People have a tendency to lump animals together. When you think of “snakes,” you might thing of the tiny snakes we have in the US, or perhaps a giant anaconda swimming down the Amazon. What you probably don’t think of are the giant snakes that have invaded Florida and decimated the ecosystem there. While Florida is the most hard hit area of the United States when it comes to invasive species, there are precious few areas that aren’t hurt by exotic animals that have been released into our ecosystem. One of the biggest culprits in spreading dangerous and invasive species is the exotic pet trade. Cats and dogs aren’t the only pets that are abandoned in staggering numbers each year. Exotic pets are also abandoned, often leading to disastrous consequences.
The Burmese Python’s invasion of Florida has led to the near disappearance of raccoons, opossums, and rabbits, yet you can easily obtain one as a pet. That goes for any number of species not native to North America, including monkeys, tree frogs, numerous lizard species, and even marine life. Florida is certainly the hardest hit since their weather is conducive to the survival of many species being imported to the US, but the blight has put huge swaths of the country in danger.
The most notorious of the invasive species is the Burmese Python. Its popularity as an exotic pet came with very little research. The python can grow to more than 12 feet, a size most people were ill-equipped to deal with. Instead of researching their “pets” before hand, people started to dump then in the Everglades, a perfect environment for them to thrive. These pythons can even take down deer, endangering their population as well! Add to all of that the fact that these pythons are breeding with the native population, and you have an ever worsening situation.
Another newly transported citizen of the Everglades is the Cuban Tree Frog. A fairly cute amphibian, the Cuban Tree Frog has managed to push out its native brethren, taking over territory and dominating the fight for food. A year-long study of the frogs showed that even after removal from an area, they can have a long term impact on the ability of native species to recover.
The Cuban Tree Frog is believed to have first appeared after stowing away in shipping containers, but now the majority come from people simply dumping them off in the swamps.
Arguably the cutest, and most obnoxious, creature to take over Florida (noticing a theme here?) is the Rhesus monkey.
These jesters of the animal kingdom became popular pets in the 1920’s and 30’s, during the hight of Tarzan’s popularity. The problem was that, instead of being a loyal and clever companion, Rhesus monkeys have a very strong mind of their own. They are brilliant animals, and can be trained as companion animals, but they are not house pets. Once the behavior became unwieldy (they will bite and claw, hard), people started to release them. Now they serve as a tourist attraction due to their domination of certain parks, but they have also been showing up positive for Hepatitis-B. As they become more of a public health risk, state officials are struggling to find a humane and logical solution to the monkey problem.
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Probably the farthest spreading invasive animal is another of the aquatic variety: the Asian Carp. Originally brought to the US to help clean algae out of catfish farms and wastewater treatment plants, flooding helped them escape and enter the waterways, including the Mississippi River.
The last few years have seen a scramble to prevent these filter feeders from entering the Great Lakes. The carps can grow up to 100 pounds, and will eat up to 20% of their body weight a day! Carps will utterly destroy native ecosystems, competing for resources, leaving the native species to die off. This is especially troubling if they reach the Great Lakes. The delicate ecosystems, and the 7 billion dollar fishing industry, would be eradicated.
The biggest issue with the Asian Carp is the lack of natural predators. Once established, there is no way for them to be removed, leaving them at the top of the food chain. Extreme measures have been taken to keep the fish out of the lakes, but they are being found closer and closer each year. Only time will tell how much trouble we may be in.
This is far from a comprehensive list. Invasive species have caused problems big and small across the country. Australia is a perfect example of how severe the impact from foreign flora and fauna can be, and that type of severity is showing itself in countless other countries as people travel more and more, and the exotic pet trade expands. The more animals that people adopt but aren’t ready for, the more abandoned animals enter the ecosystem.
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