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Researchers find invasive, 'man-eating' crocodiles in Florida

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Researchers at the University of Florida recently discovered several Nile crocodiles living in Florida's swamps, The Guardian reports. The team's research, published recently in the Journal of Herpetological Conservation and Biology, took place in Miami-Dade and Hendry counties from 2000 to 2014, during which time the scientists studied four "nonnative" crocodile species. Using DNA analysis, the researchers determined that two of those species were most closely related to the Nile crocodile, an aggressively predatory animal native to South Africa.

Florida has the most "introduced" amphibians and reptiles in the world, according to the study. In the past five decades, four species of nonnative crocodile have been introduced into Florida's waters, but the Nile crocodile is deadly. From 2010 to 2014, the Nile crocodile was responsible for 493 attacks on people, 354 of which were fatal. The crocodile, which can grow up to 18 feet long, is also very adaptive, and will eat almost anything, including cattle, birds, fish, domestic pets, and even crocodiles and alligators native to Florida, The Guardian reports. Then there's the little fact that there are probably more of these animals in Florida than the researchers were able to find.

They can survive in the Florida wilderness for several years

"The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely," co-author Kenneth Krysko said in the study. "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."

Although the two Nile species were genetically identical, the source of the invasion remains unknown. Their genetic makeup does not match any crocodiles in Florida's zoos, The Guardian reports.

The study's authors recommend that Florida's wildlife agencies perform a risk assessment and take steps to protect the state's native species from the Nile crocodile.