The invasive Nile monitor lizard is threatening house pets and native wildlife in Florida, causing a headache for state wildlife officials.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is scrambling to stay a step ahead of an influx of invasive Nile monitor lizards, a northern African species with a reputation for devouring almost anything it encounters.
The lizards were initially introduced to the state as pets, but many have escaped or been released into the wild. The monitors, which can grow to be over five feet long, are most prominent in Palm Beach County, where they can be found in canals and other bodies of water. Wildlife officials have captured 20 of the reptiles within the past year, but are concerned that the remaining fugitives will breed in spring, causing their populations to grow out of control.
Nile monitors are voracious eaters, consuming small mammals, reptiles, fish, and amphibians, and their varied diet is causing biologists to worry that they pose a threat to species like the burrowing owl. In their native Africa, the lizards are known to sometimes eat domestic cats, and there are unconfirmed reports in the city of Cape Coral that the lizards have also developed a taste for Floridian domestic animals.
Since the Nile monitors resemble other species, wildlife experts are asking that civilians send in photographs of the animals to the FWC and not attempt to capture a lizard themselves. Biologists can evaluate photographs to identify the species and determine if the lizard should be removed. Officials also warn that the animals can be aggressive when confronted and have long claws and sharp teeth, so handling them is best left to the experts.
Florida has long struggled with invasive species, most notably the Burmese python. The snakes have rapidly grown since being released into the wild by irresponsible owners, prompting the state to restrict owning the pet, even opening a hunting season on the python. As of yet, these efforts don’t appear to be making a dent in the snake’s numbers.
However, officials are more hopeful of managing the Nile monitor problem, saying their small population, at the moment, offers a chance at nipping their growth in the bud. In addition to asking state residents to report the Nile monitors, officials are also stepping up patrols in Palm Beach County to proactively find and eliminate the non-native lizards.