4-H Learns About Exotic and Invasive species

Ashley Hunter, ECB Publishing, Inc.

Invasive species and exotic pets were just two of the things that 4-H'ers learned about during the 4-H Wildlife Day Camp that lasted from Monday, July 9 through Friday, July 13.
On July 9, Kali Spurgin, a Lionfish Outreach Coordinator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), shared with the
4-H'ers about Lionfish, which are an invasive marine species.
The first reported Lionfish in Florida waters took place on the Atlantic Coast in 1985, and by 2014, the species (which is native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea) had rooted itself in the waters of Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coast as well the Caribbean Sea.
Spurgin shared ways that FWC and other private sectors are attempting to fight back against the destructive invasive species, such as through fishing.
4-H'ers also learned about ways that Lionfish hunt our natural reefs and the marine life that live in those reefs: the Lionfish have no natural predators here, aside from humans, and have thrived too well in the gulf, resulting in declines in the marine species that Lionfish hunt and eat.
As the Lionfish eat species that serve an important ecological roles in our reefs – such as fish who keep algae in check, the health of reef habitats decline.
On July 10, 4-H'ers were visited by Amanda Kubes, Allison Perez and Inv. Shelby Williams with the FWC Exotic Pet Amnesty Program.
The program is an effort that attempts to reduce the number of nonnative species that are being released into the wild by offering events around Florida that provide owners of exotic pets with a place to surrender their exotic pets without risk of penalties.
Kubes spoke to the 4-H'ers about various non-native and exotic species that are frequently released into the wild, such a Burmese or Reticulated Pythons and Red Eared Slider turtles (which look similar to Florida's native Yellow Belly Slider turtles and will produce hybrids with the Yellow Belly Sliders).
Kubes also showed the 4-H youth various alternatives to big exotic pets.
Instead of large python breeds, prospective snake owners might want to look into smaller Corn Snake pets, which are fairly easy to handle, don't grow as large as pythons and have shorter life spans.
Instead of large, long-lived tortoise breeds, those who are looking into turtle-ownership might want to consider box tortoise breeds, rather than something like an African Spurred Tortoise, which frequently outlives its owners and requires massive space and specific dietary requirements.
Instead of large and exotic macaws, Kubes suggested that bird-lovers look into other smaller, less demanding bird breeds, such as finches.
Before ending their presentation, Kubes and Perez helped the
4-H'ers get an up close look at a large ball python, named Brown Sugar; and a baby alligator.
Throughout the week, the 4-H'ers took part in archery, air rifle, fishing, and canoe practice and learned about Florida's conservation, forestry and wildlife.