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Who You Calling Exotic?

Brown baslisk eyes my parking space at the office. Liberated by pet owners or introduced through other means, exotic reptiles and fish often flourish in Florida.


As hard as we humans seem to try, we pretty much can't stop Nature.

Now don't get me wrong: We're not off the hook here, not free to dump crud into our waters, disregard bag limits and look the other way while others do.

What I'm talking about is Nature with a capital N—the unseen force that ensures life in some form will persist, adapt, change, perhaps (gulp!) not only despite us, but without us.

By way of example, many years ago, when we bought our house in Jensen Beach, I complained to anyone who would listen about non-native brown anoles displacing the green “chameleons.”

My efforts at population control yielded about the same kind of results as the taxpayer-funded python hunters in the Glades: A few dead reptiles, quickly replaced.



Nowadays, my driveway is becoming the Epcot Center of the lizard world. The browns (Cuba) are joined by curlytails (Bahamas), and I know the agamas (Africa) are just a few streets away. Interestingly, the stealthy, arboreal greens seem to be holding their own. I'm officially retired from the lizard-killing business.

Non-native fish? Don't even get me started. During my short-lived tilapia-extirpation crusade, I cast-netted (and cooked) one off our dock on the St. Lucie River, and a week later two took their place. Never one to pass up a free meal, I ate that pair as well, and then a few weeks later there were four. Eventually I gave up. Snook, at least, seem to be zeroing in on the juveniles.

My experiences, as any longtime Floridian can attest, are hardly unique.



As part of this magazine's ongoing 50-year reflections (summer of '69, baby!), this month we look back at the rise of the so-called exotic fish. Writer Shelby Busenbark is the ideal person to tackle the subject. From her unique position as curator of our online fishing reports, Shelby has chronicled and helped ID redtail catfish, cichlids of all descriptions, eel-like snakeheads, and snakehead-like eels. For the article, she teamed up with experts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I think Shelby got it right—and I think our commission's getting it right, too, for the most part.

Yes, they offer incentives to kill lionfish, and advice for dealing with other harmful invaders. But thankfully the commission seems to have muffled the alarmist rhetoric surrounding the goofy snakehead and other such dire doom-riders of the apocalypse.



Hey, some of us enjoy fishing for them!

Getting back to my first point. We've still gotta pay attention to what's going on around us. I think the late, great George Carlin had it right: We're not above Nature, we're under it. Blow the big tests and the “planet'll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.”

Let's continue to do what we can to protect our home. Want some ideas? Check out our Florida Sportsman Waterman documentaries for more information. FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine August 2019




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