Animals

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

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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!

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Matt Levin