Scientists from the University of Florida have mate a startling discovery: Nile Crocodiles are now in Florida, infiltrating local populations in the Everglades. They warn that these crocs are extremely dangerous, and can injure or kill humans.

Nile crocodile in Gulu, Uganda. Photo by Tim Muttoo

The Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is an African crocodile and the second largest reptile in the world, after the saltwater crocodile. It can grow up to 5.5 metres (18 feet) in length and was blamed for at least 480 attacks on people and 123 fatalities in Africa between 2010 and 2014. Another report claims that the Nile crocodile kills hundreds of people each year. Either way, this is definitely a species which can be dangerous, much more dangerous than native alligators.

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DNA analysis has confirmed that at least three juveniles are part of the Nile species, linked to crocodiles from South Africa. Kenneth Krysko, a herpetology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History told the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology that the species can survive and potentially thrive in sub-tropical Florida.

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

Crocodylus niloticus is considered a generalist predator which can feast on pretty much all types of meat. They can certainly adapt to Florida’s environment, munching down birds and mammals. Researchers don’t know where these crocs came from, but pet owners are the likely cause. According to the Guardian, large groups of Nile crocodiles have been imported from South Africa and Madagascar, both for display at places such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and to supply Florida’s pet trade.

It’s not the first time Florida is dealing with invasive species; on the contrary, the state is one of the most invaded areas in the world. The spiny lionfish has destroyed reef-dwelling fish across the Caribbean, the Cuban tree frog has also taken out many native specimens, and recently, the Burmese python has become so common that Florida is authorizing python hunts.

“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 said. “Now here’s another one, but this time it isn’t just a tiny house gecko from Africa.”