You're probably familiar with those scenes in wildlife documentaries where huge crocodiles lurch out of the water to snatch wildebeest and other large mammals that are trying to cross a river. Well, pretty soon you might not have to go on an African safari to witness scenes like that firsthand. You can just take a vacation in Florida.
Nile crocodiles, the most aggressive and dangerous crocodilians on Earth, have been found in the Florida wild, likely introduced by accident through illegal trade. These aren't your average reptiles; they're well-documented maneaters, responsible for hundreds of deaths a year in Africa — and that's just the attacks that are reported. Unreported attacks could very well number in the thousands.
The team of University of Florida researchers discovered the crocs while doing routine genetic analysis on Florida populations. Three juvenile Nile crocs were identified, two of which were found swimming in the Everglades and another that was just relaxing on a house porch in Miami. The fact that they were juveniles of similar genetic background suggests that they aren't alone, and that a parent population is also likely to exist.
“The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely,” said Kenneth Krysko, co-author of the study which discovered the crocs, in a statement. “We know that they can survive in the Florida wilderness for numerous years, we know that they grow quickly here and we know their behavior in their native range, and there is no reason to suggest that would change here in Florida.”
Florida is already home to a few other species of crocodilians, including the American alligator and the American crocodile. But the Nile crocodile is a completely different kind of beast. They are more aggressive to humans than any other species of crocodilian, and cause more deaths annually than all other croc species combined.
Even more terrifying, the study found that one of the juveniles grew nearly 28 percent faster than wild Nile crocodile juveniles from some parts of their native range, possibly because of less competition from other crocs of their ilk in Florida. That means that if this population of Nile crocs gets a foothold, they could takeover and possibly even threaten native species.
Florida is home to more invasive foreign species than any other place in the continental U.S. due to its comfortable tropical environment. Other creatures that have flourished in Florida include Burmese pythons and Cuban tree frogs, both of which are so established that it's probably too late to eradicate them. The Nile crocodile is one species we don't want to add to that list.
“My hope as a biologist is that the introduction of Nile crocodiles in Florida opens everyone’s eyes to the problem of invasive species that we have here in our state,” said Krysko. “Now here’s another one, but this time it isn’t just a tiny house gecko from Africa.”