The Consequences of Invasive Species in the Florida Everglades

invasive speciesThe Florida Everglades have long been a popular tourist destination for visitors from around the United States and around the world. It is easy to see why so many people make this a must see place on their “bucket lists” since it is a unique, one of a kind landscape that gives you access to an incredibly diverse and sensitive environment. The Everglades is a wilderness preserve like no other, allowing visitors a chance to experience flora and fauna that can’t be seen many (if any) other place on earth.

However, there has been consequences from urbanization and tourism. As population has grown, the Everglades have been encroached upon more and more. Some of the swamps were drained to make way for residential, commercial, or industrial complexes as the nearby cities demanded more jobs and places to live. Now, thankfully, what remains of the Everglades is protected and kept as safe as possible from further encroachment or pollution.

It isn’t just people that have been trying to worm their way into the Everglades and snuff out the native species that once thrived there. Foreign plants and animals, often referred to as invasive species, pose, perhaps, an even graver threat to the health of the ecosystem than humans do, though they would never have been a problem had it not been for humans.

When we began to trade further and further from our own shores, with those goods we asked for, came things we didn’t. As trade expanded, new plants and animals that hitch rides across the sea via trade cargo boats, landed on the shores and began to take over, as they didn’t face the native predators in this new place that they did at home. Many of these species quickly took advantage of their new environment and spread rapidly and aggressively.

A lot of the native plants and animals are specialists, which means they require a pretty stable and exact ecosystem to thrive or even survive. As invasive species have made their way into sensitive areas like the Everglades, the native plants find their nutrients and food sources dwindling and can often not compete with the foreign invaders. It often doesn’t even take very long for these invaders to almost completely push out the native flora and fauna, leaving behind a very different landscape.

It is for this reason that there are such staunch rules about the importation of plants and animals from abroad. It is helpful to be cognizant of this problem if you plan to visit the Everglades and it is advised that you take steps, especially if you are visiting internationally, to ensure that you do not bring any potentially harmful spores, seeds, or bugs to the sensitive landscape.

Looking to explore the Everglades? Go for a ride in an airboat tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. Here, you’ll be able to see both the native and invasive species up close. To book a tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Everglades Invasive Species: Australian Pine

Australian PineThere are around 18,000 plants native to North America. These plants provide food, fiber, and habitats that people and wildlife depend on. Unfortunately, many invasive (non-native species) plants have become a threat to the native plants and are the second greatest threat (next to humans) to them. Many of these invasive plants have found their way into the Everglades. The Park staff work throughout the year to remove these plants whenever they can in order to protect the natural habitat. One of these invasive species is the Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia).They have invaded thousands of acres in southern Florida.

The Australian Pine, as you may have guessed, is native to Australia, but also to Malaysia and southern parts of Asia. This plant came to Florida in the late 1800s and was used for ditch and canal stabilization, along with for its shade and lumber.

This tree is tall and can grow up to 100 feet or more. Its needles have a soft appearance and it produced small, oval cones. This tree grows fast and can provide thick shade to an area. Its leaves and fruit completely cover the ground under it. The checmicals from the leaves and keep other plants from growing in that area. Because its roots can produce nitrogen, it can grow well even in soil that is poor. However once it is growing, it can change the light, temperature, and soil of the beach habitats because it displaces native species and destroys the natural habitat for wildlife and insects. Because of these shallow roots, they tend to topple over during storms and high winds, which can cause hazards. Since it does not have thick of shallow roots, it helps contribute to beach and dune erosion, which negatively affects the ways sea turtles and alligators nest.  By displacing deep-rooted native plants, beaches are more prone to erosion.  They also provide little to no habitat for the wildlife in the area.

As of right now, manual removal of seedlings and saplings is recommended. If there is a heavier infestation of the Australian pine, a systemic type of herbicide is applied to bark, stumps, or foliage. Planned fires also are used when able. They are resistant to salt spray.

