Conditional non native species in Florida include but are not limited to green iguana, tegus, and red eared sliders. These species are not native to Florida and were introduced via the shipping trade or as pets. The conditional part of this definition defines them as being able to be imported and possessed by permit only for research, commercial import / export business or public educational programs. New laws recently updated do not allow them to be purchased or owned as personal pets with the exception of red ear sliders. Laws have been changed as so many were being released into the wild with a detrimental effect to the native populations. Many of these species do not have many natural predators and tend to become overpopulated.
Green iguanas originated from southern Brazil and Paraguay. They are usually a bright green color and males can reach over 5 feet in length weighing up to 17 lbs. Females reach maturity between 2 to 4 years of age and can lay up to 75 eggs. They are excellent swimmers and can tolerate fresh and saltwater. They can also be submerged up to 4 hours underwater. Their diet consists of a variety of plants, flowers, shrubs, greens, squash and melons.
Tegus are also considered to be an invasive species as well and were introduced in the pet trade and are widely liked because of their resemblance to monitor lizards. They are native to central and south america. Their diet consists of a variety of insects, small rodents, fruits and seeds. Reaching up to 4 feet in length they are a large species that needs plenty of space to explore and hunt.
Keeping these animals as pets requires maintaining a proper enclosure with secure entrances and a proper diet. Due to improper management and care they have now become an issue in Florida’s wildlife and can no longer be bought for pets. Previous owners must now apply for permits and microchip all they own to ensure the wild population does not increase. There have also been many amnesty programs where owners can surrender their reptiles if they feel they can no longer care for them properly or follow the conditions for the permits.
Turtles have often been seen as extremely popular pets due to their wide abundance in pet stores, gift shops, flea markets, and more. Turtles are portrayed as a relatively inexpensive pet that most believe to be easy to take care of. Unfortunately, the accessibility of some freshwater turtle species coupled with this idea of low maintenance care has led to an ecological crisis in some wetland environments. In particular, the red ear slider (T. scripta elegans) has been said to be one of the most popular freshwater turtles found in private ownership, and has made its way into the beautiful and vital wetland ecosystems that Florida is known for.
Red ear sliders are endemic to the central United States and can be found from the Mississippi River to the east coast of the United States. It is unknown when exactly red eared sliders were introduced into Florida, but they have become widespread and have begun competing with Florida’s native turtle species as well as other aquatic organisms that are important ecological drivers in the Florida wetland system. Similar to Tegus and Iguanas, this invasion has led to many regulations that reduce the acquisition and husbandry of these turtles. These regulations are similar to those put in place by other government organizations all over the world and are aimed to reduce the amount of turtles that are released into the wild so that important ecosystems can be protected by this invasive species.
As stated before, red eared sliders have always been seen as a “low maintenance” and “inexpensive” pet, but with some education and insight into proper turtle care, it is seen that both of these statements are inaccurate. This species has been known to live up to 40 years and can reach sizes up to 12 inches long. When purchased from a pet store they are often smaller (only a couple inches in length) and some are told they will never grow larger than their enclosure. The truth is, turtles will grow no matter how large or small their environment is and can become too large for most households to handle, and because of this, turtles are often released into freshwater ecosystems when they become too large for their enclosure. After being released, they have the ability to outcompete smaller native turtles for food and occupy habitats that could be reserved for endemic species. This can have devastating effects on biodiversity in an ecosystem. By outcompeting native species, genetic diversity can be reduced as population numbers drop among native turtles.
The red eared slider is considered a conditional species similar to the two species discussed, however these turtles have an exception as they are the only conditional species still allowed to be owned as pets as long as certain conditions are met. This includes the constructions of enclosures that prevent escape as well as restricting breeding among captive individuals. Turtles that have abnormal colorations such as albinos, melanistics, etc. are able to be kept as personal pets as well. Before owning a red eared slider in Florida it is important to do research on their size as well as enclosure and dietary requirements. It is also imperative to go over local and state regulations instituted by FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) to ensure all proper laws are followed to ensure the turtle doesn’t enter Florida’s wetland environments.