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Oh my 'guana!

Non-native reptiles roost at the Mound House

August 9, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

If a visitor sees a four-foot long brown lizard slinking back into the mangroves at the Mound House, there's nothing cause alarm.

It's just one of the three iguanas that have taken up residency at the historical site.

"It's not the world's biggest iguana, but if you see it, you'll say 'oh man that's a big one,'" Dexter Norris, environmental educator, said.

Article Photos

Female agamas, like this one, are brownish-gray with a long tail and a slight orange marking on their sides. Most of these lizards are very skittish and will run up a palm tree before you can get close.

Iguanas are a non-native species to Florida that have been growing for years, being first reported in Miami in 1964, according to the University of Florida IFAS. People usually had them as pets and then released them, Norris said. Now, the large lizards are proliferating and thriving in the state's more tropical environment.

The species at the Mound House are green iguanas, although the big male ruling the road is brown. As the lizards get older, they change from a bright green to a dusty gray-brown, although in mating season the males adopt an orange hue.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's species profile, it's so far unknown if iguanas pose a threat to native wildlife. They have been reported to dig up landscaping and eat vegetation in gardens. While they are big and fierce-looking, these reptiles are vegetarian. Native to Central and South America, these are herbivorous lizards that like to climb trees and can swim. Norris has seen them munching on foliage as well as enjoying fruit from the Mound House's mango and papaya trees.

Fact Box

Reporting non-native species

Iguanas and agamas are not a non-native species that the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission are deeply worried about. But the FWC does rely on its eagle-eyed Florida residents to report non-native sightings, especially of animals that are threatening native species, like Burmese pythons, lionfish or cane toads.

To report invasive species, residents have options: call 888-IVE-GOT1; report online at IveGot1.org; or download an app for smartphone users called IveGot1, developed by the University of Georgia.

They are not dangerous to people, but should not be approached - they do have sharp claws and a tail that can be whipped around in defense.

Iguanas aren't the only non-native intruders.

Connecticut Street and much of the Shell Mound subdivision has also become home to African redheaded agamas, another popular species of pet lizard.

On the Observer's Facebook page, Fort Myers Beach residents reported seeing agamas from Voorhis Street, Mid Island Drive, Gulfview Avenue and Eucalyptus Court.

These lizards can get up to 12 inches long. Males have a darker grey or indigo body with a bright orange head. The females are smaller and much more drab, a sandy brown color.

Often these lizards will bob their head up and down before skittering away, or scampering up a tree.

"They're very shy," Norris said.

The FWC doesn't list Lee County as a Florida county with an agama population, which leads Norris and Penny Jarrett, the Mound House, education programs coordinator, to believe these Connecticut Street agamas must be relatively new to the area. Jarrett said she started noticing them about two years ago.

"They're expanding," she said.

They have been reported in Charlotte County to the north since 1986.

The FWC is uncertain about the potential impact of agamas to local ecosystems. Unlike iguanas, agamas are carnivorous and eat other small vertebrates, which could be problematic for small native creatures. These lizards do not pose a threat to humans or pets in terms of being dangerous or poisonous.

Norris said he hasn't seen or heard of iguanas or agamas anywhere else on the island, but that the Mound House could be the "epicenter" for these two reptiles.

These two species are low on the FWC's radar for invasive species, Norris said. But Florida residents can report any invasive to IveGot1.org.

These definitely aren't the only invasive species on Fort Myers Beach, but they seem to both enjoy a visit to the Mound House.

Beach residents also reported a non-native colony of curly-tailed lizards that live near Mid-Island Drive.

Norris stressed that just because these lizards are non-native doesn't make them a "evil" creature. Most of them exist in the state because of people releasing pets when they are no longer wanted.

"They're not malicious, they're just trying to survive like everyone else," he said.

 
 

 

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