People keep finding weird crocs in Florida. Now we know what they are: Nile crocodiles.

Florida is famous for its wildlife.

Bald cypress trees and a great egret in Everglades National Park. Photo from National Park Service/Wikimedia Commons.


Southern Florida is home to the Everglades, manatees, and Florida panthers, not to mention a staggering menagerie of plants, fish, birds, and invertebrates.

But something larger and more dangerous has been lurking in its swamps.

A Nile crocodile in a French zoo. Photo from Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images.

Since at least the year 2000, people in southern Florida have been reporting weird-looking alligators and crocodiles. Southern Florida does have both alligators and crocodiles, but these — the ones people were calling about — seemed ... unusual.

Well, for the past few years, some of the people responding to these calls were scientists. They captured three of these animals (at least once right off someone's porch!) and, curious about these strange-looking gators, tested the animals' DNA.

What they found was that these aren't alligators at all. Nor are they the native American crocodile. No, these were Nile crocodiles.

Photo by Tim Muttoo/Wikimedia Commons.

Yes, as in the Nile River. Yes, as in the one in Africa.

DNA reports show that the three animals all shared similar DNA profiles, which suggests they all came from the same source and that all three have ties back to croc populations in South Africa.

There was no evidence that the Nile crocodiles were an established population — that is to say, they didn't find any baby crocs — but where there are three, there's probably more.

"The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely," study author Kenneth Krysko said in a press release.

Nile crocs are serious business.

A Nile crocodile in a French zoo. Photo from Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images.

Adult Nile crocodiles can grow to 16-20 feet long and weigh as much as a car. For comparison, the American alligator, which is native to Florida, usually grows just 10-14 feet long.

I never thought I'd have to say that a 14-foot-long reptile predator was small!

So what the heck are these things doing in Florida?! It's probably due to the exotic pet trade.

People sometimes keep big, exotic animals like crocodiles as either pets or attractions. But if the animals escape — or are deliberately released — they can get into the wild and establish a home for themselves.

These crocs aren't the first invasive species to hit Florida. But they may be the biggest.

More than 500 species of non-native fish and wildlife have invaded Florida, including monkeys, giant Burmese pythons, and poisonous lionfish.

Though the lionfish looks pretty, its voracious appetite and lack of predators has made it one of the Caribbean's most wanted. Photo by Alexander Vasenin/Wikimedia Commons.

But Nile crocodiles would be one of the largest and potentially most dangerous. Back in Africa, Nile crocodiles are apex predators, eating just about anything they can catch, from water buffalo to zebras.

This could be bad for native crocs as well, say the scientists. Many alligator and crocodile species can breed with each other, meaning the genetics of our native American crocodiles could start to merge with the Nile crocs.

"My hope as a biologist is that the introduction of Nile crocodiles in Florida opens everyone's eyes to the problem of invasive species that we have here in our state," said Krysko. "Now here's another one, but this time it isn't just a tiny house gecko from Africa."

Luckily, people are working hard to protect our environments from invasive species.

Some programs are designed to help prevent the introduction of invasive species. Exotic pet amnesty programs, for example, give people who can't care for their exotic pets a place to let them go without releasing them into the wild.

Other programs are designed to reduce the impact of invasive species that have already been introduced. For instance, since 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has sponsored a live-capture hunt for giant snakes called the Python Challenge.

The 2013 Python Challenge in Davie, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

There are even campaigns encouraging people to chow down on invaders in an effort to keep their numbers in check.

Invasive species can be a major problem. But thanks to many people dedicated to monitoring and preventing their release, we can push back against the invaders.

As of now, the Nile croc population hasn't exploded in southern Florida. Hopefully, as more people learn about the dangers of invasive species like this one, we can keep the pressure on the pet trade and other avenues by which these animals arrive and keep them out of places they don't belong.

Pexels / Julia M Cameron
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On the flip side, some 3.6 billion people live without affordable access to the internet. This digital divide — which has only widened over the past 20 years — has worsened wealth inequality within countries, divided developed and developing economies and intensified the global gender gap. It has allowed new billionaires to rise, and contributed to keeping billions of others in poverty.

In the US, lack of internet access at home prevents nearly one in five teens from finishing their homework. One third of households with school-age children and income below $30,000 don't have internet in their homes, with Black and Hispanic households particularly affected.

