Southern Florida’s warm climate and marshy terrain are a perfect habitat for all sorts of crazy and dangerous creatures. Now, researchers are adding one more unlikely predator to the list: Nile crocodiles from Sub-Saharan Africa. Larger and more aggressive than their Northern American cousins already living in the Sunshine State, Nile crocs are the latest addition to the list of deadly wild animals in Florida. Tourists beware.

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A team of researchers based at the University of Florida is warning residents and visitors about the presence of the invasive carnivore. Through an analysis of DNA collected from three captured crocs, they confirmed that Nile crocodiles are indeed frolicking in the swamplands of Florida. The crocs, which can grow up to 18-feet-long, are evidently well-suited for the state’s climate—so much so, in fact, that juvenile Nile crocs mature at an accelerated rate there. UF researchers found they grow 28 percent faster in Florida than in their native African environment, a terrifying fact.

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At present, researchers are unable to say how many Nile crocs are roaming the Florida wilderness, but they believe there are many more than the three that were captured recently. “The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely,” said Kenneth Krysko, herpetology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History and a co-author on the DNA research, in a statement. “We know that they can survive in the Florida wilderness for numerous years, we know that they grow quickly here and we know their behavior in their native range, and there is no reason to suggest that would change here in Florida.”

Nile crocodiles didn’t swim across the Atlantic to retire in sunny Florida, nor did they apparently escape from area zoos, according to the study. The DNA analysis showed that the captured Nile crocs were not closely related to any of the zoo crocs in the state. This finding leaves researchers with a strong suspicion that the invasive species stems from Florida’s exotic pet trade. Unlike other species ‘accidentally’ introduced to the state, this one could realistically have lethal results for local residents.

Via Motherboard

Images via Wikipedia (1, 2)