GAINESVILLE, Fla., Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Florida has the world's worst invasive amphibian and reptile problem and the pet trade is the number one cause of species' introduction, a report says.
A University of Florida researcher says from 1863 through 2010, 137 non-native amphibian and reptile species were brought into the southern U.S. state, with about 25 percent of them traced to a single animal importer.
"Most people in Florida don't realize when they see an animal if it's native or non-native and unfortunately, quite a few of them don't belong here and can cause harm," researcher Kenneth Krysko, herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, said.
"No other area in the world has a problem like we do, and today's laws simply cannot be enforced to stop current trends."
While Florida law prohibits the release of non-native species without a state permit, offenders cannot be prosecuted unless they are caught in the act.
No one in Florida has ever been prosecuted for the introduction of an invasive animal, Krysko said.
The study found Florida had 56 established invasive species: 43 lizards, five snakes, four turtles, three frogs and a caiman, a close relative of the American alligator.
"It's like some mad scientist has thrown these species together from all around the world and said, 'hey let's put them all together and see what happens,' " Krysko said. "It could take decades before we actually know the long-term effects these species will have."