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Exotic Reptiles of Florida
Exotic Reptiles of Florida an Explosive Invasion
Florida is known for its sunshine, warm weather, beautiful beaches and many tourist destinations. It is also becoming well known for its rapidly expanding population of exotic reptiles, that are threatening native species and moving into urban areas where they threaten humans and their pets. There have been media reports for several years concerning frequent encounters between residents of Cape Coral and large Nile Monitor Lizards and more recently, about 20 foot Burmese Pythons being removed from backyards in suburban Miami.
It is thought that many of these exotic reptiles in Florida are the result of negligent or ignorant pet owners releasing their over sized and unmanageable pet monitor lizards and pythons. Others have attributed the growth of exotic reptiles in South Florida to Hurricane Andrew which damaged the huge exotic reptile import holding areas, subsequently releasing many varieties of exotic reptiles into the wild.
What is known is that Nile Monitor Lizards and Burmese Pythons are now breeding in the wild and adapting well to life in Florida. They have also proliferated and moved further north into central Florida. Even more troubling is the fact that venomous exotic species are also turning up in Florida. In the past year a cable television installer was bitten by a highly venomous African Green Mamba, while perched in a tree and installing cable outside of a house in Hollywood Florida. In addition, there are creditable reports of a breeding population of King Cobras in the Everglades as well.
There is now a real threat to native wildlife, humans and pets throughout Florida and beyond. Much as with the incursion of other invasive species into the U.S., such as Africanized aka "killer bees," the expansion of these giant predatory constrictors, lizards and venomous snakes poses serious ecological and public health concerns for the future.
Living with the Burmese Python
Exotic Snake Makes a Home in Florida
What are the hazards of the Burmese Python to the Florida and U.S. Eco-systems?
As this giant predator establishes a foothold in Florida and rapidly expands its range, what can we expect in a future where the new apex predator is a deadly and prolific constrictor?
Until recently, the American Alligator has been the apex predator in Florida, thanks to legal protections and a resurging population. Legal protection and conservation have also helped the American Salt Water Crocodile make a comeback in some areas of Florida, like the Everglades. These two native crocodilians have traditionally been at the top of the food chain.
Various videos and pictures have documented with increasing frequency, the aftermath of battles between alligators and Burmese Pythons in the Florida Everglades, where the Burmese Python has now established itself. These battles have sometimes favored the alligator and sometimes the python.
The increased population of Burmese Pythons is likely to increase the competition for available food and the predation of native species in Florida. This is bad news for many native animals, since many are already threatened with extinction.
An increased population of these snakes also means they are likely to move out of the Everglades and to seek food in other areas, many of which are populated, such as suburban Miami. Already many of these Burmese Pythons are showing up in backyard situations where they pose a definite threat to children and pets.
Monitor Lizards On The Move
Backyard Jurassic Park
The Nile Monitor Lizard is a durable, adaptable and formidable lizard. Reaching up to 7 feet in length, these reptiles are fast on their feet, awesome swimmers, and proficient climbers. They are capable predators and scavengers and are likely to show-up just about anywhere within their range, from backyard swimming pools to roof tops. They have razor sharp teeth and claws and strong whip-like tails and are more than a match for any other animal in their current habitat, except the alligator and Burmese python.
The Nile Monitor lizard population has exploded in recent years around the Cape Coral area of Southwest Florida and is now expanding into other areas of Florida, from the Keys to Sanibel Island, to Orlando. In spite of attempts to eliminate them through sporadic trapping efforts, it now appears the Nile monitor lizard is here to stay and is bound to continue its expansion within Florida, if not beyond. The Nile monitor is a prolific breeder, with females laying 60 to 80 eggs once or twice a year.
The Nile monitor is a carnivore which thrives on a diet of eggs and is a very proficient hunter. It is a huge threat to Florida's endangered ground owl and gopher tortoise, populations, which are already threatened species and protected by law. Also threatened are the alligator and American crocodile, whose eggs and nests make easy targets. Nile monitors prefer to live along riverbanks and waterways, which puts them in close proximity to crocodillians.
These lizards also commonly prey on pets and small mammals and are a definite threat to cats and small dogs. Known for their ornery dispositions, strength and aggressiveness, monitor lizards should be left alone and avoided by humans, both children and adults. Confrontations and cornering them are apt to bring about loud hissing, and attack with sharp claws, teeth and whipping tail.
Exotic Reptile Species, The Tip of The Iceberg
Exotic Pets or Exotic Pests?
Burmese pythons were first discovered in the Everglades as early as the '70s - probably someone's overgrown pet released. Monitor lizards began showing up in the Cape Coral area in the '80s, again, possibly some released or escaped pets.
Now 20 to 30 years later the Burmese python population is estimated to be over 100,000, with a rapidly expanding habitat and out of control. The Nile monitor lizard population likewise, also out of control, with only feeble efforts being made to trap and contain it.
The initial reports of encounters with these reptiles in Florida now serve as very large "red flags" of a pending environmental disaster. If only people had been aware of the dangers these animals pose to their environment, perhaps something could have been done to stop the threat from spreading.
Unfortunately other "red flags" have been raised in Florida recently. Venomous king cobras encountered in the everglades, cable installer bitten by venomous African green mamba in Hollywood Florida and a huge South American anaconda captured in a central Florida lake. Are these reptiles also escaped exotic pets, or perhaps the harbinger of something more ominous?
