The "Sunshine State” is no stranger to giant crocodilians stalking its swamps. But now, it looks like the Everglades has got a new resident.
Scientists from the University of Florida have found man-eating Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) out in the wilderness of Florida. The team's research was recently published in the Journal of Herpetological Conservation and Biology.
From 2000 to 2014, the team studied populations of crocodiles in Miami-Dade County and Hendry. Using DNA analysis, the researchers found three juvenile Nile crocs, two of which were found swimming in the Everglades and the other just relaxing on a house porch in Miami.
However, there are probably more. "The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely," co-author Kenneth Krysko said 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."
The study of their DNA also revealed that they were genetically very similar, suggesting they had come from the same source. Where that source is, however, remains unclear. The study did point out that groups of Nile crocodiles have been imported for display at zoological attractions, such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and to supply the state’s pet trade.
Florida has more introduced species than any other governed area on Earth. Along with their endemic American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), there are four other known species of crocodilians that aren't native to the state. However, the newly found Nile crocodile is a very different beast.
The Nile crocodile is native to sub-Saharan Africa, can grow up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) in length, and is famed for its particularly aggressive temperament – eating anything and everything from zebras, buffalo, hippos, and humans – making it one of the most dangerous creatures in the world. Between 2010 and 2014, they were blamed for over 480 attacks and 123 fatalities on humans in Africa.
Florida’s subtropical climate makes it a comfortable environment for other non-native tropical species to flourish, including the Burmese python and Cuban tree frog, both of which have settled in the area. While Nile crocodiles turning up on people’s porches might seem like an issue in itself, the study also hopes to highlight the wider problem of invasive species disturbing the ecosystem of Florida.
“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,” Krysko added. “Now here’s another one, but this time it isn’t just a tiny house gecko from Africa.”