In 2009, 2011, and 2014, three crocodiles were captured in Miami-Dade.
The first was found as a hatchling, sitting on someone's porch down in Homestead. The second was a small female croc found at the Fruit & Spice Park in Homestead. The third, a small male, was found swimming in a Homestead canal. That specimen was the largest, weighing 37 pounds. A typical full-grown Nile crocodile can weigh 500 to 1,600 pounds.
Scientists weren't sure what kind the young crocodiles were but knew they weren't the typical American crocodiles that call the Everglades home. Now, after genetic testing, University of Florida herpetologists have confirmed in a recently published study that the animals are indeed Nile crocodiles.
The second-largest species of its kind in the world, the Nile crocodile is native to Africa. It's also not the type of crocodile you'd want to mess with. They're responsible for around 200 human deaths a year, far more than any reptile species native to Florida.
Further testing found that all three of the captured crocodiles were related, but their DNA didn't match up with Nile crocodiles kept at Disney's Animal Kingdom or at any other attractions across the state.
That means scientists have no clue how the creatures got here.
"They didn't swim from Africa," University of Florida herpetologist Kenneth Krysko told the Orlando-Sentinel. "But we really don't know how they got into the wild."
Which probably means they were smuggled in by unlicensed reptile collectors. They likely escaped, but someone trying to purposely plant them in the Everglades can't be ruled out either.
Scientists are worried about the possibility of the Nile crocodile becoming a breeding population in Florida's swamps. They could threaten the existing native alligators and crocodiles and possibly even mate with the American crocodile and create a hybrid. There's also the fact that Nile crocodiles kill more humans every year than sharks.
Thankfully, there's no evidence of an established population growing in Florida. Not yet, anyway. Researchers believe other specimens may still be out there.