Another blow to the fragile South Florida ecosystem as Nile crocodiles have been captured in the southernmost tip of South Florida near Miami. They are the second largest crocodile after the Saltwater crocodile. It is a very aggressive species and is able to kill any animal within its range. The bite is very powerful and razor-sharp conical teeth sink into flesh allowing for a grip that is almost impossible to loosen. This crocodile is able to survive in saltwater but prefers brackish lakes and rivers.
The Burmese python had been the most destructive invasive species in Florida before the recent discovery of Nile crocodiles. The python has decimated the population of small and medium size mammals in Everglades National Park. They have even been caught on camera consuming large alligators.
"They didn't swim from Africa," University of Florida herpetologist Kenneth Krysko said. "But we really don't know how they got into the wild."
Krysko and his co-authors just published a paper showing that DNA testing proved the three animals captured in 2009, 2011 and 2014 are Nile crocs, a species whose males grow to over 16 feet long and weigh upward of 1,600 pounds. Nile crocs are believed to be responsible for up to 200 fatalities annually in their native sub-Saharan Africa. Compare that with an annual average of six reported shark attack deaths globally.
Krysko, who works at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History, said the captured crocodiles matched genetically, meaning they are related to one another, but didn't match Nile crocs kept at Disney's Animal Kingdom and other licensed Florida attractions. That means the crocs probably were brought to Florida illegally by an unlicensed reptile collector who either didn't contain them properly, allowing them to escape, or, more sinisterly, planted them in the Everglades in hopes they would multiply.
The Nile croc, if it became established in the Everglades, would pose another invasive threat to its teetering ecosystem. Through crossbreeding, they could endanger the smaller, less aggressive American crocodiles, which have never been responsible for a confirmed human death in the U.S. About 1,000 American crocodiles live in South Florida, mostly in mangroves and estuaries. Any hybrids would degrade the genetic integrity of the endangered American variety.