Invasive Animals in Florida Landscapes
Florida gardeners already deal with a plethora of invasive plants, but unfortunately we have animal invaders as well. In fact, more species of reptiles and amphibians have invaded Florida than anywhere else worldwide. This is due in part to the exotic pet trade, where either pets escape from owners/breeders or they are intentionally released into the wild.
Since Florida’s subtropical climate is similar to the native habitat of these animals, they are able to survive and reproduce. Then, they outcompete native species since their natural predators weren’t brought over with them. Read on to learn about six of these offenders that are causing issues for the environment, residents, and sometimes, even the economy.
As their name suggests, Cuban treefrogs are native to Cuba. They likely traveled to Florida on plants and in shipping containers from the Caribbean, and now they have proliferated through much of the state.
These frogs prefer urban and suburban areas, so they are commonly spotted on or near homes and in landscapes. Cuban treefrogs eat native frogs, produce more tadpoles, are vectors for disease, defecate on buildings, and sometimes clog plumbing, just to name a few of the problems they cause. They also secrete toxins as a defense mechanism that is irritating to human skin and to the mouths of curious pets.
The main way to distinguish Cuban treefrogs from natives is by their size. Cuban treefrogs have larger bodies and much bigger toepads than our native treefrogs. If you find Cuban tree frogs in your yard, you should get a positive ID and then humanely euthanize them.
Learn more about Cuban treefrog management on Ask IFAS.
Green and spiny-tailed iguanas were originally brought to Florida to be exotic pets, but they have since escaped and established populations in South Florida. They are commonly seen in open areas, landscape brush, sidewalks, docks, and seawalls. Issues they cause include damaging landscape plants, hardscapes, and structures; defecating; biting, scratching, or slapping people; and burrowing under foundations and into canal banks, causing erosion.
Although it is legal to capture nuisance iguanas, it is not legal to release them back into the wild. This means any iguanas you capture on your property need to be kept somewhere secure or euthanized by a professional.
Learn more about iguana control on Gardening Solutions.
Yet another exotic pet escapee, Burmese pythons have established a significant population in South Florida that is disrupting the local ecosystem. These snakes are massive (typically between six and nine feet long) and have few predators.
Aside from their threat to native wildlife, pythons also pose a risk to people and pets. Since they are semi-aquatic, pythons are typically found in or near water. If you spot a python on your property, report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) then pursue humane removal and euthanasia.
Learn more about Burmese pythons in Florida from the FWC.
Giant African Land Snail
There are several instances of giant African land snails being introduced to Florida and consequently being eradicated (a long and expensive process). Unfortunately, the threat of their invasion is still not eliminated today. These snails are known to feed on at least 500 types of plants and are considered to be one of the most damaging snails in the world.
Don’t worry about confusing these snails with others; they are much larger, with a maximum length of eight inches and a diameter of five inches. They tend to stay in disturbed areas (like gardens) where they damage landscape plants and transmit diseases to plants and animals (including humans).
They are known vectors of Asian rat lungworm, a parasite that can cause a rare form of meningitis in infected humans. If you find a giant African land snail in your yard, report it, and then follow recommendations.
Learn more about the ongoing giant African land snail problem on Ask IFAS.
Tegu lizards were shipped from their native South America to be sold as exotic pets in Florida. They eventually appeared in natural areas and established populations in Central and South Florida. They are quite large, growing to be four or five feet long at maturity.
Threatened and endangered native species are at risk since tegu lizards eat small mammals, ground nesting birds, amphibians, and reptiles in addition to fruits and invertebrates. These lizards can be found in natural, urban, and agricultural areas.
They are a potential agricultural pest, source of bacterial contamination of food crops, and a threat to gopher tortoises since they take over their burrows. If you think you’ve spotted a tegu, report it to the FWC immediately.
Learn more about tegu lizards on Ask IFAS.
Unlike some of the other animals we’ve mentioned, the cane toad was intentionally introduced to Florida, originally in the 1930s. They were meant to act as a biological pest control against beetles in sugar cane operations. Those toads didn’t end up surviving, but continued reintroductions from the pet industry eventually created a population here.
Now they are spread throughout Central and South Florida, preferring urban areas. Environmentally, cane toads are a problem because they compete with native predators for prey. In urban yards, they are dangerous because of their poisonous nature. A pet getting ahold of one of these toads can lead to serious consequences, even death. If necessary, contact your veterinarian. Their toxicity can also harm fish in outdoor ponds and irritate human eyes and skin.
If you find a cane toad in your yard, report it to the FWC and humanely kill it. Keep in mind that cane toads look similar to several native species, so get a positive ID before taking action.
Learn more about problematic cane toads on Ask IFAS.
You can be a part of the mission to curb invasive animals in Florida by scouting your community and reporting sightings. There is even a smartphone app you can download to report sightings as quickly as possible: learn more about the EDDMapS app here.
If you have any questions or need help with identification or next steps, reach out to the experts at your county Extension office or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Also on Gardening Solutions
More from UF/IFAS
- The Cuban Treefrog in Florida
- Florida’s Introduced Reptiles: Green Iguana
- Dealing With Iguanas in the South Florida Landscape
- Giant African Land Snail in Florida
- Florida Invader: Tegu Lizard
- The Cane or “Bufo” Toad (Rhinella marina) in Florida
- Video: Cane Toads – How to Identify This Invasive Pest