Giant rat species latest odd animal to trouble Florida

Posted at 4:45 PM, Jun 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-06 16:46:29-04

A Gambian pouched rat. (Florida Wildlife Service)

(CNN) – Flamingos, manatees – and rats the size of toaster ovens. Yep, the list of animals Florida is best known for is about to grow by one.

But unlike the other two, the Gambian pouched rat isn’t likely to be featured on any tourism brochures or commemorative keychains.

The giant non-native rodent has invaded the Florida Keys and it will. Not. Go. Away.

Despite ongoing efforts to eradicate (e-rat-icate? Eh???) it from Grassy Key since 2007, new sightings confirm the rat — once thought to be on its last freakishly large legs — is harder to kill than Chris Brown’s career.

Not that it’s too hard to catch sight of one of these guys. Adult Gambian pouched rats weigh about 3 or 4 pounds and average 2 to 3 feet long, not counting their tails.

If you spotted one, you’d probably mistake it for an opossum. You’d also probably be justifiably freaked the heck out when someone told you that thing you’re looking at is actually a gigantic rat.

The animal’s population began to grow after a South Florida exotic animal breeder let about eight of them loose between 1999 and 2001, according to the Broward-Palm Beach New Times. So be sure to thank him for that, Grassy Key.

The Miami Herald reports residents there have been receiving fliers from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asking them to be on the lookout for the extra-large rats so officials know where they might catch some. The USDA will also be helping out, according to the paper, setting up traps during a 10-day period.

The rat traps will be set with cantaloupe and peanut butter, which the African rats apparently enjoy. Note to Keys residents: Get rid of all your cantaloupe and peanut butter right now.

Zoo Miami communications director Ron Magill told the New Times the rat is more of a threat to plants than to people and “reproduces at a ridiculously high rate, so every time you think you’re catching up, they’re also catching up.”