing variety of animals into the state. Many of these species do not make good pets, so untold numbers of unwanted animals have been "set free," dumped in our parks and lakes. Many of these animals have died, but others have survived, breeding over the years, reproducing enough to overpopulate. These animals dominate certain ecosystems and, as most exotics do, they tend to take over in areas where the native habitat has been destroyed by development. Florida suffers from overdevelopment, and exotic invasion is one of the serious long-term consequences.
The national media has begun to spotlight exotic pets on the loose, especially those species that have become invasive and destructive. There are more of these animals now, and they are more menacing. They are displacing native animals, competing for their food and nest sites, preying on them or taking over their territories. Invasive species are altering Florida’s unique ecosystem and creating unhealthy imbalances.
Invasive species will continue to thrive in the Florida landscape because they have no natural predators here. Without predators to keep their populations in check, the exotic species populations will keep on increasing. After decades of growth, species populations can reach crucial levels where it seems like, almost overnight, the number of animals explodes.
Currently, this is the case with the annoying Common Green Iguanas and Black Spinytail Iguanas in many regions around South Florida. In the Everglades and some of the Keys, the populations of a giant snake called the Burmese Python are growing exponentially. And on Florida’s west coast, the increasing number of huge African lizards called Nile Monitors is becoming a problem. Florida also has flocks of exotic parrots, gangs of Muscovy Ducks, troops of escaped monkeys, and other failed pets on the loose in our parks and waterways, suburban lakes and backyard trees. Whoever said Florida was dull?
What Should We Do About Them?
This site does not introduce you to all of the exotic species in Florida. However, you can use the information on these pages to help you:
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