Palm Beach County Invaders
Everyday we travel around the county and pay little mind to the reptiles around us. Unless it’s a gator in a pond then we really don’t notice them most of the time.
To us, the various reptiles are an everyday occurrence, but to the Palm Beach County visitor they can be a spectacle to behold. Little does that visitor realize that some of these creatures we take for granted are not native to our area at all. They are just as much a visitor as the local tourist, but they haven’t left us yet. Actually they seem to be taking over at times. I want to point out a few of those non-native reptiles I happen to see on my travels around the county.
Northern Curly-Tailed Lizard
Okay, I will admit one thing about this creature. I am captivated with this little guy. The name alone practically gives away the appearance, but to find one is not that tough. I see them lying on sidewalks and crawling out from bushes when it is sunny and warm outside. These spastic curly-tailed little guys have always intrigued me. But there is a story behind this little lizard. Apparently, it is documented that 20 pairs came over to Palm Beach Island in the 1940’s from the Caribbean and within about 20 years had spread out over 20 blocks. By the 1980’s they had moved from the island to the mainland and now they can be found from Lighthouse Point to Hobe Sound. So, what’s the problem you ask? Well, let’s start with their nickname, “T-Rex of the Ground Lizard”. They are given this title due to the fact that the larger curly-tailed lizards tend to eat our native lizards. Apparently the large portion of their daily diet is our native lizard. The other problem is that the curly-tailed lizard is taking the food and shelter away from our own lizards forcing them to move away, also. This is just a good warning into what can happen when exotic animals and reptiles are released into our native environment.
Now here’s another reptile that is not native to Florida at all. Their natural habitat is Central and South America. Thought to be stowaways on fruit ships from South America, they made their way up from the Florida Keys to the Eastern Coast of Florida. These gentle giants are hard to miss; a large, spiky lizard that moves slowly and loves the sun. And to further mystify you, although they are called “green iguana”, these iguanas vary in colors from green to black to lavender to pink. By the way, did I mention that these lizards can grow up to six feet long or longer? So, what is the dilemma here? Well, to be honest they are only herbivores (they don’t eat meat) and are very non-aggressive. But here’s the catch, they tend to like to take up residence in the burrows of the native Florida Burrowing Owl, a species of special concern. Also, the green iguana has an affinity to eat a native endangered plant called Cordia Globosa and feed on Nickernut; which is a major food plant of the endangered Miami Blue Butterfly. Besides lying around most the day soaking up the sun, the green iguana has a propensity to destroy landscaping and gardens. So, he’s basically a lawn troublemaker.
Here’s another very fascinating creature. The brown basilisk (or striped basilisk) is native to Central America. These little guys are obviously in our part of Florida due to being released into our environment carelessly by pet owners. They are a species that is quite a sight to behold. First of all they have the nickname of the “Jesus Lizard”, because when they become frightened and flee from a predator they run across the water. Literally they take their web-like feet and run on top of the water. They do this with a flap of skin between each toe and they are very fast. Smaller basilisks can run on top of the water for about thirty to sixty feet before sinking. Older basilisks can’t run on top of the water longer than the younger ones can. Unlike the previous reptiles, spotting a brown basilisk is quite difficult as they have great camouflage. But you can spot one if it has taken to a branch or rock to warm itself in the sun.
I thought this article might make you glance around a little more at the little things we take for granted everyday and understand about these non-native Floridians that have taken up residence right here in our own backyard. So, the next time you run across a curly-tailed lizard, stop, look back at it and give it a little smile. It can’t hurt you anyway. But remember, he’s now a resident here too.