The state of Florida is home to over 500 different invasive species of animals. While larger threats like the boa constrictor often make the headlines, the 47 different invasive species of lizards living in Florida are wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem. In this article, we will take a look at 11 invasive lizards in Florida that are having the biggest impact on Florida’s residents and wildlife.
11 Invasive Lizards Living in Florida
The eleven lizards having the biggest impact on the Florida ecosystem include the African redhead agama lizard, green iguana, Argentine tegu, Cuban brown anole, knight anole, tropical house gecko, tokay gecko, South American brown basilisk, veiled chameleon, Northern curly tail lizard, and Nile monitor lizard.
Let’s take a look at how these lizards were brought to Florida and how their introduction has impacted the native Floridian species.
1. African Redhead Agama Lizard
The African Redhead Lizard is one of the more problematic invasive species in Florida. Ever since arriving in Southern Florida in 1976, the species has been growing at an alarming rate. While they pose no threat to humans, there has been no identified way to control the population growth as they are immune to traditional poisons and repellants.
These lizards are difficult to miss as they have a bright orange head, a blue body, and a rainbow-colored tail. Their unprecedented growth has been attributed to the warm Florida climate, their fast reproduction cycle, and the fact that they have no natural predators in Florida. If their population continues to grow they pose a real threat to species that compete for the same insects that they consume.
2. Green Iguana
The green iguana is originally from Central and South America and made an appearance in Florida in the 1960s. Since then the green iguana population has grown at an alarming rate. While owls, hawks, cats, and dogs will eat iguanas at a young age, adult green iguanas have no predators other than humans.
While green iguanas do pose a threat to the balance of the Florida ecosystem, the main concern is the damage that they cause to human infrastructure. They have been known to dig tunnels that destroy sidewalks, ruin canal beds and even ruin the foundation of houses. In fact, they have become such a large problem, that Florida has banned them for sale as pets and even encouraged residents to humanely dispose of species living on their property.
3. Argentine Tegu
The Argentine Tegu was introduced to Florida via the pet trade and are native to South America. They are a huge threat to the Florida ecosystem as they eat anything and everything. They have already proven to effect some of the local wildlife as they eat the eggs of the already threatened American crocodile population and attach the already endangered Key Largo woodrat.
While there have been attempts to control the Tegu population, they are hard to capture due to their speed and resilience to containment efforts. While we try to find a solution to contain the spread of the population, they continue to wreak havoc on the local wildlife by eating the eggs of snakes and birds.
4. Cuban Brown Anole
The brown anole made its way to Florida by attaching itself to a shipping crate coming from Cuba. While green anoles are native to Florida, the brown anole is not. The larger brown anole actually has threatened the green anole population by taking some of its resources and even eating the eggs of green anole.
While the non-native species is still of concern, an interesting transformation occurred with the green anole. Within a span of about 20 years, the green anoles evolved through natural selection to have larger toe pads. This has allowed them to compete with the brown anole and reduce their risk of extinction.
5. Knight Anole
The Cuban knight anole was introduced to Florida via the pet trade in the 1950s. They are very aggressive and pose a major threat to other lizards, frogs, and birds. Not only do they compete for resources with these animals, but they also attack them and their young.
Additionally, the Cuban knight anoles pose a threat because they are selective herbivores. If they continue to grow unincumbered, then they will likely wipe out selective fruit trees and plants.
6. Tropical House Gecko
The tropical house gecko is native to sub-Sahara tropical Africa, Madagascar, and Mozambique. However, they have also become naturalized in the Caribbean and South America. The tropical house gecko was originally identified in Florida in 1990, but has likely been there for longer.
The tropical house gecko is extremely dangerous to other geckos due to its predatory nature. Like the knight anole, it will actually attack other geckos. Interestingly enough, it actually displaced the invasive Mediterranean house gecko upon its arrival in Florida.
7. Tokay Gecko
The tokay gecko made its way to Florida from Southeast Asia via the pet trade in 1965. As a failed experiment, the gecko’s were released into the wild to control pests due to their proclivity for eating cockroaches. Unfortunately, that backfired as tokay geckos have no natural predators in Florida and other prey than just cockroaches.
More specifically, tokay geckos prey on native birds, rodents, and even corn snakes. These geckos are extremely colorful with a grayish-blue body and orange spots. While the tokay gecko is an invasive species they pose no immediate threat to the Florida ecosystem.
8. South American Brown Basilisk
The South American Brown Basilisk was introduced to Florida relatively recently. As a result, little is known about its impact on the Florida ecosystem. We do know that they have no known predators living in Florida and will compete with other lizards for insects and berries.
Brown basilisks are unique in that they are actually able to run across water. This may be a problem in years to come as this unique ability gives them a survival advantage over native lizards living in Florida.
9. Veiled Chameleon
The veiled chameleon is the newest species of chameleon to be introduced to Florida. None of the six chameleon species living in Florida is a natural inhabitant, but the veiled chameleon comes from the coastal regions of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
While little is known about the impact of the veiled chameleon on the Florida ecosystem, there is a possibility that due to competition of resources they may displace one of the other non-native chameleon species living in Florida. The bony protrusion from the top of its head separates it from the other species of chameleons living in the area.
10. Northern Curly Tail Lizard
The northern curly tail lizard is a native of the Caribbean and was introduced to Florida when they escaped a zoo in the 1930s. Florida was further exposed to the animal when a farmer tried to release a few northern curly tail lizards for the purposes of pest control in the 1960s.
The curly tail lizard is a threat to not only the native green anole but also the invasive brown anole. This pressure on the ecosystem further endangers the green anole. What’s even more problematic is that the northern curly tail lizard is extremely adaptable. They have even resorted to eating food that humans have thrown out in order to survive.
11. Nile Monitor Lizard
The Nile monitor lizard is a very large lizard that arrived in Florida from Egypt. This lizard can grow up to 7 feet in length. It was introduced to the non-native environment after being released as a pet in the 1990s. Much like the Argentine tegu, the Nile monitor lizard is a danger to endangered bird and aquatic species, because of its natural tendency to eat those species’ eggs.
The monitor is a very good swimmer and uses this ability to catch fish and escape humans. They have even been known to attack pets and threaten small children when found in residential areas.