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Iguana Invasion

Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida

and what to do about them

Long-finned Oscar
Long-finned Oscar

Students and Teachers

Student Questions

Here are the kinds of questions students are researching on this website:

1. Exotic invasive animals and the environment

Is it all right to keep exotic animals as pets?
Why are exotic animals not good pets for kids?
What happens when exotic animals are moved from their natural habitats?
How were exotic species introduced to Florida?
Why is Florida especially vulnerable to invasive species?
How have the native species been outcompeted in Florida?
Are exotic species eating indigenous species? Give examples.
What animals are outcompeted by the exotic species in Florida?
Why should Florida be concerned about the spread of invading exotic species?
What will happen if things stay the same with the exotic pet trade?
What are the environmental impacts of pets released in the wild?
What laws protect exotic species in Florida?
What are the negative effects of the exotic species on the Everglades?

2. Iguanas as invasive pests

Why do iguanas need to live in areas with warm weather?
When did the Green Iguana invade the U.S.?
When were the iguanas introduced to Florida?
How does the iguana threaten Floridaís ecosystem?
How have iguanas hurt local Florida species?
What will happen if iguanas keep breeding in Florida?
Where do iguanas make their home in the wild?
Why do iguanas dig?
Why do iguanas make burrows?
What do iguanas eat?
What can be done about the iguana invasion in Florida?

3. Snakes as invasives

What kinds of boas and pythons are loose in the state of Florida?
Why has the python been able to survive and thrive in the ecosystem in Florida?
What would be the reward ecologically if we eliminated the Burmese Python in Florida?
What is the main difference between the Burmese Python and the African Rock Python?
Why could the Green Anaconda thrive in the Everglades habitat?

4. Other reptiles as invasives

Why are there no large reptiles in cold countries?
Why has the Spectacled Caiman population in Florida grown?
How does the Knight Anole adapt to living in Florida?
Why are there so many Nile Monitor Lizards in Cape Coral, Florida?
What gecko species is native to Florida? What species of exotic geckos live and breed in the state?
What anole species is native to Florida? Which exotic anole species is outcompeting the natives?

5. Birds as invasives

Can an exotic bird survive in the wild?
What impacts do Muscovy Ducks have on the environment?
What do Monk Parakeets eat in Florida?
Where did the Purple Swamphens loose in Florida originate?
Where did the Sacred Ibis loose in Florida originate?
What should pet owners do with parrots they can no longer care for?

6. Mammals as invasives

Where did the monkey troops living in Florida neighborhoods come from?
What kinds of diseases can be transmitted from exotic mammals to humans? List several diseases and the symptoms.
Why was the release of Gambian Pouch Rats on Grassy Key a threat to the rest of the state?
Why donít prairie dogs, hedgehogs, Pot-bellied Pigs, and other exotics make good pets?
What native species do feral cats threaten?

7. Action on the invasive exotics problem

How is the U.S. government stopping invasions of exotic animals?
Are the sales of exotic pets decreasing because of legislation?
Is is a crime to import exotic animals into the U.S.?
Are exotic animals smuggled into the U.S.? Why?
What methods are being used to control the populations of iguanas, pythons, and other invasive species in Florida?
What do environmental scientists suggest be done about the exotics invading Florida?
What do you think should be done to help control the spread of exotic animal species throughout the state of Florida?

Research Topics

Students can do further research on the topic of invasive animals by exploring one or more of the following topics:

  1. The environmental issues posed by exotic fish on the loose in Florida
  2. The environmental threat posed by foreign marine life in the U.S.
  3. Threats posed by exotic animal species in other states (California, Texas, and Hawaii have serious invasive species problems)
  4. The results of eradication efforts with exotic animals around the world
  5. Legislation passed by governments around the world to help curb the spread of exotic animal species
  6. The efforts made by the pet industry to defend the continued import, breeding and sale of potentially invasive animal species
  7. How islands are especially vulnerable to invasives (Hawaii and Guam have interesting invasive and eradication histories)
  8. Safety issues with exotic pets (What are the dangers and diseases associated with various species?)
  9. Pet ownership and animal rights (What do the major animal rights organizations advocate regarding the sale of wildlife for pets?)
  10. The role of hunting and fishing in the exotic species issue (How do hunters and anglers help, and how might these sports contribute to the problem?)
  11. Humane vs. inhumane methods for animal control (And is there a universally accepted view on this?)
  12. Animal species which appear on state, national, or global threatened and endangered lists, yet are available for purchase as pets (Look at the IUCN Red List and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serviceís state, federal, and foreign lists)

Here are some related topics students might also choose to research:

  1. Kinds of insect species that have become invasive in the U.S. (How did they get here? What is being done to control them?)
  2. Invasive plant life in Florida and/or the U.S. (What are the threats? What is being done about them?)
  3. Effects of invasives (animals, insects, plants) on the environment worldwide (What are these foreign invaders doing to local habitats and wildlife? What is being done about them?)