Invasive species are nothing new to Florida, with many examples of both flora and fauna to choose from. But other species are not as predatory and directly dangerous to native animals and people. Reptiles also seem to inspire more anxiety and fear.
Invasive mammalian species in Florida such as the Gambian pouch rat (3 feet long) and the virtual explosion of the feral pig population, could provide a food supply for these reptiles, at best.
Who knows what the future holds for the ecology of Florida, not to mention other neighboring States with similar weather and eco-systems. Environmental warming could push these reptiles far beyond the comfortable borders of Florida. What next, pythons in Central Park?
What Next - Ignore, Study or Fight Back?
Can Our Eco-System Adapt?
Researchers at many institutions including the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Florida and the University of Tampa continue to monitor and study the effects and growth of invasive species in Florida, including the reptiles of concern. namely the Burmese Python and the Nile monitor lizard.
Many environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy have stepped in with programs such as the "Python Patrol" which seeks to patrol, identify and remove pythons from South Florida, using volunteer spotters and snake handlers.
The Florida State government has responded to the challenge of exotic reptiles by passing legislation requiring a $100 fee for owning an exotic, as well as, requiring computer chip identification of new exotic reptile pets of concern. These are arguably small steps, but definitely in the right direction.
On the national front, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, has sponsored legislation to protect native wildlife and ecosystems with a ban of the further importation into the United States of 9 species of giant constrictors of environmental concern (including the Burmese python).
The alarm has sounded both regionally and nationally, hopefully it is not too late for an effective response.
Although the Burmese python and Nile monitor lizard are thought to rarely pose a direct threat to people, it is seemingly just such an event that has fueled recent legislation, namely the death of a sleeping young child by the family's escaped pet Burmese python.
In another incident in 2001, in Newark, Delaware, a man was discovered in his small apartment, half eaten by his 7 large Nile monitor lizard pets, after failing to show up for work!
It is estimated that 3-4 people in the United States are killed by their pet constrictors each year, either through strangulation or fatal infections caused from bites. These are mild mannered pet snakes, not the more aggressive constrictors found in the wild.
Adult Burmese pythons do occasionally attack and kill humans in their native Asian habitat, although there is little or no evidence that they actually eat people. Nevertheless, a small child or pet could easily be viewed as prey by these giant snakes, sometimes reaching 20 feet in length and weighing 200 pounds.
Clearly the threat to humans is remote, although real and sensational. The threat to the environment is potentially disastrous and much closer at hand. How will we respond?
(picture above, surgical implant of tracking device into an adult Burmese python)
What Do You Think? - Where Do You Stand on This Issue?
We are a society which promotes and defends individual rights and freedoms. We also have a responsibility to protect the environment and public health. How do you respond to the following question?
Individuals should have the right to own exotic reptiles if they choose, without government interference or oversight
Related Invasive Species Links
- US Geological Survey - Nonindigenous Aquatic Species
Scientific assessment of Nile Monitor Lizard in Florida U.S.A.
- Nile monitor lizards invaded Florida and they're winning the battle
St Petersburg Times: Michael Kruse, Times Staff Writer In Print: Sunday, June 21, 2009
- The Nature Conservancy: Stopping a Burmese Python Invasion
Halting the spread of Burmese pythons out of the Everglades and into neighboring conservation lands is the goal of the "Python Patrol," a Nature Conservancy program first launched in the Florida Keys two years ago
- Science Daily: Report Documents Risks Of Giant Invasive Snakes In The United States
Five giant non-native snake species would pose high risks to the health of ecosystems in the United States should they become established here, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report.
- Sen. Bill Nelson Florida Sponsors legislation to ban further import of pythons and boa constrictors
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A key Senate panel today approved Sen. Bill Nelson's bill to ban nine giant constrictor snakes, sending a strong signal that more may be done to safeguard U.S. wildlife and natural resources. The measure now goes to the full Senate
- Python Snakes, An Invasive Species In Florida, Could Spread To One Third Of US
Burmese pythons and other giant constrictor snakes have shown themselves to be highly adaptable to new environments.
- Invasion Of Gigantic Burmese Pythons In South Florida Appears To Be Rapidly Expanding
We really need to be addressing the spread of these pythons. They're capable of surviving anywhere in Florida, they're capable of incredible movement - and in a relatively short period."
- State wildlife officials propose bounty on pythons in Everglades
IN THE EVERGLADES - State officials are pushing a plan to put a bounty on the Burmese pythons that have invaded the Everglades.
- Burmese Pythons Wanted Dead or Alive
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar considering bounty on massive snakes
- Python Permit Program Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the Florida Wildlife Commission instituting a permit program to search for Burmese pythons?
- Florida Wrestles with Its Python Problem
Law-enforcement officials remove a Burmese python from the home where it killed 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare in Oxford, Fla.
- The Dinosaur Down the Street
So there I was driving down a four-lane road in South Florida when I saw a palm tree trunk in the middle of the road. Except when I got closer, the palm tree had eyes. Evil prehistoric eyes. Holy cow! I mean leaping lizards! That wasn't a palm tree.
- HerpDigest Archives
CNN (Atlanta, Georgia) 17 January 01 Pet lizards feast on owners corpse Dover, Delaware (AP): Several flesh-eating pet lizards were found feasting on the corpse of their owner in his apartment, police said. Police were called to Ronald Huffs apartmen
- Bite from pet monitor lizard may have had role in death
The unusual pets were known to have bitten a Newark Delaware man, who kept them in his apartment.
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