British tourists looking forward to taking in the spectacular tropical wildlife of the Florida Keys this summer may be in for a shock – three-foot-long rats are invading the holiday hotspot.
A breed of giant Gambian rats have been rapidly reproducing in the area, despite a decade-long effort to wipe them out.
Weighing in at as much as nine pounds (4kgs) some can grow to be larger than the average house cat.
With thousands of Britons a year among the tourist horde that descends on an area known for its spectacular mangroves and coral, Florida officials are keen to wipe out the problem.
The rats first spread back in 2001 after a local exotic animal breeder released eight of them into the wild.
Officials thought they had successfully exterminated the population back in 2009, but several of the burrowing creatures have recently shown up in the yards of local residents.
Scott Hardin, exotic species coordinator for Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told KeysNet: “We think they have not moved far but they clearly reproduced.
“We’re going to try to trap them… until we see signs that we have knocked them back.”
Using cantaloupe and peanut butter as bait, Florida officials have teamed up with the US Department of Agriculture to lay more than 200 traps in an effort to clear the area of the Gambian rats.
The rodents, officially known as the Gambian pouched rat, are the largest known breed in the world. They are able to produce litters of up to six babies at a time every nine months – and do so after only five months of being born.
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