Audubon Florida News

Topic: Invasive Species

Invasive Species Spotlight: Bullseye Snakehead

posted on July 10, 2014 in Invasive Species

bullseye snakehead

Bullseye Snakehead are a large, elongate fish (looking similar to our native bowfin) with sharp teeth and the ability to breathe air. Native to southeast Asia, these ambush predators are bottom-dwelling, feeding primarily on small fish and crustaceans but able to eat a wide variety of prey including turtles, amphibians and snakes.

In Florida, the snakehead population appears to currently be isolated in Broward County, although they have the potential to succeed throughout the southern half of peninsular Florida, if introduced. In the Everglades CISMA’s recent Non-Native Fish Round Up, one winning fisherman returned over 60 pounds of snakeheads. Fishermen should refrain from re-releasing all non-native fishes and should be particularly careful to avoid spreading non-native fish, invertebrates and aquatic vegetation to new locations.

Audubon encourages the use of IveGot1 to report sightings of snakeheads and all other non-native fishes to help track their spread.

While visiting Florida’s Special Places, help early detection and tracking efforts by reporting any non-native species you see online or using your smartphone (call 1-888-IVE-GOT-1 if you have a live animal in front of you).

Exotic Pet Amnesty Days

posted on July 9, 2014 in Invasive Species

6642955311_0dda941bd0_zBecome part of the solution to our non-native animal problem. 

The outlook for Florida’s native ecosystems can seem grim as we hear more about the spread of non-native animals, and so many cases where it seems we are unable to control or exterminate populations once they’ve become established. Unfortunately, this is often a sad reality due to our sub-tropical climate, interconnected wetland habitats, and highly-mobile human population, among other factors. While it appears many unwelcomed non-native animals are here to stay, one of our greatest tools for protecting our state is helping prevent new releases.

The majority of non-native animals threatening our native species are former pets who have either accidentally escaped or been intentionally released. In an effort to reduce the latter, FWC organizes Exotic Pet Amnesty Days where pet owners who can no longer care for their exotic pets can surrender them to willing adopters. From snakes and turtles to hedgehogs and parrots, to date this program has helped re-home over 1,900 unwanted pets that might have otherwise been released into our neighborhoods, parks, or canals, and has helped educate the public about the problems created by releasing non-native animals.

Helping with this amnesty program is a great way to be part of the solution to our non-native animal problem. Audubon members and other friends are needed to volunteer at or help sponsor or organize events in their community. Pet lovers can also help by signing up to become adopters.

Information on all aspects of this program can be found online, or by contacting Exotic Pet Amnesty Program coordinator, Liz Barraco, at 954-577-6409 or

Species Spotlight: Knight Anole

posted on May 15, 2014 in Invasive Species,Wildlife

Knight Anoles, nativeKnight Anole by cuatrok77 to Cuba, are being spotted more and more throughout South and Southwest Florida. Larger than the green and brown anoles most Floridians are familiar with, Knight Anoles can reach 13 to 20 inches in length (they are often thought to be small iguanas). They are bright green with a yellow or white stripe over the eye and the shoulder. Eating primarily insects and small lizards, they also sometimes prey upon frogs and nestling birds.

While little can be done to control them once they become locally-established, homeowners and landscapers should be aware of this species to avoid spreading them to new locations.  Audubon Florida encourages the use of IveGot1 to report sightings of Knight Anoles to help track their spread.

You can help early detection and tracking efforts by reporting any non-native species you see online or using your smartphone (call 1-888-IVE-GOT-1 if you have a live animal in front of you).

5th Annual Everglades CISMA Non-Native Fish Round-Up – Saturday May 17, 2014

posted on May 13, 2014 in Invasive Species

This one-day event is open to all anglers (boat and shore) fishing in the Everglades area. Prizes will be awarded and will include a junior division. See website for more information and to register.

New Research Shows Python’s Navigational Ability May Be Key to Its Invasion Success

If you know you’ll always be able to find your way back home, you’ll probably be more willing to explore and visit new places, right? Recent research conducted in the Everglades by a collaboration of university and federal scientists found that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses that allow them to find their way home at a scale never before documented in snakes. This may spell bad news for the continued spread of pythons across our state.

DCIM100GOPROBurmese pythons captured in Everglades National Park were implanted with radio transmitters, released in suitable habitat 21-36 km from their capture locations, and tracked from aircraft. Five of six pythons returned to within 5 km of their capture location, moving a maximum of nearly 2 kilometers per day (compared to a control group that moved a maximum of 0.5 kilometers per day). While the navigational mechanism is not yet understood, reptiles are known to use magnetic, celestial, olfactory (smell), and polarized light cues.

This type of research is critical not only to understanding the behavior and potential for spread of pythons here in Florida, but also for better understanding invasive species ecology in general. Many of these species come from remote or poorly-studied parts of the world where their ecology in their native range is undescribed. Furthermore, species introduced to new areas often behave somewhat differently than they do in their native range. While most experts believe Burmese pythons are here to stay in South Florida, better understanding them can help limit their spread and teach us valuable lessons than can be applied to new invaders.

