MIAMI (AP) _ Rogue monkeys are on the loose in South Florida, and trappers aren't finding it easy to round up the stray simians.

''Boy, we got monkeys coming out of our ears down here,'' exotic-wildlife trapper Todd Hardwick said Wednesday. ''Since January, I've handled probably 35 or 40 monkey calls just in Dade County.''

The private animal catcher has caught a dozen strays in the Miami area alone this year.

''I've apprehended capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, macaque monkeys, marmoset monkeys and two green monkeys,'' he said, running out of breath. ''Monkeys, monkeys everywhere. I don't know what's going on.''

Neither does the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

''There's been a very marked increase,'' said commission Lt. Kathleen Kelley. ''Catching them is one of our priorities.''

Hardwick can offer some painful tales to show how difficult that can be. One recent call took him to a seventh-floor condominium apartment.

''When I stepped on the balcony, he smacked me right on the mouth,'' he said. ''The bottom line is I've faced snakes 250 to 300 pounds. I'd rather do that than tangle with a monkey.''

The monkeys in Hardwick's experience, ranging in size from 4 to 40 pounds, are smart but can get violent if cornered.

Many of the loose capuchins, a favorite of organ grinders, have long canine teeth and will bite to get away from people. Kelley underwent a painful series of rabies shots after being bitten earlier this year.

''Everybody else, they look at a monkey and say, 'Oh, a cute monkey,' '' Hardwick said. ''I've had them throw my own traps down at me. ... They'll pick avocados and mangoes and oranges and throw them at me.''

The area's subtropical climate is ideal for monkeys to survive on their own. And many people who see loose monkeys as cuddly creatures feed them.

Although some wild monkey colonies have been established for years in the area, Hardwick believes the recent spate of trouble calls comes from a new crop of monkeys escaping from unlicensed owners.

The state issues monkey pet permits only to people who can prove they have three years experience with the breed.

''A monkey is an escape artist,'' Hardwick warned. ''If you stick him in a cage with nothing better to do than think of how to escape, he will.''

''I had one a while back, jumped in seven cars and ate their upholstery,'' he said. ''These monkeys are bad news. They're troublemakers.''