Invasive Species

Over 500 nonnative fish and wildlife species and 1180 nonnative plant species have been documented in the state. (FWC)

People are often confused by the term “invasive species” and how it relates to other terms such as “non-native” or “exotic”.  A non-native species is basically the same as an exotic species, these terms are interchangeable. 

An exotic species is a plant or animal species introduced into an area where they do not occur naturally. These species may be introduced either accidentally or deliberately by human action, or through natural range expansions. For example, the Brazilian peppertree or Florida holly was deliberately introduced to Florida as an ornamental or landscape species; whereas the plant, cogongrass, was introduced accidentally from packing material on ships from Southeast Asia. Species such as the coyote, cattle egret and armadillo were all introduced to Florida though natural range expansions, where they either moved or flew on their own across state lines, or even oceans. 

FACT: Some introduced species can provide significant benefits to society, like cattle and agricultural crops. 

Some introduced species damage the ecosystem they become established in, while others have no negative effect and may even be beneficial as a tool to manage habitat. The effect of introduced species on natural environments is debated continuously by scientists, governments, farmers and others. We must be careful when planting or releasing exotic species in our natural systems, because although not all introduced species are problematic, some do spread quickly and widely creating significant problems within ecosystems.

FACT: Thousands of nonnative species, mostly insects and agricultural pests, have been introduced into Florida.  As many as 40 exotic agricultural pests arrive here each month.  (FWC)  

Invasive species are defined per Executive Order 13112 as a species that is:

1) non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and 

2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Invasive species can be plants, animals, and other organisms (e.g., microbes) which disrupt the growth and survival of native species, often replacing these native species and altering the entire ecosystem. Invasive species are capable of establishing a breeding population without further intervention by humans, becoming a pest and threatening the local biodiversity.  A nonnative species could become invasive soon after becoming established, or, it might take years for the right factors to fall into place to allow a species to expand its range and cause ecological problems.

FACT: USA spends an estimated $120 BILLION annually on managing/controlling invasive species  (Cuda and Schmidtz, 2004)

FACT: 42% of the US Threatened and Endangered Species are negatively impacted by invasive species (Cuda and Schmidtz, 2004)

Costs and problems associated with invasive species affect all aspects of society, including agriculture, horticulture, forestry, aquaculture, recreation and environment.

Why and How did Invasive Species get to Florida? 

Florida’s subtropical climate, disturbed landscapes, abundance of aquatic habitats, large ports of entry and large exotic pet and plant industries are the main reasons why exotic species can thrive here.

The freight industry, world travel and pet releases are how exotic species from all over the globe find their way to our state.  People arriving from other countries or states often bring exotics in intentionally, but sometimes the species just “hitch a ride” along with unknowing travelers. Wooden crates and spools, packing material and water are all capable of harboring exotic species during travel. 

However, the greatest pathway by which non-native fish and wildlife species find their way into Florida's habitats is through escape or release by pet owners. Exotic pets such as Burmese pythons, Nile monitor lizards, Monk parakeets and Cuban tree frogs are all present in Southwest Florida.  Burmese pythons first found their way into the Everglades during the 1990’s, but over the past few years the population has grown exponentially due to Florida’s climate, abundance of prey and successful breeding. Now these large constrictors are observed all over Collier County and into Lee County. 

These released pets are capable of causing significant damage to our wildlife, domestic pets, and human well-being. For example, the Burmese python preys on native wildlife, dogs and cats, and are large enough to injure people. Nile monitor lizards in Cape Coral pose a threat to the protected Florida burrowing owl, and Monk parakeets build large colonial nests in electrical power boxes which cause power outages. Lastly, the Cuban tree frog not only outcompetes our native tree frogs for food, it also eats smaller species of native frogs. And, these are just a few of the many examples of non-native species that have escaped or been released from their owners!

LEARN: Before buying an exotic pet, ask yourself:

  • How big will this animal get?  
  • What does this animal eat? 
  • Am I prepared to care for this animal for 15-20 years? 
  • Is this a “Conditional” or “Prohibited” species? 
    - Conditional nonnative species (formerly referred to as restricted species) are considered to be dangerous to the ecology and/or the health and welfare of the people of Florida.  These species are not allowed to be personally possessed, although exceptions are made by permit for research, commercial use (with security measures to prevent escape or release) or public exhibition purposes.   
    - Prohibited nonnative species are considered to be dangerous to the ecology and/or the health and welfare of the people of Florida.  These species are not allowed to be personally possessed or used for commercial activities.  Very limited exceptions may be made by permit from the Executive Director for research or for public exhibition by facilities that meet biosecurity criteria, although no exceptions are made for piranha and pirambeba; these two species are not allowed to be possessed by anyone at anytime. For more information, go to : 

 LEARN: Don’t let it loose! 

If you can’t care for an exotic pet anymore, don’t set it free - that’s illegal, and your pet will likely die without care from you.

  •  Find a local hobby group or rescue that may have an adoption program  
  • See if the pet shop will take it back or accept it as a donation 
  • Check your local nature centers and museums 
  • Talk to your humane society 
  • Bring it to an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day or call the FWC’s adoption hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1 

For more information on exotic wildlife and pets, visit: