Thanks To Invasive Species, The Florida Everglades Are Getting A Whole Lot Scarier
Florida might very well be the most terrifying place in North America, and that's only partially because of the crazy crime stories and enormous alligators that inhabit the state's swamps. The Everglades National Park is one of the country's greatest natural treasures, but a surge of invasive species in Florida is quietly turning the beloved park into a nightmare.
If you haven't been following the slow destruction of the Everglades, things aren't looking good for America's favorite swamp. Invasive species in the Florida Everglades are wreaking all sorts of havoc on the environment. Human introduced predators, including massive pythons, are experiencing a population boom that is threatening the Everglades' native animals. Even invasive plants are starting to move in and cause issues for the local flora, so no Florida species is safe. Without a significant and concentrated effort to eradicate these invasive pests, the ecology of America's most diverse environment may be irreversibly altered.
The Exotic Pet Trade In Florida Is Wreaking Havoc On Local Ecosystems
Many of the species that are now plaguing the Everglades were first brought to Florida as exotic pets. While not all exotic pets are illegal to own, irresponsible pet owners are causing major issues for Florida's swamps. One of the most successful invasive species is the Burmese python, a massive constrictor that is typically found in Southeast Asia. While these animals are completely legal to own, they often grow to ridiculous lengths and become too much for their owners to handle.
Bad owners have started sneaking their pythons into the park and releasing them into the wild, which is one of the main reasons that python populations are booming in the Everglades. Unfortunately, these pythons are far from the only exotic pets gaining a foothold in the swamp.
There Are So Many Invasive Pythons That "Python Hunts" Are Now A Regular OccurrencePhoto: Mark J Andrews II / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Pythons are no joke. They can grow up to 23 feet long and have powerful muscles that can squeeze the life out of a full grown adult. But in Florida, hunters are coming by the hundreds in order to help eradicate this invasive species. Some estimates put the number of invasive pythons in the Everglades as high as 150,000, a staggering number that will take years to cull.
To combat these pesky serpents, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 endorsed a massive snake hunt called the Python Challenge. Hunters from around the country were encouraged to come to the Everglades and round up as many pythons as they could. There was even a prize of $1,500 to the team who managed to capture the most pythons. Roughly 1,500 people came to the Everglades to participate in the hunt, but only about 50 snakes were captured in total. Now, the Python Challenge has been extended to 60 days and recruits hunters to go after the pythons. Local businesses that specialize in python removal are also starting to pop up in the area, as it seems like python season isn't coming to an end anytime soon.
Tegu Lizards Are One Of The Biggest Problem AnimalsPhoto: Signey / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
While pythons seem to be getting all the press, it's a different type of reptile that is wiping out nests throughout the Everglades. Tegus, a type of lizard found primarily in South America, are another exotic type of pet making its home in the swamps of Florida. Some species of these massive lizards can grow up to four feet in length, and they are gorging themselves on the eggs of native species. Tegus will eat basically anything they can swallow, and they have been targeting the nests of alligators, sea turtles, and some bird species.
Tegus reproduce in batches, with one female laying up to 30 eggs at a time. The number of tegus currently in the Everglades is likely in the tens of thousands. One tegu hunter has bagged roughly 1,600 of these little guys completely on his own, and he's convinced that he's barely scratching the surface of the tegu population.
Only A Fifth Of The Everglades Is Considered Protected LandPhoto: Chauncey Davis / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
The Everglades are huge, and the national park only encompasses a small amount of these swamps. Everglades National Park only represents about a fifth of the entire area of the swamp, meaning that the rest of it is open to commercial development. The Everglades have been shrinking for nearly a century now, with over half of its surface area eradicated in just the last 100 years. This has been devastating for the native animal population, many of whom are seeing steep declines in numbers due to a loss of habit conflated with a number of other problems.
The List Of Native Animals Affected By Humans Is ShockingPhoto: Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons
It's not just a few animals who are struggling to deal with the influx of invasive species. Pretty much every animal in the Everglades is being affected in one way or another. This includes apex predators like alligators and the rare Florida panther. Alligators are now competing with pythons for the same resources, and often the alligators will end up on the menu. Florida's panther are experiencing an epidemic of trichinosis, a disease that is being passed on by invasive feral hogs. Endangered green sea turtles are having their eggs eaten before they can hatch, and many other species have become endangered in the last century.
Exotic Plants Are Also Having A Negative ImpactPhoto: Peggy Greb / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
If you thought the invasive species that are damaging the Everglades was limited to animals, here's some bad news for you. Apparently there are plenty of exotic plant species that are creeping into the swamp and causing their own awful problems. Trees covered in invasive climbing ferns are more susceptible to forest fires than those without. The ferns basically act as kindling that allow fire to travel up to the entire mass of the tree with ease. Other nonnative plants are competing with native ones for the same resources. Park rangers are trying their best to remove harmful invasive plants from the Everglades, but it is an uphill battle.