Flamingos. (Andrew West, The News-Journal)

FL - Storms bring, set free many of the invasive species that roam (with bonus podcast)

It's not just flamingos ― other creatures that call Florida home today have a history with hurricanes.

While Hurricane Idalia delivered dozens of flamingos to the Eastern United States over the past few weeks, other animals have either been brought here by a storm, set free by a storm or expanded their range in the wake of storms.

These non-native animals are now, in some cases, found across the state. Some are scary and dangerous to native wildlife and even people while others have found a niche and have no reason to return home.

From birds to lizards, snakes and fish, invasive species have thrived here over the past 150 years or so.


Listen also

Storms and Species: How Hurricanes Aid in Invader Expansion

July 30, 2023

Non-Native Species on the Rise: USGS Insights

On this episode of the American Shoreline Podcast, hosts Peter Ravella and Tyler Buckingham engage in an insightful conversation with Ian Pfingsten, a botanist and invasive species expert from the U.S. Geological Survey. Pfingsten explains the mechanisms used by the USGS to predict and track the spread of non-native species through Flood and Storm Tracker maps. The discussion further illuminates the impact on ecosystems, potential economic and human health implications, and the mitigation strategies employed to curb the threats posed by these invasive species. This episode not only sheds light on the USGS's critical research and innovative methods, but also underscores the urgent need for preparedness and resilience in the face of increasingly frequent and devastating weather events.


So, here's a look at five species common to Florida that have a history with hurricanes.

Cattle egrets

Cattle egrets are native to Africa, but a hurricane in the 1950s carried a group of the birds to South America.

Once there, the birds spread out and eventually found Florida, where they now roam in pastures and eat insects and small critters that are kicked up when cattle walk and graze in fields.

"It's thought that hurricanes brought cattle egrets from Africa to South America," said retired state biologist Jim Beever. "They came across to Florida in that same time period. I think in 1954 they had a breeding group in Florida. and that's an egret that fit right in because it has its own niche and it's a prairie egret and its niche in Africa is to be with herding animals and it eats insects stirred up by animals."

A cattle egret, top, feeds its young on a small rookery island on the Caloosahatchee River next to the W.P. Franklin Locks campground on Thursday 6/26/2015. Amendment 1 supporters say the state should buy more preservation lands to help support Florida’s unique wildlife.
Cattle egrets. (Andrew West, The News-Journal)

They follow cattle on farms here, hence the name, and feed on the bugs and lizards that get stirred up by the giant grazers as they move along in the open fields.

Often grouped with the so-called the "cosmopolitan herons," these birds have found a niche in a human disrupted environment.

"The classic example of one that happened here in Florida quite a while ago is the cattle egret," Beever said.

Where they follow herds of wild animals in Africa, they stay with domesticated animals here and have established themselves throughout much of the state.


Black and green iguanas can be found in places like Cape Coral and North Fort Myers, and they were brought here as part of the pet trade during the 1960s.

They've since been able to expand their range along the east and west coasts of Florida, and some of the iguanas were set free from pet stores or breeding facilities that were crushed by hurricanes.

"South Florida’s extensive man-made canals serve as ideal dispersal corridors to further allow iguanas to colonize new areas," a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website reads. "In cleared habitats such as canal banks and vacant lots, green iguanas reside in burrows, culverts, drainage pipes and rock or debris piles."

They're often found in disturbed areas, canal systems or on piles of rock meant to break the wake from boats and storms.

Iguanas can cause damage to infrastructure by digging holes that can erode and collapse sea walls and sidewalks, according to FWC.

Read more.