Florida is known for many things, not the least of which are its native alligators and crocodiles. But it’s also known for being home to a number of invasive species, like the Burmese python and, possibly, the Nile crocodile.

nile crocodile

The Nile crocodile is the second largest of its kind, after the saltwater crocodile native to India, Australia, and parts between. The Nile crocodile can grow up to 20 feet in length and is responsible for a lot of attacks on human in Africa, at least 480 between 2010 and 2014, 123 of which were fatal.

Scientists from the University of Florida have used DNA analysis to confirm that three specimens caught in Florida since 2000 are Nile crocodiles, but they’re pretty sure there are more out there. The three crocs they tested all have ties to South Africa, and to each other, but those DNA tests showed that they aren’t directly related to any known Nile crocodiles in zoos. That means that they got into the wild some other way, possibly because they were brought to the state to be pets. There’s a flourishing trade of “exotic” pets in Florida, and unlike many other parts of the country, especially for reptiles, Florida is an excellent home for animals that escape captivity.

So excellent, in fact, that Nile crocodiles in Florida are growing faster than they do in Africa. And because they’re apex predators, Nile crocodiles could prey on everything in the state, including native alligators and crocodiles, and humans. This is part of why the researchers assume there are more out there, and while they’ve called for more research on the subject, they’re hopeful that the possible danger to both human safety and the environment, will get the attention it deserves. Invasive species can cause a lot of damage in a new ecosystem, and when they can get that big, and be that dangerous, it’s a serious problem indeed.