Classroom Activities

Findings from one or more of the following sample activities can be presented to the class for discussion and debate.

  1. Spend some time walking around and observing the wildlife in your own neighborhood. Record your observations in a notebook. How many native birds and animals did you see? Did you see any exotic species? Are you living in an area where the exotics outnumber the native animals? What do you think attracts the wildlife that populates your neighborhood? Prepare a summary of your findings to share with your class.
  2. Investigate the local attitudes regarding the invasive animals in your area. Conduct a survey of your neighbors to evaluate public opinion on a specific exotic species such as Green Iguanas, Muscovy Ducks, or Burmese Pythons. Limit your survey questions to 1-3, and poll 10-12 individuals (with no more than 1 family member). Calculate the percentages for the responses to your questions. What do the majority of your neighbors think? Write up a summary and/or make a graph to illustrate your findings, and share the results with your class.
  3. Study an exotic species on the loose in a local park, body of water, or neighborhood. Bring a notebook, pen, and binoculars, and be willing to wait patiently. From a safe and respectful distance, observe the animalís behaviors and write down your findings. Draw sketches. Note the details of the habitat itself. What is available there that attracts the species and allows it to thrive in a foreign environment? Share your notebook with your class.
  4. Select an exotic species that is invasive in another part of the world and do an in-depth study of the problem. How did the species become invasive, and what measures, if any, have been taken to halt the invasion? Summarize your research and prepare a report for your class. Be sure to include photographs of the species.
  5. Take a trip to a local zoo or other tourist attraction featuring exotic animals. Bring a notebook and pen, and a camera if available. Observe the animals in their park habitats, and write down your thoughts. Draw sketches and take photos. What would happen to these animals if they were on the loose? Which ones would survive? Which ones might become invasive? Share your notebook with your class.
  6. Select and research proposed legislation related to exotic animal pets (e.g., H.R. 669 or S.373). Select a pending bill and write a letter about it to your state legislator. Find out what committees the bill is headed for and send a copy of your letter to each committee member. Keep track of the bill and, when it goes before the committees or the full House or Senate, email the legislators who will be voting on the bill. Follow the progress of the bill to see if it is passed. Prepare a summary of what you have learned and present your findings to your class.
  7. Research some of the controversial issues associated with exotic animal species. Examine both sides of the public debate on topics such as:
    Exotic animals in the wild should be eradicated
    All animals have the same rights as humans
    Exotic pet ownership is a form of animal cruelty
    Exotic pets carry diseases and should be banned from sale in the U.S.
    Homeowners have the right to kill feral exotic animals on their property
    Strict regulations do nothing to reduce exotic animal invasions
    Public education programs significantly reduce exotic pet invasions
  8. Compare your findings to those of your classmates. These are good topics for classroom debate.
  9. Prepare a public education campaign on one aspect of the invasive animal issue. Select a theme and create a marketing slogan and a logo. You can make posters, banners, and fliers to post around your school or neighborhood, or expand your audience with an extensive email campaign. Prepare a brief speech to accompany your campaign and present to your class. If desired, you can share with your school, hometown, and/or the rest of the world what you have learned about the problems associated with releasing exotic pets into the wild. Maybe you can make a difference.

Additional Resources for Educators

For more research topics, classroom activities and homework assignments, check out the following resources:

Project WILD
www.projectwild.org
Information and curricula for a comprehensive environmental education program; designed for students K-12

Nab the Aquatic Invader!
www.sgnis.org/kids/index.html
An educational game on common marine invaders in various U.S. regions; designed for students K-12

ESCAPE (Exotic Species Compendium of Activities to Protect the Ecosystem)
www.pubsplus.uiuc.edu/IISG-01-17.html
Classroom lessons on exotic invaders incorporating art, music, games and experiments; designed for students K-12

Donít Let It Loose
www.nps.gov/ever/forteachers/dlil.htm
An activity guide with interactive games on the topic of exotic pets; designed for middle school students

Intruders in Paradise
www.tbep.org/isteachersguide/index.html
A teaching guide to the invasive marine species in Florida; designed for middle school students

Living Legacy Teaching Guide
www.tbep.org/teachers/classroom_lessons.html
Resources and information on preserving aquatic wildlife in Florida; designed for high school science classes

Website by FCE Web Design

New book:

Iguana Invasion! Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida

by Virginia Aronson and Allyn Szejko

Available at your local bookseller, Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and Pineapple Press.

Book CoverFind out more here.


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