What Are Nile Crocodiles Doing in Florida?

At up to 20 feet long and weighing a ton and a half, with the strongest bite in the animal kingdom, Nile crocodiles can pretty much devour anything they want to — including humans.

As you can guess from their name, these carnivorous crocs are native to sub-Saharan Africa, where they subsist on small hippos, zebras and other animals they catch and, in some cases, swallow whole.

“In many parts of Africa, humans are commonly preyed upon by Nile crocodiles; therefore, fatal attacks and consumption by these large predators are well-documented,” notes the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Scary, right? And now Nile crocodiles are living in the wilds of Florida.

In a new study, using DNA analysis, University of Florida scientists discovered several Nile crocodiles in the wild between 2000 and 2014.

“The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely,” Kenneth L. Krysko, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “We know they can survive in the Florida wilderness for numerous years, we know they grow quickly here and we know their behavior in their native range, and there is no reason to suggest that would change here in Florida.”

How did Nile crocodiles end up in Florida, more than 7,800 miles away?

Some were imported legally and are on display in tourist attractions like Disney’s Animal Kingdom. But the ones found in the wild had likely been broughthereas hatchlings by smugglersin the exotic pet trade. The DNA analysis found that three of the Nile crocodileswere related.

“This is a very big predator, and now we’ve introduced it into Florida,” Krysko told the New York Times. “This is not a good thing.”

Nile crocodiles have previously been found elsewhere in the United States. Five of them escaped from a Mississippi alligator farm when it was flooded during Hurricane George in 1989, according to the USGS. But the DNA of the Nile crocs in the Florida wilds did not match that of those in any U.S. zoos.

Because of the exotic pet trade and the state’s subtropical climate, Florida is home to the world’s largest number of invasive species, including the Burmese python and Cuban tree frog, which have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem.

To prevent the Nile crocodiles from causing similar destruction, the University of Florida researchers urged state and federal wildlife agencies to capture and transport protected species out of their native range in order to quickly remove the Nile crocodiles.

This seems like quite a challenging task. Another challenge is being able to distinguishNile crocodiles from native species. Along with being larger and more aggressive than the American crocodiles in Florida, Nile crocodiles are dark green or black rather than a lighter olive green. The tops of their heads are smooth instead of having a ridge down the middle. But to the untrained eye, these differences may be difficult to spot.

“We recommend the USFWS require a clearly identifiable photograph of a nonnative crocodilian before authorization for lethal take is granted,” the study advised. Good idea.

If these predators aren’t removed, it could be disastrous for Florida’s ecosystem. Fortunately, there have been no signs that the Nile crocodiles are reproducing yet.

“My hope as a biologist is that the introduction of Nile crocodiles in Florida opens everyone’s eyes to the problem of invasive species that we have here in our state,” Krysko stated. “Now here’s another one, but this time it isn’t just a tiny house gecko from Africa.”

Photo credit: Gianfranco Gori

117 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

This is not correct, we know that introducing exotic species can be very dangerous. Stupid, ignorant people that hurt the planet, morons!

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Shirley S: The crocs were in Australia first (before unwashed European convicts showed up to steal the land)

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

I would encourage those Nile crocodiles to eat all the fat East Coast developers that have ruined Florida. They do have a use.

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Kate Kenner
Kate Kenner2 years ago

Call me silly but I am guessing they are there because of people.I know-why would I ever think that would be the case? Are we not the most intelligent species on the planet? (Yeah, sure we are).

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Jenny S.
Jenny W2 years ago

Idiots on two legs brought them there!!

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Patricia L.
Patricia L2 years ago

How sad! Thanks, though, it's best to be informed.

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Magdalen B.
Magdalen B2 years ago

“This is not a good thing.” Love the understatement.

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angela u.
angela U2 years ago

Stupid stupid people who are so money driven. Just leave creatures where they belong where their environment has kept their numbers steady and they don't create havoc elsewhere. In 1935 cane toads were introduced to Australia from Hawaii (native to central mainland America and South America) to control cane beetles in sugarcane in Queensland. They like it here and the impact has been quite devastating on native wildlife and they keep breeding and spreading throughout Australia. There is a warrant out for their arrest - wanted dead (preferably) or alive.

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Marilyn D.
Marilyn is Away2 years ago

Very scary to read that such a large, aggressive and man eating animal was introduced to Florida probably by the exotic pet trade. I agree that people who buy exotic pets should have some strong penalties levied against them as well as the person selling the exotic animals. Stopping the buyer will stop the seller.

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