Nile monitor lizards are running rampant in Florida, hunting and eating house cats. The invasive species, which can grow up to five feet long, is native to northern Africa.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is doing its best to eliminate them from areas where they could pose a hazard to domestic animals. Since July 2014, FWC officials have monitored the lizards, capturing at least 20.
The center of the lizard invasion is Palm Beach County, where the creatures often congregate in and near canals and other bodies of water. They mate in early spring, and wildlife officials are concerned that they will soon start breeding, resulting in additional attacks on house cats.
"Nile monitors eat a wide variety of food items including small mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and more. Because their diet is so varied, we are assessing whether this species may have an impact on Florida's native wildlife," said Jenny Ketterlin Eckles, a biologist who specializes in non-native species.
Adult lizards can grow up to five feet long, weighing in around 15 pounds. They can vary in color from brown to dark olive and pale yellow varieties, though each is distinguished by light yellow band markings near the head and tail.
Nile monitors are difficult to identify by anyone who isn't an expert, due to their resemblance to several other species. The FWS is therefore asking people to send in photographs so that trained biologists can determine whether or not removal actions are warranted. Volunteers are being asked not to attempt to capture the lizards. Although monitors are not inherently aggressive, they will defend themselves when threatened.
"They have very sharp claws and sharp teeth. You wouldn't want to try to catch one in your Florida room or try to handle one. So far this population seems to be small enough that there is a reasonable chance that we can eliminate this particular population," said Kelly Gestring from the FWC.
Florida wildlife officials are increasing patrols along the West Palm Beach Canal in an effort to eliminate the invasive species, potentially saving the lives of beloved pets.
Photo: Dennis Jarvis | Flickr