By John B. Virata
Florida is ranked the number one locale worldwide for the proliferation of invasive species, according to a report published in the journal Zootaxa. The report cites verified non-indigenous amphibians and reptiles in Florida from 1863 to 2010, citing previously reported species as well as non-native species that have become established in the state.
It found 137 non-native amphibian and reptile species in the state including 56 that are classified as established, meaning that the animals are successfully reproducing. The established animals include three frogs, four turtles, a crocodilian, 43 lizards and five snakes. The animals became invasive by various means, according to the report, including animals released as biological controls (two animals), animals that were previously in zoos that escaped (four) animals introduced via cargo (18), meaning that they were stowaways that made it to Florida, and animals introduced via the pet trade, in which 125 animals were introduced into the wild.
These introductions occurred even though state law prohibits the release of non-indigenous animals in Florida without a permit from Florida's Fish and Game Wildlife Conservation Commission, and it is noted in the report that not a single person has been prosecuted for violating the law.
The most infamous invasive reptile in Florida is arguably the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus). These reptiles have been reproducing in Everglades National Park since at least the 1980s, said Dr. Kenneth Krysko, senior biological scientist, Division of Herpetology at the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History, and principal author of the report. While extreme cold weather a few years ago wiped out many of these large snakes, this was but a dent in the population.
"Indeed many pythons, along with thousands of other native and non-native animals, were killed during the atypical prolonged cold weather a couple of years ago," Krysko said. "Unfortunately dead pythons were found only where the oolitic limestone is the surface (extreme southern Florida), but not just to the north where we know pythons have expanded and where soil is at the surface. Like all other animals, in order to escape extreme cold or hot temperatures, these animals simply burrow. This is supported by more observations since the cold weather to the north of Everglades National Park," he said. It's too bad they weren't all wiped out."