Oh, the Everglades. Our noble river of grass. Our beautiful, unique ecosystem. Oh, the ways in which we have totally screwed it over.
No, seriously. We've made our alligators the size of Kate Moss. We've turned some birds gay, and we keep releasing all sorts of stupid pets into it.
We May Have Turned Male Ibises Gay
In the late '80s, scientists discovered high levels of mercury in many animals throughout the Everglades, which coincided with lower breeding rates in some bird species. The burning of medical waste and improper disposal of mercury-filled batteries in South Florida were pegged as the culprit, and new regulations decreased the amount of mercury in the ecosystem. Affected bird species then began mating again like crazy.
But scientists wanted to figure out what exactly had happened. So University of Florida researches rounded up 160 white ibis nestlings from South Florida and began adding various levels of methylmercury in their food once they reached 90 days old. They then released them in a netted aviary and allowed them to do their thing. Scientists noticed a high rate of male birds nesting with other males, which is very rare in the wild. In fact, 55 percent of the males fed the highest level of mercury were shacking up with other male birds. Female birds did not nest with other females, but females fed mercury did produce fewer offspring on average. (Scientists urged that the findings had no implications for human sexuality.)
Your Dumb Cats Ate a Lot of Endangered Birds
"Oh, but Colonel Meowington and Lady PurrPurr wouldn't hurt a fly. Would you, my little snooky-wooky kitty-witties?"
Yeah, sorry. Your precious little cats might have wreaked havoc on an ecosystem. Domestic cats like to hunt birds -- any type of bird, even endangered ones -- and the total number of cats in South Florida has put a sizable dent in the Everglades' bird population. Stray and escaped cats can do even worse. So keep your kitties indoors and get them fixed.
We Imported the Stupidest Invasive Trees
Brazilian Ppepper and Melaleuca are two of nature's stupidly hardy trees. Humans decided it would be a great idea to introduce them to Florida.
Brazilian pepper was brought to Florida in the late 1800s as a decorative tree despite the fact it's ugly as hell and can leave some sensitive people with a nasty rash. It's also a pain to control. If you burn it, it releases a toxic, Mace-like substance into the air. It's hardy, and its seeds are easily spread. It's since overtaken our noble native trees and seriously screwed with their habitat.
Then there's melaleuca, whose distinctive "paper" bark resembles dead skin peeling off a sunburn victim. It too was introduced in the 1800s as a garden tree and to help dry out swamps. Its has also overtaken native species.
Your Dumb Unwanted Pet Snakes
Pythons in the Everglades' is a well-known problem, but the fact that so many people thought it would be a good idea to release their unwanted pet snakes into the wild knowing they could reach lengths of more than 12 feet is still quite incomprehensible. "Well, son, your ma no longer wants Macho Snake Randy Savage in the house, so we're just gonna take him out to the swamp so he can have a nice life."
Our Alligators Are More Emaciated Than 1990s Calvin Klein Models
We wrote about this topic earlier this week, but yes, alligators in the Everglades and the rest of South Florida are, as the tabloids might call it, "scary skinny." Probably because, you know, their environment and food chain have been really messed up.
Our Panthers Got More Inbred Than Those Dudes in Deliverance
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Again, Florida's panther conservation problem is nothing knew, but it's worth noting again just how badly inbred the species has become. They got kinked tails and cowlicks. Their hearts were prone to all sorts of problems. Male panthers' cat-balls had a habit of not dropping properly, and the sperm they did produce was messed up. That's what happens when a species population drops to as little as 30 estimated individuals at one point. Of course, the problem has subsided somewhat since closely related cougars from Texas were released into the habitat.
Some People Thought It Would be a Good Idea to Keep Giant Rats as Pets, Which Ended Up in the Wild
As far as rats go, we can sort of see the appeal of keeping a Gambian pouched rat as a pet. They're kind of cute, even if they are the size of a cat. Well, someone in the Keys was breeding these things and decided to release some into the wild (seriously, people, stop releasing animals into the wild!). Ever since then, new outbreaks of the population have popped up around the Florida Keys, and officials at this point are just hoping like hell that these creatures don't establish a firm foothold in the Everglades.