Florida's Curious Creatures: Intriguing, Introduced, Invasive Species and One Colorful Native that Only Looks Invasive

Kathy LaFollett

Sure, we have 16-foot alligators. But have you seen the invaders?Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Florida is a crucible of native and non-native species, including humans, that have thrived in the state’s diverse ecosystems. Warm temperatures sustain a subtropical climate that supports adaptable life. The intriguing point being that most of invasive species were introduced by humans rather than just meandering their way from far-away lands to settle Florida. These species, unlike humans, didn’t choose to be here. The State recently leaned into the pet breeding trades of 15 Species, hoping to stem the tide that came ashore years ago. The absolute ban begins in June 2024. The ban doesn’t include current pet status. It will grandfather currently kept animals in under the ban. But once your python, tegu, iguana, monitor, or anaconda passes, it will be illegal to get another.

Pythons are a focus of Florida's goals to conserve and preserve the Everglades.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Pythons are now legendary in Florida history, as well as the annual hunt in the Everglades. Burmese, north African, southern African, Amethystine, and, if a hunter’s lucky, a green anaconda. Kept pets once, now free to roam, breed, and feed throughout the Everglades, the Keys, and anywhere they darn well please. Thank you very much. Finding a python or anaconda in the wild is difficult hunting. Until scientists tagged the males. The males signal create paths straight to the females. It’s changed the game in favor of our native species.

Walking Catfish have no issues traveling over land to get to the next waterhole.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Walking Catfish are an air-breathing fish native to Southeast Asia. Its ability to walk on land using its pectoral fins traversing between bodies of water makes it a strategic invader in Florida’s aquatic habitats. Introduced primarily through aquarium and aquaculture facilities, Mayan cichlid, Asian swamp eels, black acara, blue and spotted tilapia, and Oscar fish all tolerate low-to-moderate salinity. Brackish water estuaries being abundant in the Florida ecology. Blacklisted in several countries, including the US, walking Catfish have aggressive natural tolerances making them particularly threatening to native wildlife.

Tegus can grow to five feet, making them a serious invader to local ecosystems like the Glades.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Tegus. Intelligent, Adaptable. Resourceful. This omnivorous South American lizard grows large and makes Florida it’s stomping ground. Tegus and Monitor lizards have a direct line from the pet trade to owners releasing into the wild. Their comfort around humans places them on lanais, pool patios, front porches, and in front yard trees basking their day away. Their numbers don’t equal that of the longer established pet trade to owner released counterpart, the iguana.

Iguana showers are a season in southern Florida.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Green Iguanas are no longer a stranger to Florida residents. In southern Florida, they are as expected as anoles. Sunbathers they bask in the sun and munch on plants with a lazy, sorry, not sorry attitude. Adult sizes can surprise the uninitiated. Their one claim to fame is Florida’s Iguana Showers. When temperatures drop below 45 degrees, iguanas temporarily freeze, losing their grip on tree branches and fall in a cold-induced stupor. Locals know to look up and watch out for unconscious iguanas on chilly days.

There’s one creature that looks invasive and acts invasive feasting on plants, leaving trails of devastation behind. They’re large. Intricate. Mechanical, if not robotic. They jump, well. Eastern Lubbers Grasshoppers are weak fliers though, small wing structure. They mainly hop, crawl, and lumber around. The first time you meet an adult Eastern Lubber Grasshopper, you’ll remember clearly, forever because most first impressions are astonishing, if not intimidating. Lubbers grow up to 4 inches long. Lubbers aren’t afraid of humans. Vibrant colors, large eyes, powerful legs with buzzy undersized wings, Lubber Grasshoppers are native Floridians adorned in yellow, orange, red, and black. Their favorite plant for food and breeding? The bird of paradise. Ornamental plants are their favored flavor. Bird of paradise are their preferred because of its structure and ability to hold water after the rain.

Lubber grasshoppers have no fear of humans. And they love our ornamentals.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Adult Eastern lubber grasshoppers employ bright colors to serve as a warning signal (aposematism) to the few predators that consider them. When threatened, Lubbers produce a frothy, foul-smelling secretion from their thorax, known as “tobacco spit,”. And that smell does a fine job of deterring humans as well.

Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers go through incomplete metamorphosis, with three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Female grasshoppers lay clusters of eggs in the soil, and nymphs emerge in the spring. Nymphs are smaller and mostly black, with a distinctive red or yellow stripe. As they grow, they molt several times, developing their striking adult coloration. Nymphs are most vulnerable and offer the easiest time to kill off a hording brood making its way out of your ornamentals. Found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, marshes, and wooded areas, they’ve changed their appetites to include your ornamental plants.

Lubbers act, react, look, eat, and breed as if they’d like to make the invasive species list. They are here to stay, native and comfortable inside the Florida lifestyle. Our growing list of introduced, invasive species seems to be here to stay as well, as comfortable as any native could be. Florida’s biodiversity is a testament to its unique environment that can support both native and invasive species. These introduced and native creatures provide a glimpse into the complex world of animal, flora, fauna, and insect ecosystems finding their new balances.

The native isn’t interested in balance in as much as your bird of paradise plants, though.

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Florida author, speaker, and wildlife/companion animal advocate writing about life in the Sunshine State from my cityscape, St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, FL

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