Florida Exotic Species - Iguana, Burmese Python


10.10.2006 - One of the more common sensationalist topics in the field of wildlife management is that of exotic species. Exotic means non-indigenous, or non-native species. In particular, people are interested in large and scary critters such as giant lizards and snakes. In my field of nuisance wildlife control, I come across exotics commonly.

The above photo shows two of the interesting exotics that I've dealt with over the years: the iguana, which is native to Central and South America, and the Burmese Python, which comes from southeast Asia. I caught these animals in suburban settings.

Because they are not native, they are most likely escaped or released pets. The latter scenario is more likely. It's not uncommon for people to purchase reptiles as pets, then grow tired of them over time, or realize that the responsibility of caring for a large animal is too great, and release it. The warm Orlando climate allows these animals to survive in the wild. It's possible that either of these animals, the Iguana or Burmese Python, have established breeding populations in the Orlando area, but I don't suspect this is the case. The python was skinny for its length, indicating that it was released and then had trouble finding food. If it were a healthy wild specimen, it would have been fatter. In addition, it probably would have been noticed sooner. As for the iguana, it looked healthy, though I suspect that it was also a released pet. I haven't seen many iguanas running around Orlando, nor juvenile iguanas, so I'm guessing that there's no established population of breeding iguanas. Still, the ones that are released are able to survive in the warm climate, and perhaps it's only a matter of time until they become a permanent part of the Orlando ecosystem.

My advice to pet owners is to not release reptiles (or any animal) into the wild! If you don't want your pet any more, contact the Orlando Herpetalogical Society, and they will take your reptile for you.

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In Florida, the temperature, humidity, and the thriving flowers and plants, along with the vast arrays of different wetlands, forest spaces, and dry-lands makes the state a perfect thriving ground for all types of exotic wildlife. In this, we'll explore the different and surprising collections of animals you can find in Florida.

The Lizards and Iguanas of Florida

Firstly, and most poignant to the natives, is the large collection of lizards, iguanas, geckos, and more. They come in huge varieties, and sadly sometimes, they come in swarms. Their resilience, hardy nature, and lack of a predator base make these animals a huge pest throughout the state, including iguana's acting similarly to rats, in that they eat lots, breed quickly, and can nest throughout the house and into attic-spaces. For this issue, a professional is always nearby, so this isn't too much of a threat, and although they can deliver a nasty nip or bite when they need to, they're not deadly. At most, with a Nile monitor, you'll feel severely ill and need medical attention, but most aren't a threat. You may need to lizard-proof your house though, and make sure that surrounding areas are sealed and prepped to prevent an infestation!

The Snake Population

Speaking of poisonous though, Florida is host to a collection of exotic snakes, being the host of 4 of the most poisonous species in the whole of North America! They are native to the land, and the arid and drier parts of Florida accommodate these animals nicely. The different snakes all have varying diets, but the most poisonous of them tend to eat similarly to non-poisonous ones, going for other reptiles, frogs, etc., with the exception of few like the diamondback, who will eat small mammals also.

The Burmese Python

When it comes to snakes, there's none more noticeable than the Burmese Python. Only introduced before and around the 1980s, the swamps of Florida were overrun by this most damaging and invasive species. These can grow to beyond 20 feet, and with the thickness of a telephone pole, they decimate the region's small and medium-sized mammal population. Female pythons can lay 50-100 eggs in a single year, which means that there is currently a home out there for at least tens of thousands of the snakes so far, and rising each year.

The Rhesus Macaque

With a similar story to the Python, the Rhesus Macaque was only introduced relatively recently into Florida. In the 1930s, a private owner of a theme park tried to release a whole colony on an island in Silver River, as a tourist attraction. What they didn't know was that the monkey can swim, and thus spread into central Florida. Nowadays, the monkeys are still spreading a bit like wildfire, and there are hundreds. They can be feral, and travel in large gangs. On feeling threatened, they become aggressive. It was also discovered that they can carry the Herpes virus, and like many species of monkey, like to throw their poop, making it VERY risky to provoke one.

Nile Crocodiles

Lastly, covering an exotic species foreign to the state, Florida reigns as a habitat for Nile Crocodiles. Being able to grow over 6 feet tall, and weighing just as much as a small car, the Nile Crocodile carries some immense power. They eat any small, medium, or large mammal they can get a hold of, and many fish in their habitat too. One nickname for the Nile is the ‘Man-eater', which should explain enough. From Sub-Saharan Africa, this crocodile evolved to survive rough climates, and Florida's easy location has given them more than they ever wanted. In six years, all of America's native alligators and crocodiles have led to 33 fatalities. When in comparison with the Nile Crocodile alone, they've killed 268 people in the same time frame. They've been surviving and breeding in the swamps of Florida for many years, and are more of a threat than the native species.

To conclude, when Floridians and tourists to the location fell in love (naturally) with the location, it became ever-popular for its thriving wildlife and flora. In the wake of this, in the 20th century, it became host to many trades in wildlife, when buying and selling animals across the Atlantic was at its peak. From this, the state was introduced (quite foolishly) to many new species. Without the presence of natural predators, they've been allowed to thrive, and whether a life-threatening animal or just a household pest, the landscape of animals in Florida has never been so diverse. Here were some examples, but there are many more out there for you to find out about! But, hopefully not to stumble across while you're there.

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