Florida's Seven Most Invasive Species: Giant Mosquitoes, African Snails, Feral Cats, and More

Every couple of weeks, Florida media trumpet a new invasion from some awful creature. Already in 2013, scientists have warned us about giant mosquitoes, giant rats, and giant snails (oh. my.).

Little can be done to stop them. But the least New Times could do is prepare loyal readers for the next invasion. We've made a guide of the seven most terrifying invasive species you could (nay, will!) encounter in Florida this summer. And we answer the most important question of all: Are they edible?

Gallinippers Anyone who grew up in Florida knows the constant threat of mosquitoes. Not just bites on those muggy summer nights, but the fear existed of contracting West Nile Virus or encephalitis or dengue fever from the bloodsuckers. In 2013, we're receiving a different warning about Florida's mosquitoes -- they might shiv you. The gallinippers, despite their playful name, are 20 times (20 times!) the size of your average mosquito, with bites described as "like you're being stabbed."

If there's a positive side to getting stabbed by an insect the size of a quarter, it's this: Gallinippers don't carry any diseases. To be fair, that is a pretty nice advantage.

Can you eat gallinippers? Sure, run around wooded areas at night with your mouth open and you'll catch a whole bunch of mosquitoes in your maw. However, they won't taste very good or provide any nutritional value. But ya know, get those skeeters before they get you. Kill or be killed. Ain't no love in this city.

Gambian Pounched Rats The largest known breed of rat in the world, you say? Tell me more. Well, they're three feet long and could easily be confused with a house cat. The rats weigh up to nine pounds. According to the New York Times, they have been used to detect tuberculosis and land mines. So basically the rodents have all the typical disgusting rat qualities. But what's really bothersome about these rats is the word "pouched." A disturbing word. What do you keep in that pouch, Gambian pouched rat? Tiny rat babies? The Black Plague? Rolos? Wait, it turns out it is food -- they store food in their little rat cheeks. How nauseating.

Luckily, the outbreak is contained to the Florida Keys. The rats first started appearing at the turn of the millennium, after an exotic-animal breeder released them into the wild. The rats wreak havoc on Florida's crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture thought they had eliminated them in 2009. But the strongest, most intelligent rats survived, heading underground, where they bred fast and hard, waiting for the day they may release their new rat army on an unsuspecting populace. That day occurred this year.

Anyway, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hopes to defeat the rats with peanut butter and cantaloupe traps.

Can you eat Gambian pouched rats? Once a friend and I came across some rodent roadkill, and I offered him $50 to lick the dead animal. He contemplated the idea because 50 bucks is a lot of money. He ultimately decided against it. Later, we found out rodents did carry the black plague. Probably not since the Middle Ages, but when it comes to the black plague, we recommend erring on the side of not eating a possible carrier.

Lionfish Like the elderly, the lionfish have been hanging around Florida for some time. After the venomous fish were released into the ocean in the 1980s, the spiny bastards started gobbling every smaller fish and crustacean in its path. Alas, the lionfish does have an unnatural predator. Us. The FWC is devising all sorts of ways to hunt and kill the invasive, gluttonous species, turning the lionfish into a quasi- Frankenstein's monster.

Divers come after these little fishes with spear guns, tridents, pitchforks. The poor little lionfish cries out "I'm not a monster." A pause. Then the lionfish let's out a little fish burp and baby fish parts float out of its mouth. The divers ask, "What was that?" And the lionfish, as it frantically uses its adorable fish fins to shovel the regurgitated scales back into its mouth, replies, "Uh, nothing. I had burrito bowl for lunch."

But it's too late. The divers descend. The hunter becomes the hunted. And you've just read some lionfish fan fiction.

Can you eat lionfish? Definitely. Poisonous or not, humans are pretty solid at coming up with ways to eat animals. Some South Florida restaurants serve lionfish tacos, and there's an even a recipe book dedicated to cooking up some tasty lionfish. Just watch out for the toxic parts. Poison poison tasty fish!

Giant African Land Snails Everybody knows stucco is delicious. Plaster too. You'd eat it for breakfast each morning if you could. But here's the problem with giant African snails. They don't know when to stop. The huge slimy vertebrates annihilate houses by eating through high-calcium stucco and also love to devour native plants.

"More than 1,000 of the mollusks are being caught each week in Miami-Dade and 117,000 in total" since September 2011, according to an article by Reuters. The snails reproduce faster than Gambian pouched rats. The mollusks also can grow to the size of a rat. So they also have a lot in common with rats.

