Gambian Pouched Rats have repopulated an area in the Florida Keys. They are a nonnative species and one of the largest rats in the world, weighing up to nine pounds. There is concern for their impact on native species and for spreading from Grassy Key to the mainland. Additionally, they might pose some threat to human infants. Last year it was reported two infants were killed by giant rats in South Africa.
These rats can reach 30 inches long (including their tails) and are omnivorous, eating insects, vegetables, snails and crabs. How did they end up in Florida? Like many other nonnative species there, they were imported as pets but later a concern arose over spreading monkey pox, so there was a ban in 2003.
Some of the signs of monkeypox are fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, and exhaustion. In rural central and west Africa, some fatalities from the virus have been reported.
Eradication efforts took place in 2009, and they were observed again in 2011, but it is thought there are probably just several dozen now. Still, these rats reproduce prolifically and can have five litters a year, or up to about 20 offspring annually. They were released in the Keys by a breeder around 2002-2003.
Florida has been battling a number of nonnative species, including Burmese pythons, which are eating local species and could wipe out many important native animals. Buying exotic animals as pets is almost never a good idea, and releasing them into local habitats such as forests or parks is a very bad idea.
Image Credit: FWS, Public Domain