Florida is full of diverse wildlife, but sometimes the animals in the Sunshine State surprise us with their strange behaviors. In this article, we will explore some of the most bizarre and fascinating animal stories that emerged from Florida in 2022. From alligators eating footballs to iguanas falling from trees, these tales showcase the unpredictable, entertaining, and sometimes tragic nature of Florida’s animal kingdom. Let’s learn about the weirdest Florida wildlife stories of 2022!
1. Alligator Loves Football
Florida has over 1.3 million alligators all over the state. With so many gators, and so many Floridians with cameras, it’s not surprising to find some jaw-dropping images. A photographer in Big Cypress National Preserve snapped a pic of an alligator chomping on a football! It wasn’t clear whether the animal was playing with the pigskin or trying to eat it. But as one commenter pointed out, “Everyone worried about the football and not the person that was holding it?”
2. Alligator Does Not Love Flying Disc
Tragically, on May 31, 2022 a 47-year-old man died trying to retrieve a flying disc from an alligator-infested lake in John S. Taylor Park in Tampa Bay. The park has an 18-hole flying disc golf course adjacent to the lake. Multiple signs warn against swimming due to the presence of gators. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Another man searching for a lost flying disc was bitten in the face in the same lake and later died. Both incidents happened during the alligators’ spring mating season when they become more aggressive and territorial.
3. Falling Iguanas for Christmas
Just before Christmas 2022 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission warned that a predicted blast of cold air could cause iguanas to lose all muscle control and fall from trees. Iguanas are not indigenous to Florida. They are an invasive species that can damage residential and commercial landscaping. They can also harm the good Samaritans who try to help them. The FFWC warned, “Whatever you do, don’t bring wild green iguanas into your home or your car to warm up! They can recover more quickly than you think and become defensive, using their long tails and sharp teeth and claws.”
4. Texas Dog Turns up in Florida – 7 Years Later
Jazzy the dog ran off after being spooked by fireworks at her Texas home. Jazzy didn’t turn up until December 2022, seven years after she ran off, hundreds of miles away in Orlando, Florida. She was found abandoned in a hotel room, badly arthritic and barely able to walk. Animal rescuers located her owners by scanning her microchip. Her owner, Kerry, immediately jumped on a plane to Florida and was reunited with long lost pup. As soon as she heard his voice she perked up! She began vigorously licking his hand, and inching her body as close as she could to be near him. Kerry said he never gave up hope of finding her. Jazzy clearly felt the same way.
5. Florida Serves Salad to Manatees
Manatees are an endangered species of gentle and curious water mammals inhabiting Florida waterways. Unfortunately, their curiosity often draws them to investigate human activities on the water. They can become injured by boat propellers or entangled in fishing nets and drown. With vigorous conservation efforts, their numbers have rebounded from a low of 2,000 to over 8,000 in 2016. However, in recent years pollution and increasing water temperatures have increased algae growth. The algae covers the surface of the water, blocking sunlight to the seagrass the manatees eat.
In Indian River Lagoon, where manatees winter, 90% of the seagrass has died off. Sadly, 1,100 manatees starved to death in 2021. Wildlife officials decided to begin feeding lettuce and other vegetables to the manatees in 2022 as an emergency measure. And 350-800 manatees a day took advantage of the free meal. The state set aside $8 million to restore the seagrass, but it will take time for the plan to work.
6. Shark Abuse Investigated
Warning! The story below reports incidents of graphic violence toward animals that some readers may find disturbing. Please proceed with caution.
In December, Indian Harbour police investigated a disturbing video of a fisherman beating a beached shark on the head with a hammer before another man dragged it back into the water to release it. This was similar to another incident in August when the Florida Wildlife Commission investigated two men who dragged a shark to shore and stabbed it in the head. In that incident, the FWC concluded: “It is common practice for anglers to euthanize sharks after landing for ethical and safety concerns. This video is not currently under investigation as no violation of state law regarding the method of harvest occurred.”
Even if no state regulations were broken, we can hope the publicity from the story will raise awareness and discussion of the current state of the law. Wildlife officials could take this as a chance to explain the specific ethical and safety concerns that allow anglers to euthanize sharks, and what are the humane ways to do so.
7. Bobcat/Gator Battle on Back Porch
A Port Charlotte man saw a nature documentary unfold on his front porch in May. A full-grown bobcat fought with a baby alligator! Although the size difference stacked the battle in the bobcat‘s favor, the gator put up an epic fight. It jumped, snapped, and attempted to evade the big cat. After the cat carried its prey off to the woods, the homeowner expressed relief: “Thanks, that could’ve bit my dog. That bobcat was doing me a favor.” There was no comment from the dog, as he watched a dog-sized cat that just proved it could kill an alligator sashay nonchalantly into the bushes. Where it could watch the dog . . .
8. Biggest Python Ever Caught in State
Researchers in Florida’s Everglades National Park captured the state’s largest Burmese python ever recovered from the wild. The female was 18 feet long and weighed 215 pounds. She was caught using a smaller python as bait. Burmese pythons normally grow 6-10 feet long. They are not indigenous to the area but are a seriously damaging invasive species. They have become established in part due to pet owners releasing unwanted snakes into the wild. Today they rival alligators as the ecosystem’s apex predators. They have caused a rapid decline in prey species ranging from small mammals to deer and alligators. As prey decreases in the Everglades, more of the snakes are gradually migrating further north in the state. Some researchers think they could eventually be established as far north as Washington, D.C.!
9. Alligator Stalks Bull Shark
On May 28, a Florida fisherman videotaped an alligator stalking a bull shark that was apparently about half the length of the gator. These two animals rarely cross paths, but the St. Lucie River is a place where their respective ecosystems overlap. The fisherman had just caught the bull shark and had it dragged up on the rocky shore. Moments later, an alligator emerged from the water and began creeping up behind the shark. But the gator changed its mind and backed off. So, in the end, the winner of this amazing showdown was . . . the fisherman!
10. The Mystery Creature of Tampa
On March 28, 2022, a Tampa resident posted a creepy picture of a very strange creature. A virtually hairless, elongated, grey, four-legged animal looked right into the camera. Alongside the photo, the photographer tweeted, “I’m getting out of Tampa, bro!” Commenters speculated it was anything from a bear with alopecia, a dingo, or a Mexican hairless dog. Some jokingly speculated it was some kind of hellish beast that escaped from a Disney animated feature.
A specialist at the Miami Zoo solved the mystery; the creature was a coyote with a severe case of mange. Mange is a common affliction of canines, caused by mites that burrow into the skin. It causes itchy inflammation and hair loss. Coyotes inhabit every state except Hawaii. They live in rural and wilderness areas and in suburbs and urban areas as well. Unless they have rabies, they avoid people, but experts warn they can be a danger to pets and small children.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © © mark higgins/iStock via Getty Images
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