Florida Has World's Worst Invasive Amphibian and Reptile Problem, According to UF Research

If you're looking for a reptile or amphibian species that "causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health," chances are, it's in Florida.

According to a 20-year study led by a University of Florida researcher, the state takes the cake in the invasive species largely due to the pet trade, with 137 reptile and amphibian species that don't belong here being released into the state between 1863 and 2010.

Of those 137 species that aren't supposed to be here, researchers say 25 percent can be traced to a single animal importer.

Florida law prohibits releasing nonindigenous species in the state, but because whoever releases the animal has to be caught in the act, no one's even been prosecuted for it, the university says.

Behind the back of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 56 foreign species have made their way to Florida: 43 lizards, five snakes, four turtles, three frogs, and an alligator-like thing called a caiman.

"Most people in Florida don't realize when they see an animal if it's native or nonnative, and unfortunately, quite a few of them don't belong here and can cause harm," UF researcher Kenneth Krysko says in the university's announcement. "No other area in the world has a problem like we do, and today's laws simply cannot be enforced to stop current trends."

The consequences of these animals' being in the state include iguanas that can dig through concrete as well as Burmese pythons, which eat a bunch of the wild species that actually belong in the state, researchers say.

Krysko says the first species to get into Florida was the greenhouse frog from the West Indies in 1863, and almost all of the nonindigenous species to get here between 1887 and 1940 came via a cargo path from Cuba.

Then people in the 1970s and '80s wanted exotic pets, which led to 84 percent of all the new species, Krysko says.

"It's like some mad scientist has thrown these species together from all around the world and said, 'Hey let's put them all together and see what happens,'" he says. "It could take decades before we actually know the long-term effects these species will have."

For more info and a video on the invasive species problem researched by UF, click here.

[h/t Seth Platt]

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Contact: Matthew Hendley