One thing they don't have in common with rats is their use as a projectile. In the Caribbean, the snails have turned into dangerous weapons when launched into an air by lawnmower blades. Their shells also can puncture car tires.

The latest outbreak might be tied to a Miami Santeria group that uses the snails for religious rituals. A prior epidemic occurred in 1966, after a boy brought three snails back from Hawaii. It took $1 million and ten years to rid Florida of them. Now they've returned, and they're eating all our damned stucco.

Can you eat giant African land snails? We know what you're thinking: escargot. But here's what we're thinking: meningitis. The snails can carry a parasitic rat lungworm that causes the lethal brain disease.

Feral Cats Florida has seen an explosion of feral cats in the past months. And somebody wants to have those felines euthanized. Yes, you know who I'm talking about. Those terrible, bloodthirsty, egomaniacal Republi... wait, no, it's environmentalists?! Huh!

Why do environmentalists want to kill the internet's most precious resource? This case is not your typical hippie-liberal-pot-smoker-versus-red-meat-consuming-pry-the-gun-from-my-cold-dead-hands conservative. We won't be seeing Florida's House pass H.B. 7,485 Cat's in the Bag, Bag's in the River. Instead, Congress advocates a bill for "trap-neuter-release programs." Yes, this case has subtleties.

By that, we mean it's a fight between cat people and bird people. Some environmentalists defend the cats, and the bill would offer legal protection to those who spay and neuter the cats. But other conservationists like the bird-loving Audobon Society want to euthanize feral cats because they're already wiping out birds throughout Florida. A recent study showed cats kill 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds annually. But they make such adorable YouTube videos. How do you choose sides in an issue like that?

Can you eat feral cats? Don't eat a cat. Come on, man.

Burmese Python Of all of Florida's invasive species, Burmese pythons are the only ones to truly go mainstream. Like most major celebrities, the pythons have chilled out in the Everglades for several years, reproducing at a spectacular rate and enjoying an all-you-can-eat buffet of Florida wildlife.

Experts estimate 150,000 pythons now live in the Everglades, as the snake has no natural predators. But the Burmese python saw its profile raised when the FWC decided to sponsor a "Python Challenge" in January, encouraging hunters to kill as many snakes as possible. In the end, participants caught 68 of the 150,000 pythons. So. Close.

The results did net some big gains for science and gain exposure for the snake crisis. But we're not here to talk about scientific breakthroughs. We want to see wrasslin'. (How could you forget?) So forget about the 150,000 colossal snakes roaming the Everglades and watch Tommy Owens perform snake jiu jitsu on a ten-and-half-foot-long python.

Can you eat a Burmese python? Of course. Just don't forget to remove its "sinew covering." Sinew covering tastes awful.

White Dudes We know not all white people are bad. For example, I'm a white person, and I'm fantastic. Also, there's Miami Heat player Chris Andersen. He once received a two-year suspension from the NBA, but the Birdman has shaken his past and become a fan favorite for the Heat. Don't judge a white dude by his tattoos.

But this year, we honor Florida's first invasive creature -- the white dudes I'm talking about are the ones who arrived a half-century ago. In 2013, suddenly, we've experienced a recurrence. This year, we're celebrating the 500th anniversary of Florida's harried, baffling existence. As we recall the state's history, we're suddenly seeing an influx of white dudes dressed as Ponce de Leon, wearing breeches and spreading falsities about Florida's founding. We understand dressing up is fun and can make you feel pretty, but let's not murder the facts.

A Reuters article highlighted a festival in St. Augustine where guides informed tourists that Ponce de Leon was four-foot-11. They say that he encountered seven-foot Timucuan Indians and that those Indians were there to help de Leon find the Fountain of Youth. Not true: "Ponce de Leon wasn't especially short, the natives weren't especially tall," and ol' Ponce "wasn't even looking for" a Fountain of Youth.

Moreover, de Leon likely didn't land in St. Augustine, and he probably wasn't the first European (the original white dudes) to land in Florida. Many historians see the explorer's contributions to history as minor. He and his fellow Europeans did get the ball rolling on one accomplishment: massacring Indians. Three centuries after Europeans first made landfall in Florida, the Timucuan tribe no longer existed. That means Indians native to Florida were eradicated by the state's original invasive species. Bet you never thought of it that way before. Probably 'cause it's kinda a stupid way to think of it.

Can you eat white dudes? Uh, you can, but... don't!

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Matt Levin