A heartfelt Florida welcome to all our winter residents, who tend to migrate
south this time of year.
With warm, sunny winters; nearly 700 miles of sandy beaches; more than 11,000 miles of rivers, streams and waterways; approximately 7,700 lakes over 10 acres or larger; and – whew! – 174 state parks, Florida is, no doubt, one of the most beautiful states in the nation.
But there are some pretty creepy critters here too.
Sure, you’ve heard about the sharks, gators and black bears that you could potentially run into (but probably won’t) during your visit. But did you know we also have enormous pythons, American crocodiles and wild boars in these parts?
And have you heard the latest on the lionfish?
Now, we don’t want to scare you away, but we do feel obligated to at least make you aware of their presence. Remember though, most of these creatures can be hard to find, are much more afraid of you than you are of them, and will likely do their best to avoid confrontation unless they are cornered or attacked.
A plethora of pythons
This 18-foot, 4-inch invasive Burmese python was recently captured and
removed from the Big Cypress National Preserve in southern Florida by Jonathan Lopez and Cynthia Downer, Python Action Team members who have
been trained to remove the species from the wild.
So far, the Python Action Team has helped eliminate more than 900 invasive pythons from the Everglades, as their presence threatens native wildlife.
Burmese pythons can take down animals as large as alligators and deer, but
they rarely attack people.
The large constrictors became established in Florida as a result of escaped or released pets. (It is illegal to release nonnative species into the wild.) The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC’s) Exotic Pet Amnesty Program allows pet owners to surrender nonnative or exotic pets without penalty. Visit MyFWC.com/PetAmnesty for more information.
Lionfish make a good dish
Lionfish, seen most often in aquariums,
are another example of exotic pets – albeit beautiful ones – that should have never been freed into the wild. These bad boys of the sea wreak havoc on coral reef ecosystems and have been called the biggest threat to Florida’s fishing industry.
They have no known predators, possess
enormous appetites and reproduce all year long – a mature female releases roughly two
million eggs a year.
To help combat the problem, the FWC sponsors lionfish tournaments each year. The marine fish is said to be tasty, but use caution when handling. The spiky fin rays of this species deliver a poisonous toxin, so seek medical attention if stung. These Marine fish are considered non-aggressive.
Land of crocodiles
Florida is famous for its gators; after
all, they can be found in just about any
lake or river around here – not to mention the University of Florida’s football field
called “the Swamp.” But many are
unaware of the presence of crocodiles,
their pointy-snouted cousins.
According to the FWC, an estimated 2,000 American crocodiles exist in our state. Unlike alligators that prefer freshwater, most are found in brackish or saltwater estuaries in southern Florida, though they have been spotted as far north as Tampa Bay and Palm Beach.
Typically, American crocs are timid creatures, but they may approach people if accustomed to being fed. Pets are always at some risk, so keep them at least 10 feet away from the water’s edge and avoid swimming in areas that alligators and crocodiles may call home.
And let’s not forget to mention our latest eco nightmare, the Nile crocodile.
This crocodilian is more aggressive and territorial than its American counterpart, killing hundreds of humans every year in Africa. Researchers don’t know how these few Nile crocs got over to Florida, nor whether or not they have bred, but the hope is that we’ve captured them all.
Wily Wild Boars
Wild boars, also known as feral pigs, are not native to Florida. Spanish explorers probably introduced them here hundreds of years ago. Today, our state
has more wild boars than any other except Texas; they are present in every county in Florida but are more prevalent in rural areas.
These intelligent animals can
weigh more than 300 pounds and are sometimes aggressive and unpredictable when provoked, though attacks are rare. They have incredibly sharp tusks that can injure or kill. Prolific eaters and breeders, they will eat young and newborn livestock (they love the smell of placenta), consume the nests of young reptiles, ground-nesting birds and other mammals, and destroy wildlife habitat and timber.
Feral hogs have been known to carry pathogens such as pseudorabies, tuberculosis and salmonellosis. The FWC encourages hunters to take precautions when dressing and handling such creatures.