Audubon Florida Presidents Consulted for Planning of Non-Native Species Awareness Program

Feb. 23-28, 2014 was National Invasive Species Awareness Week .

non-native snail eggsSadly, due to cuts in funding, many programs that have been documenting the spread of non-native plants and animals have had to look elsewhere manpower.   Audubon members are in a unique position to help.  They are observant, spend considerable time outdoors both close to home and away, and are generally knowledgeable about plants, wildlife and of course birds.  Who better to notice unwanted visitors,   expanding ranges of established species and new arrivals?  But then what?

There is a website dedicated to training and tracking non-natives that is complete with materials and certifications.  There is an app called “Ivegot1” available for both Android and I-phones that can be used in the field.  Snap a photo and send it to the data center along with some notes and voila! phone app to report invasive species locations

It seems simple enough but according to a recent survey Audubon members as a whole are not doing it.  Why? Awareness.

When over 50% of Florida’s Chapter Presidents completed a short survey developed by Audubon staff results were mixed.  Some did not understand the importance of tracking the movement of non-natives. Others felt they did not have the capacity (manpower and time) to take on additional projects.  But the most common response was they did not know about available online resources and tools that could be used in the field during the many outings they plan throughout the year.

As a result the Chapters Committee has planned to include a workshop at the upcoming Audubon Academy April 11-13  called Apps, apps and more apps.  Participants will be asked to bring their smart phones, download apps and practice using them.  In addition, all members will be encouraged to become REDDY certified online. (We might even launch a contest for the chapters with the most certified members.)

program logoAlthough The National Invasive Species Awareness Week highlights a week, the problems relating to non-native species exist throughout the year.  Audubon’s capacity through regular chapter activities is a natural fit with these important programs.  We look forward to sharing this fun technology with all while providing valuable data as citizen scientists.

Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, and Pelicans on Lake Okeechobee

cloud of spoonbillsAudubon’s Jane Graham reports on her latest adventure on Lake Okeechobee with Dr. Paul Gray:

Last week our tour of Lake Okeechobee was one for the books. We saw pink clouds of Roseate Spoonbills, with White Pelicans and a few Wood Storks in the mix. I have never seen so many Roseate Spoonbills at the same time, and even Dr. Gray was impressed!

gallinulenestWhy the plethora of birds? It is the end of the dry season. As water levels are getting shallow, it creates perfect foraging conditions for wading birds, including Roseate Spoonbills.

We also saw areas with torpedograss, an invasive plant that grows aggressively in monocultures on the Lake. Fortunately, since 2004, the South Florida Water Management District has treated 45,000 acres (about 70 square miles!) for torpedograss and while there still are large areas of this grass, they are making progress tackling this invader. Birds on the Lake have responded and are enjoying the habitat.
group shot lake okie

Here’s a group shot of us in a torpedograss patch. (left)

As we drove back, we saw nests of a Common Gallinule (pictured above) and Red-winged Blackbird, and some exotic Purple Swamp Hens who appear to be increasing in population in the lake.

Mitch Hutchcraft,  a new SFWMD Governing Board member, Jeff Sumner, SFWMD, and Henrietta Armstrong, King Ranch, joined us.

Citizen Scientists Needed to Help Florida Grasshopper Sparrows

Endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.  Photo by Christina Evans.The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is a federally Endangered bird found nowhere else in the world. Despite efforts to recover the bird its population continues to decline steeply on the very conservation lands where it should be thriving. Without immediate intervention­ the outlook is dire for this diminutive Florida prairie specialist. Suspected reasons for the decline include suboptimal habitat management, fire ants killing flightless chicks, diseases, and genetic problems.

YOU can help! In the next few months Audubon is partnering with Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (KPPSP) land managers and the Friends of KPPSP to recruit and train citizen scientists in a new sparrow habitat improvement project.

Fire ant mound at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State ParkWHAT: Within 2-3 weeks following a prescribed burn, before vegetation grows back, volunteers will walk through the burned prairies along pre-determined routes, or transects, recording GPS locations of every visible fire ant mound within 25 meters of the transect line and treating the mound with a fire ant pesticide (see photo with visible fire ant mound). A variety of transect lengths can be selected by volunteers to accommodate those who prefer walking shorter or longer distances, nearer or farther from the road and vehicles. The work will be done early in the morning or late in the afternoon when cooler temperatures prevail.

PROVIDED: Volunteers will receive free overnight camping at beautiful Kissimmee Prairie Preserve on a first-come, first-serve basis. Transportation will be provided to and from each work site in 4WD vehicles (volunteers owning same may be able to drive their own vehicle into the Preserve exclusively for this project work). Volunteers will be provided with GPS units or may choose to use their own. The fire ant pesticide and applicator will be provided on site together with instructions on proper use.

WHO: Up to 10 teams of 2 people per team can be deployed at one time. Volunteers must provide their own water, food, and sun protection for the duration of field work. Volunteers must be physically capable of walking over uneven terrain for a minimum distance of 1500 feet carrying personal supplies and some equipment such as a clipboard, hand-held GPS, or a pesticide applicator. Biting insects may be present particularly in warmer months. Walking through recently burned areas will leave soot marks on clothing so old or easily washable clothing is desirable. Closed-toed shoes are required; long pants are recommended for leg protection.

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve at Dusk by Charles Lillo.WHEN: Interested volunteers must RSVP to be placed on a contact list. A notice will be distributed to the list of prospective volunteers each time a new prairie area burn is completed in the spring and summer months of 2013. If successful the project may continue into the fall and winter months. When a notice is distributed to the list, the work must be completed within 2-3 weeks before vegetation growth reduces visibility of the fire ant mounds and the project loses its most effective time window.

Note: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts have carefully reviewed the planned use of pesticides and believe it presents negligible if any increased risk to Florda Grasshopper Sparrows, while helping eliminate a suspected threat to the species’ existence.

Please join us at one of Florida’s most remote and beautiful preserves and home to a sparrow found nowhere else in the world! While you’re out there working you might just hear a Florida Grasshopper Sparrow singing or see one of the many other residents – Bachman’s Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, White-tailed Kite, Burrowing Owl, Crested Caracara, and many others!

Contact Marianne Korosy at <> for more information and to sign up for this limited time opportunity.

Python Bill Faces Challenges in Committee

posted on December 4, 2012 in Everglades,Invasive Species

Many efforts are underway to stem the concerns caused by invasive species in the Everglades including the most well-known invaders: Burmese pythons and other large constrictors. Preying on endangered wildlife and disrupting delicate balances within the Everglades, these invasive species have quickly usurped positions as top predators.  A first important step to controlling the problem is to prevent more of these snakes from being brought into Florida and avoiding more from being released into the Everglades.

Congressman Tom Rooney is sponsoring a bill in Congress that would ban the nine most dangerous snakes from being imported to Florida.  This legislation complements efforts by the Obama Administration (which implemented a ban of 4 of the 9 species in January) and Senator Bill Nelson.  All should be commended for their efforts to seek solutions to avoid the further spread of this problem.

In an unfortunate development for Florida’s environment, other members of Congress expressed their resistance to such efforts during hearing of a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.  While many of the comments failed to recognize the value of Congressman Rooney’s legislation, Audubon will continue working to educate the public and advance this wise, proactive measure.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

 Environmentalists say these snakes kill endangered wildlife in Florida and undermine a multi-billion-dollar restoration of the Everglades.

“If we are trying to restore the ecosystem for wading birds adapted to the Everglades and we have invasives countering those measures, that’s a big problem,” Julie Hill-Gabriel, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, said after the hearing.

She also warned that widespread publicity about pythons and other snakes in the Glades have discouraged tourism.

“We have some people no longer willing to visit because they are just afraid,” Hill-Gabriel said. “The world knows the Everglades have a snake problem, and we need to show we are taking action.”


Audubon Florida’s Invader Updater – November 2012

posted on November 9, 2012 in Invasive Species,Wildlife

“Why Florida?”  This is a question asked by many Florida residents and visitors when they hear about the invasive species problem plaguing our state.

Invasive species ecology tells us that two types of sites are particularly prone to devastation by non-native species: habitats created or disturbed by humans and islands.  Thus in the U.S., Hawaii and Florida have the biggest problems with invasive species.  But Florida is not an island, right?

Actually, the ‘frost belt’ that reaches across the upper part of the Florida peninsula creates a barrier for most tropical and sub-tropical species, essentially causing peninsular Florida to act like an island for these species.  Additionally, peninsular Florida has a large number of ornamental plants and pets (sources of non-native introductions), contains several large transportation hubs (approximately 85% of plant shipments to the U.S. pass through Miami!), supports an active tourism industry, and has a highly-altered aquatic system that is great habitat for non-native plants and animals.  Non-native species jeopardize the ecological integrity of our native system and many species have direct negative impacts on natives.

As lower humidity and other subtle signs of Florida’s fall set it, many of us are crawling out of the air conditioning and reacquainting ourselves with the great outdoors.  Remember- while you’re out enjoying your neighborhood or favorite park, you can be a valuable asset to the invasive species problem by keeping an eye out for and reporting invasive species.

Visit our website to learn how easy it is to report your sighting online or using an easy smartphone app.

Species Spotlight: LIONFISH 

Native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans (including the Great Barrier Reef), the ornate fins and unique tiger-like stripes of lionfish have made them a popular pet of aquarium hobbyists.  First reported off Florida’s Atlantic Coast in Broward County in 1985 (likely released from aquaria), lionfish populations since have experienced remarkable growth and spread throughout the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and the Caribbean (click here) for a fascinating map animation of their spread).  With no significant predators in U.S. waters, these predatory reef fish eat and compete for food with native fish, and have the potential to cause serious damage to our coral reefs.

Usually less than 15 inches long (but reaching 22 inches), lionfish have venomous spines and should be handled with care.  Harvest (and subsequent consumption) by spear and dip nets is encouraged by FFWCC, with the texture and taste comparable to hogfish or black sea bass.  Lionfish sightings can be reported to (provide photos if possible).

Notable Invasive Animal Reports This Month (by County):

Have specific questions about invasive animals, how to report a sighting or how you can help in your area?  Feel free to contact me, Dr. Shawn Liston (

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