The best way to help prevent new introductions of exotic species into Florida is to be a responsible pet owner. Many pets are deceptively small at the time of purchase, and people may not be prepared to care for them when they grow to their full adult size. Often people move and feel that taking their pet with them is too much of a hassle or they become bored with their pets. It may seem kind to release a pet into the wild, thus setting it free, but this can be detrimental to the animal and the environment.
Pet owners may not realize that a released pet will more than likely die without care from its owner. But not all will die, and those that survive have the potential to become invasive, meaning they can take over habitats and displace native fish and wildlife species.
Instead of turning pets loose, try to find them a new home. Search the Internet for clubs or rescue groups that specialize in the same type of animal as your pet. Some pet shops will allow you to return the animal; others may accept it as a donation. Wildlife rehabilitators are another option, or you can try donating the animal to a museum or nature center. Your local humane society or animal shelter may also accept an unwanted non-native pet. Check out the Pet Amnesty Day web page to find out where and when the next event will be held. Unwanted exotic pets are accepted at these events free of charge with no questions asked.
Before you buy a non-native pet, take the time to learn how large the animal will grow, how long it will live, and how much care it will require. Ask the pet store for an animal care sheet. Be prepared to make a long-term commitment to your pet.
There are other ways you can help as well.
- Check boat trailers, boat hulls and propellers.
- Rinse and remove aquatic plants or invertebrate hitchhikers such as snails.
- Don't dump aquarium contents in lakes, channels or other water bodies.
- Replace invasive and other non-native plants in your yard with native species.
- Make sure produce bought and delivered through the mail is from reputable companies that have their shipments inspected.
- Have houseplants brought into the state inspected for potential pests, either by another state's agriculture department or at a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspection station. This is required by law and violations can be as high as $5000.
- While you're outdoors enjoying Florida's natural resources, let us know if you see an animal that may not be native. Collect as much information about the animal as possible: take photographs and GPS location data, make plaster castings of tracks, etc. Send an email to our nonnative species database team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Check out our links to learn more about non-native species.