Visit the Everglades

If you’d like to help with the removal of invasive species, contact the Everglades National Park service and see what you can do to help. Many times, if you spot a plant in the Everglades that you think is invasive, you can notify a park ranger and they will look into it. While you’re visiting the Everglades, explore the area even more on an airboat tour. Call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here to book a tour today.

Tegu Lizards in the Everglades

tegu lizardsBurmese pythons are well-known to be a major problem in the Everglades; however, there are other invasive species in this vast wetland that are a problem to the local ecosystem. One such species is the tegu lizard, which originated in South America. In fact, they are on the state’s list of most aggressive invasive species. So, how did the tegu lizards end up in the Everglades in Florida? They either escaped or were released from people who owned them as pets.

The tegu lizard is a threat to native birds, alligators, sea turtles, small mammals, and crocodiles; biologists from the University of Florida said it is believed this lizard could be as destructive as the Burmese python. This lizard is still currently sold in pet stores in the state. As of right now, trapping and selling them is legal. State workers, members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and biologists from UF have seen these lizards in places they haven’t been before, which means there is a growing number of them.

Tegus live in burrows and forage around water; they eat fruit, seeds, eggs, dog or cat food, insects, and small mammals. They are active during the day and can often be spotted on roadsides and other disturbed areas. During the colder months, they stay covered or in a burrow. Since they are able to withstand colder temps (as low as 35 degrees), biologists believe they can threaten more species than the pythons can.

The can grow up to four feet long and are black and white with a banding pattern on the tail. Gold tegus and Red tegus have also been found in South Florida. The gold tegu grows to two to three feet and has black and gold stripes while the red tegu can grow up to four-and-a-half feet in size and the males have large jowls.

Right now, black-and-white tegus and gold tegus are breeding in parts of Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties.

Right now, officials are trying to capture as many tegus as possible so that the population does not replenish itself; there are a lot more tegus in the Everglades than they thought. In 2015, they captured around 500 and in 2009 they captured only 13 tegus. Some tegus are being tracked, so biologists can better understand their patterns for trapping efforts to go more successfully.

The biologists are trying to compile convincing evidence of the tegu’s impact on mammals like the python’s, so that hopefully the state will create a plan on how to deal with this invasive species in the future.

If you see a tegu in the Everglades, take a picture and report your location and sighting at 1-888-IVE-GOT1,, or the IveGot1 app.

Explore the Everglades

The Everglades is a beautiful place full of some amazing creatures; unfortunately, from climate change and invasive species, the Everglades is at risk of shrinking and even disappearing. See this breathtaking wetland while you still can. A great way to explore this Park is on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. To book a tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Lionfish in the Everglades

lionfishEver heard of the lionfish? It’s actually quite a pretty fish with its pectoral fins, brownish stripes; however, it’s not so good for the Everglades. It’s considered an invasive species. Invasive species, non-native species to an area, happen to have the ability to live and thrive in habitats that are not their true home or region. Lionfish haven’t been a huge problem yet in the Everglades, but their numbers are increasing each year. In 2014, 13 lionfish were removed from Everglades National Park.

Although the numbers of lionfish aren’t large yet in the Park, there is a growing abundance of them in nearby waters. It is believed more and more will show up in the area. Currently, there is the “Everglades and Dry Tortugas Lionfish Management Plan” in review that will target specific areas within each park to help suppress lionfish from entering.

The lionfish is native to Indo-Pacific waters. It is a venomous, predatory fish that was introduce to the Atlantic waters around the 1980s. It is believed this fish made its way here either through aquarium trade or through ballast water on international boats. These lionfish can live in water anywhere from 1 to 1,000 feet in mangroves, seagrass, coral, hard bottom, and artificial reefs.

It is believed they could have a real big impact on the marine ecosystems here in south Florida. Their presence will decrease the number of native and commercial species. Although it doesn’t happen often, their stings are also known to be painful and can lead to serious injury.

