Don't Release Your Pet!

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The Problem: Invasive Species                              Back to top


What does "invasive" mean?

According to the National Invasive Species Council*, an "invasive species" is a species that is:

1) non-native to an ecosystem and

2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Invasive species can be plants, animals, and other organisms (e.g., microbes that cause disease – like citrus canker). Non-native species are introduced to new places by humans – either accidentally or on purpose.

*The National Invasive Species Council was created by President Clinton in 1999 to provide national leadership on invasive species and to create a national invasive species management plan

Invasive species can cause economic damage in many ways:

  • Invasive aquatic plants can grow rapidly, blocking canals and other waterways – removing these plants is time consuming and expensive!
  • Monk Parakeets build large nests on utility structures that can cause power outages and are both costly and dangerous to remove.
  • According to a study by scientists at Cornell University:

    - Invasive plants and animals cost the United States $120 billion each year!

    - Introduced rats destroy $19 billion worth of grain each year.

    - Introduced exotic fish could cause significant losses for the fishing industry more than $5 billion per year.

    - Introduced Formosan termites cause $1 billion per year in damages to homes and other structures in the U.S.


Invasive species impact our ecosystem by affecting habitats or wildlife:

  • Many invasive plants, such as melaleuca and Brazilian pepper, outcompete other plants, creating a 'monoculture' of only one type of plant. These dense monocultures prevent other plants from growing, replace important habitat for wildlife, and can be nearly impossible to remove.
  • Some invasive animals, such as feral hogs, cause significant damage to native habitats such as wetlands. Hogs frequently root up soil and destroy vegetation in and around dry wetlands, and they consume mass quantities of native animals such as spadefoot toads.
  • Large invasive lizards, such as the Nile monitor, giant Argentine tegu, and black spiny-tailed iguanas prey on a wide variety of native wildlife. These large predators could have serious impacts, especially on threatened species such as gopher tortoises and Florida scrub-jays.


Invasive species can affect our health and quality of life:

  • Invasive cane toads (also known as "Bufo" toads) are highly toxic – if swallowed, they are lethal to pets! These toads are extremely common in many areas of South Florida, and may also pose a health risk for small children.
  • Some invasive species, such as birds, can carry a wide variety of ‘zoonoses,’ diseases which can be spread to humans, such as avian influenza (“bird flu”). Rock Doves (pigeons) are known to carry or spread more than 50 diseases!
  • Invasive Coqui frogs in Hawaii sing so loudly at night that they not only keep residents awake at night, but their presence can also lower property values!
  • Giant invasive lizards and snakes may cause Floridians in some areas to fear for their safety, or the safety of their pets.

These are only a few examples of the negative impacts of invasive species. The impacts of introducing a non-native species animal, plant, or microbe into a new ecosystem are often unknown, but may turn out to be devastating! Preventing these introductions is critical, to protect Florida's environment.

How can I protect Florida's environment?              Back to top

Don't dump or release pets, plants, or any non-native species!

  • Never release unwanted pets! Doing so is not only unfair to the animal, which may not survive, but is also environmentally irresponsible and is against the law! Do your research know what you're getting into before you get a pet. How long will it live? How much time, space, and food will it require? Are you prepared to make a commitment for the lifetime of the animal? If you are no longer able to care for your pet, contact local pet stores, animal shelters, or rescue groups, or attend the annual FWC Pet Amnesty Day it is your responsibility to find your pet a new home!
  • Don't dump aquarium "decorations" such as plants or snails! Dump gravel, plants, snails, etc. into a bucket filled with a 10% bleach solution for at least 24 hours, then drain the water, dump the treated "decorations" into a trash bag and dispose in the garbage. 

Know Florida's native ecosystem and invaders!

  • Learn more about Florida's native animals and plants, so that you will be able to recognize an invader. You should also learn more about the non-native species that have already found their way to Florida. Check out the links below to learn more...

Report new invasive species sightings to the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Remove invasive species

  • Remove invasive plants from your yard, and replace them with native species. This will help to prevent invasive plants from spreading and will provide better habitat for native wildlife.
  • Remove and humanely euthanize invasive wildlife yourself when possible (e.g., Cuban treefrogs, "bufo" or cane toads). For more info on this, read "The Cuban Treefrog in Florida."

Beware of hitchhikers

  • Invertebrates, plants, and animals frequently hitchhike on vehicles. Each time you trailer your boat, be sure to thoroughly clean it to remove snails, plants, and other hitchhikers. Keep an eye out for hitchhiking Cuban treefrogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis) in the door jamb of your vehicle.
  • Bugs, slugs, snails, frogs, and snakes are all common hitchhikers in plants. If you are moving to a new area, be sure to check your plants thoroughly – even under the roots and soil –and remove any hitchhikers (or their eggs). If you are moving out of state, you might want to leave your houseplants behind if not, they will need to be inspected!
  • Produce shipments can also bring in unwanted pests if you order produce from an out of state vendor, be sure that they have their produce inspected!

Invasive Species Links                                              Back to top

For more information on invasive species, their impacts, and what you can do to help, check out the following sites: