Alligators and crocodiles and iguanas, oh my! Top Florida critter stories of 2018

We have Florida Man. We have Florida Woman.

Of course, we have Florida Critters, too. Most of them were here before we were (well, maybe not the invasive Burmese pythons or Asian monitor lizards).

Newcomer or from the Jurassic Park demimonde, our Sunshine State’s alligators, crocodiles, iguanas, monitor lizards, horses, raccoons and monkeys came slithering, crawling, climbing, swimming or leaping all over the place in 2018.

Here are just some of Florida’s favorite wildlife encounters.

‘Monster’ lizard is menacing a family in their backyard. Even trappers are stumped

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An Asian or Nile monitor makes itself at home in the Lieberman family’s backyard in their Davie neighborhood. The family has been working with trappers to remove the six-foot-long invasive lizard from the community.

Courtesy Zachary Lieberman

For months this summer, the talk of a Davie neighborhood was the giant Asian monitor lizard that terrorized the Lieberman family — Zachary, Maria and their two small children. The parents couldn’t let their kids enjoy the backyard pool in the heat of August because the si-foot lizard was practically holding them hostage inside their home. Trappers sent out by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were not having much luck in capturing the descendant of the late Mesozoic era, either. Finally, in November, trappers captured the Asian monitor in Davie’s Nob Hill community and gave it a ride outta town.

An 8-foot alligator causes quite a stir as it takes a dip in a family’s backyard pool

In February, Matt Fino took his dog, Charlie, out for his walk when he spotted an eight-foot alligator at the bottom of his pool at his Boca Raton home. The only other object in the pool: a lime green noodle flotation toy. Trappers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wrangled the gator out from its morning dip.

Yes, that’s a crocodile on a pool noodle. No, the human didn’t get it back


Miami Herald file

This is not the only time a dangerous reptile made headlines with a pool noodle. In August, Key Largo resident Victor Perez was looking out toward the bayside canal behind his house when he spotted a crocodile floating on a yellow one. “I don’t know how he got that thing,” Perez told the Miami Herald. “He looked like just any typical Florida tourist!”

This alligator didn’t mind salt water as it swam and sunned itself on a Florida beach


Capt. Jessica DeGraw of Island Time Dolphin and Shelling Cruises posted a video to the company’s Instagram page showing the alligator swimming Monday off a beach on Big Hickory Island, near Bonita Springs in Lee County.


This part of Florida’s Fort Myers Beach isn’t for lovers only. In June, the captain of a chartering service spotted a six-foot alligator swimming in the salt water near Lover’s Key just off Fort Myers Beach as he took a family of five out on a cruise near Big Hickory Preserve. Apparently, the gator thought itself a tourist. After a bit of swimming, the toothsome reptile sauntered onto the shore and sunned itself a bit. Perhaps wanting some privacy, the alligator then strolled toward a lagoon on the other side of the island.

Two alligators surprised cops when they searched a car trunk for stolen property

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Christian Thomas Elmore of Fort Pierce was arrested on two felony counts of killing or possessing two alligators after two dead ones were found by Fort Pierce police in his car trunk in a Walmart parking lot on Nov. 19, 2018.

St Lucie County Jail Fort Pierce Police Department

This item could just as easily fit the Miami Herald’s Florida Man 2018 year-in-review wrap up. Christian Thomas Elmore, 25, of Fort Pierce was arrested on two felony counts of killing or possessing two alligators after two dead ones were found by Fort Pierce police in his car trunk in a Walmart parking lot in November. The unfortunate critters were discovered after a Walmart loss prevention officer tipped officers that he saw Elmore shoplifting fishing items from the store and placing them in the trunk of his Toyota.

Florida Man versus gators, Part Deux

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Brandon Keith Hatfield, 23, in September 2018 mug shot.

St. John’s County Sheriff’s Office

According to St. Augustine police, Brandon Keith Hatfield, 23, broke into the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in November fully dressed. He was seen on surveillance video “tight walking on a fence” that surrounds an enclosure that holds three crocodiles, First Coast News reported. Naturally, he wound up in the Nile crocodile exhibit because officers found him after a woman reported seeing a bloodied man crawling in her nearby yard. Zookeepers found the rest of his clothes — and a single Crocs shoe — in the pit. Sometimes Florida’s earlier inhabitants win.

‘Got beer?’ man asks in convenience store. They ran when they saw what he was carrying

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Screen grab from a Facebook video that shows a man entering a Jacksonville convenience store with an alligator under his arm.

OnlyinDuval Facebook

In July, a man in jeans, backward baseball cap and dark T-shirt walked into a Jacksonville convenience store clutching a small alligator under his arm. He shouted, “Ya’ll got beer, still?”

Because Florida.

Rabies alert back in Kendall after a raccoon is identified — and now there’s an otter

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A raccoon stretches out on a windowsill high above downtown St. Paul, Minn., on June 12, 2018. South Florida has had its own issues with raccoons after seven tested positive for rabies in the Kendall area.

Evan Frost AP

If it seems the Kendall area has been under a rabies alert since July that’s because it has — and still is into January. That’s because rabid raccoons, seven so far, keep turning up in the boundary area of Southwest 152nd Street to the north, 187th Street on the south, 117th Avenue on the east and 137th Avenue to the west, near Zoo Miami. In November, the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade also found an otter that tested positive for rabies in Palmetto Bay. Because of that otter, which died after biting a person, the health department issued an alert for Southwest 144th Street to the north, 184th Street to the south, Biscayne Bay to the east and U.S. 1 to the west until Jan. 15.



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A large, venomous rattlesnake was spotted swimming off the Keys


Miami Herald file

Not your everyday sight, thankfully. In February, a charter boat went fishing off the Keys and discovered and spotted a 60 inch long Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the largest poisonous snake in North America, swimming toward the boat, which quickly changed direction.

Two iguanas engaged in a heated battle outside a Florida Starbucks


Miami Herald file

A run of the mill coffee run in June was anything but relaxing for two Florida women who witnessed a vicious fight between two iguanas in a Boca Raton Starbucks parking lot. It’s unclear what the reptiles were battling over or if caffeine was involved in the frenzy.

A horse walked into a South Beach club. It freaked out. Now the Internet is, too.


Miami Herald file

Clubgoers at popular South Beach club Mokai Lounge back in March were in for quite a surprise when a woman in a bikini rode a horse onto the dance floor for “entertainment” purposes. Video of the incident shows the animal looking panicked, drop to the ground and then throw the woman off. People gasp and scream amid the chaos. The venue’s license was temporarily revoked; Mokai’s owner Roman Jones later agreed to donate $10,000 to Peaceful Ridge Horse Rescue and never to use animals on site again.