Here are some ways lionfish are bad for the Everglades: they feed primarily on larvai and juvenile fish, they eat and consume a great variety of fishes and crustaceans, and they also eat herbivorous fish that graze on algae.  With this behavior, the number of fish will dwindle, there will be less fish in the water and less fish for other predators to eat; also with more algae around, it can overgrow and keep coral and sponges from growing and thriving.

Right now, the lionfish is the only known invasive marine fish recognized at having invaded the entire Caribbean and coastal waters around southeastern United States. These fish are slow moving and easy to capture. Netting and spearing is usually used to capture them.

Take a Ride through the Everglades

If you’re in the Everglades and spot a lionfish, you should report the sighting to the National Park by calling 305-809-4738 or 305-562-0820. One way you might spot this invasive fish is on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. Wouldn’t it be exciting to be the one to spot the creature who is harming the precious ecosystem you’re currently riding in? To book a tour, all Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377 or click here.

Everglades Python Challenge: the hunt for an invasive species

burmese python

Over the weekend, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission kicked off an annual initiative to rid South Florida of the invasive Everglades python. The challenge began Saturday January 16, when the sunshine state launched an incentivized hunt that will last all month.

The python in question, the Burmese Python, belongs far away from Florida (in Southeast Asia to be exact), which is why the state will award cash prizes to two captors: a reward for whoever catches the most snakes and another for whoever catches the largest one. Burmese pythons can reach 23 feet in length and 200 pounds in weight.

And though the python is adjusting quite nicely to the Everglades habitat, the Everglades is not adjusting well to its presence. Since these snakes have no predators other than the American alligator and the Florida panther, they can feed on most anything in their path. This results in the depletion of the area’s rabbit, opossum and raccoon populations. It also affects defenseless endangered species like certain wading birds or small mammals.

But the threat of the Everglades python doesn’t stop there. Because Burmese pythons house a high concentration of mercury in their bodies, they can poison the predators that eat them. This means the already endangered Florida panther and the American alligator, otherwise known as “the king of the Everglades,” are also at risk. Essentially, the invasive existence of the Burmese python poses detrimental changes to the delicate Everglades ecosystem.

With the 2016 Python Challenge, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hopes to rid the Everglades of these nuisance snakes. But this accomplishment is easier said than done. Dubbed a “high-risk species” by the U.S. Geological Survey, Burmese pythons are so difficult to eradicate due to their elusive nature and the camouflaged Everglades terrain in which they thrive. For instance, the 2013 Python Challenge consisted of 1,600 hunters who caught a total of 68 snakes. Only 600 participants registered for this year’s hunt, and the results are to be determined.

Although no concrete data exists to prove just how many Burmese pythons now reside in the Everglades, experts believe there are tens of thousands of the snakes in wild Florida. And the USGS attributes this infestation to humans. Believe it or not, people once kept these monstrous snakes as pets. When Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, multiple Burmese pythons escaped from a breeding facility and made their way to the Everglades. Python owners are also known to release their pets into Everglades wilderness.

Everglades Python Safety

Though unprovoked attacks are rare, Burmese pythons have struck humans before. React to an Everglades python the way you would react to an alligator. Remember to back away slowly and keep your eyes trained on the snake. It’s important to read the animal’s body language to observe any signs of aggression. Hissing and thrashing could mean an impending attack.

Do you have what it takes to catch an Everglades python?

Before participating in the 2016 Python Challenge, you need to learn about the animal, the environment and how to catch it. First, complete the 30-minute training module found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. Then, complete the 10-question quiz. You must receive an 80 percent or higher to register. The cost to participate is $25 for an individual or $75 for a team.

Don’t have what it takes to catch an Everglades python?

Hunting pythons isn’t for everyone, but there are other ways to enjoy Everglades wilderness. If you’re not ready for a python hunt, opt for an Everglades airboat tour. This family-friendly activity puts you a safe distance from Everglades pythons while exposing you to the beauty of an ever-changing ecosystem. To book your Everglades airboat tour, contact Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.