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Scientists issue warning after identifying invasive animal that could wreak havoc on Florida: 'That's what really alarmed me'

"We spend about 25 times less on prevention efforts than we do management."

"We spend about 25 times less on prevention efforts than we do management."

Photo Credit: iStock

Florida is a hotbed of invasive species. The state will even pay residents a bounty to kill invasive pythons. And according to a new study from University of Florida scientists, hundreds more invasive species could be on their way to the Sunshine State. 

Among them is a type of crab-eating monkey that is an excellent swimmer and spreads deadly diseases.

What is happening?

According to Deah Lieurance, a co-author of the study, the crab-eating macaque — a close relative of the rhesus macaque — is the most concerning of the potential invasive species. 

"Looking at the potential impacts, you know, that's what really alarmed me," she said.

Although the crab-eating macaque has yet to establish itself in Florida, it exists in captivity in a facility that breeds monkeys for primate research — i.e., animal testing. 

"Say there's a, you know, Category Five hurricane that might breach wherever they're being held captive," Lieurance said. "There could be a potential introduction there."

Why is this concerning?

In addition to the massive ethical concerns around animal testing, if any crab-eating macaques escape from the facility, the consequences could be deadly for Floridians. Rhesus macaques, which are very similar to the crab-eating macaques, have tested positive for both herpes B, which can cause brain damage or even death, and rabies.

Other potential invasive species identified by the study included the alewife (a type of herring), the zebra mussel, and the red swamp crawfish.

What is being done about it?

Lieurance said that Florida needs to begin monitoring the pathways through which invasive species like these monkeys could find their way into the state — effectively repeating the old maxim "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

"We spend about 25 times less on prevention efforts than we do management," Lieurance said. "So that's where this horizon scanning kind of fits in. Not only can we preserve habitat, and biodiversity, but we can also save money."

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