Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent
Okaloosa & Walton Counties
Over 400 non-native fish and wildlife species and 1180 non-native plant species occur in Florida. A non-native or exotic species is classified as any species that does not naturally occur in an area, typically introduced by human activity. Species from all over the globe have made it to Florida environments and has destroyed or taken over the home of our native species. Some marine exotic species become introduced through boats in ports, or attaching to boats and propellers through different water bodies, and through the pet trade. The most common method of exotic fish and wildlife introductions happens through the escape or intentional release of household pets.
Indo-Pacific Lionfish have become established off the southeast United States, likely from aquarium releases. Photo Credits: Photo courtesy NOAA
Many pets grow too large for tanks or people grow tired of their pets and decide to release them into the environment. The act of releasing a non-native animal is illegal in Florida and is also harmful to native plants and animals. Instead of releasing there are alternative ways that pet owners can explore. Always check with the local pet stores to see if they will take back your pet or give you advice. There may be local hobby clubs that might have a potential new owner (such as snake and turtle clubs). Local aquariums and zoos are worth checking into, though they do have quarantine restrictions. Also, asking a local veterinarian about humane pet disposal options or check with Florida Fish and Wildlife for pet amnesty day dates.
Burmese pythons from the pet trade now live and breed in the Florida Everglades. Photo Credits: USGS Photo by Roy Wood, National Park Service
This issue can always be avoided if potential pet owners research the pet they are about to purchase. Look into growth, feed expenses, how long it will live, will it deal with other pets, and is a permit required for ownership. Check out www.habitattitude.net/ for more information.
For more information on marine science and natural resources information, email or call email@example.com or 689-5850.