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Cat Eating Lizards: the Quarry of Florida's Latest Hunt

Apr 12, 2015 11:58 PM EDT
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To protect their cats... and the rest of Florida's delicate ecosystem, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is launching a hunt for Nile monitor lizards in Palm Beach County. According to biologists, these large invasive lizards should be coming out of hiding to breed very soon, making it the perfect time for locals and professionals alike to strike.

Florida isn't exactly unfamiliar with invasive species, especially those of the cold blooded variety. Local officials have long been waging a losing war on invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades National Park, where an ever-growing (but still hard to find) population of invasive pythons is so prevalent that it's taking an notable chunk out of local mammal populations.

Then in 2001, it was discovered that another breed of foreign pythons, this time from North Africa, had encroached on Florida soil, making their slithering way towards their cousins in the Everglades. This second wave, thankfully, is being halted by a weary FWC, as noted in a recent survey of the Tamiami Trail. However, now they even have lizards to worry about, again as an invading force from Africa.

The Nile monitor lizard, which can grow to over five feet long and close to 15 pounds, is understandably a force to be reckoned with even in its native habitat. However, in Florida, conservationists are worried that even a small population of escapees could have a disastrous impact on the local predator/prey balance.

"Nile monitors eat a wide variety of food items including small mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and more," biologist Jenny Ketterlin Eckles explained in a recent FWC release, going on to explain that they have even been known to prey on the occasional small pet. "Because their diet is so varied, we are assessing whether this species may have an impact on Florida's native wildlife." (Scroll to read on...)

Currently the commission is taking a hands-off approach to its lizard hunt, surveying canals in the area and distributing fliers requesting the public's assistance in locating these animals. Volunteers aren't expected to bag the lizards they see, but instead should simply photograph and report a sighting.

After the photo is assed and it's verified that it is really a monitor lizard that was seen, officials would move in to capture the normally shy critters.

"Nile monitors are semi-aquatic and can be seen basking or foraging near bodies of water," the commission added. "In Palm Beach County, this species is most frequently observed along canal banks near Southern Boulevard."

If you spot an invasive Nile monitor near your home, the FWC urges that you do not attempt to capture it. While not nearly a dangerous as pythons, the animals still bite and can be easily spooked into aggressive behavior when cornered.

Instead, the commission urges Florida residents to report it online at IveGot1.org or by charge-free telephone at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681888-483-4681 FREE888-483-4681).

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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