The United Nations is working to highlight the costs of the digital divide and to rapidly close it. In September 2019, for example, the UN's International Telecommunication Union and UNICEF launched Giga, an initiative aimed at connecting every school and every child to the internet by 2030.

Closing digital inequity gaps also remains a top priority for the UN Secretary-General. His office recently released a new Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. The UN Foundation has been supporting both this work, and the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation co-chaired by Melinda Gates and Jack Ma, which made a series of recommendations to ensure all people are connected, respected, and protected in the digital age. Civil society, technologists and communications companies, such as Verizon, played a critical role in informing those consultations. In addition, the UN Foundation houses the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), which advances digital inclusion through streamlining technology, unlocking markets and accelerating digitally enabled services as it works to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Amazon is Delivering Smiles this holiday season by donating essential items and fulfilling AmazonSmile Charity Lists for organizations, like Covenant House, that have been impacted this year more than ever. Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a charity of your choice or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your selected charity.

Courtesy of Macy's

Brantley and his snowman

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"Would you like to build a snowman?" If you asked five-year-old Brantley from Texas this question, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" While it may sound like a simple dream, since Texas doesn't usually see much snow, it seemed like a lofty one for him, even more so because Brantley has a congenital heart disease.

On Dec. 11, 2019, however, the real Macy's Santa and his two elves teamed up with Make-A-Wish to surprise Brantley and his family on his way to Colorado where there was plenty of snow for him to build his very own snowman, fulfilling his wish as part of the Macy's Believe campaign. After a joy-filled plane ride where every passenger got gift bags from Macy's, the family arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado where Santa and his elves helped Brantley build a snowman.

Brantley, Brantley's mom, and Santa marveling at their snowmanAll photos courtesy of Macy's

Brantley, who according to his mom had never actually seen snow, was blown away by the experience.

"Well, I had to build a snowman because snowmen are my favorite," Brantley said in an interview with Summit Daily. "All of it was my favorite part."

This is just one example of the more than 330,000 wishes the nonprofit Make-A-Wish have fulfilled to bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses since its founding 40 years ago. Even though many of the children that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for manage or overcome their illnesses, they often face months, if not years of doctor's visits, hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments. The nonprofit helps these children and their families replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope.

It's hardly an outlandish notion — research shows that a wish come true can help increase these children's resiliency and improve their quality of life. Brantley is a prime example.

"This couldn't have come at a better time because we see all the hardships that we went through last year," Brantley's mom Brandi told Summit Daily.

Brantley playing with snowballs

Now more than ever, kids with critical illnesses need hope. Since they're particularly vulnerable to disease, they and their families have had to isolate even more during the pandemic and avoid the people they love most and many of the activities that recharge them. That's why Make-A-Wish is doing everything it can to fulfill wishes in spite of the unprecedented obstacles.

That's where you come in. Macy's has raised over $132 million for Make-A-Wish, and helped grant more than 15,500 wishes since their partnership began in 2003, but they couldn't have done that without the support of everyday people. The crux of that support comes from Macy's Believe Campaign — the longstanding holiday fundraising effort where for every letter to Santa that's written online at Macys.com or dropped off safely at the red Believe mailbox at their stores, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. New this year, National Believe Day will be expanded to National Believe Week and will provide customers the opportunity to double their donations ($2 per letter, up to an additional $1 million) for a full week from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 5.

There are more ways to support Make-A-Wish besides letter-writing too. If you purchase a $4 Believe bracelet, $2 of each bracelet will be donated to Make-A-Wish through Dec. 31. And for families who are all about the holiday PJs, on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1), 20 percent of the purchase price of select family pajamas will benefit Make-A-Wish.

Elizabeth living out her wish of being a fashion designer

Additionally, this year's campaign features 6-year-old Elizabeth, a Make-A-Wish child diagnosed with leukemia, whose wish to design a dress recently came true. Thanks to the style experts at Macy's Fashion Office and I.N.C. International Concepts, only at Macy's, Elizabeth had the opportunity to design a colorful floral maxi dress. Elizabeth's exclusive design is now available online at Macys.com and in select Macy's stores. In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, 20 percent of the purchase price of Elizabeth's dress (through Dec. 31) will benefit Make-A-Wish.You can also donate directly to Make-A-Wish via Macy's website.

This holiday season may be a tough one this year, but you can bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses by delivering hope for their wishes to come true.

via Twins Trust / Twitter

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