Planet Earth

Wall-Busting, Corrosive-Pooping, Garden-Eating Lizards Overrun Florida

DiscoblogBy Douglas MainSep 20, 2011 3:59 PM

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"You poop on the boat, you eat the garden, and I'll wreck the wall."

Florida has long had a big problem with introduced exotic species like the Burmese python

, which can grow up to 23 feet long and has wreaked havoc on native wildlife

. But in many ways lizards are even worse, accounting for 77 percent of the non-native reptile and amphibians species that have set up breeding populations in the state, according to a study published this month

 in the journal Zootaxa. Green and Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas are a particular nuisance. Besides competing with the 13 local varieties of lizard, they are famous for voraciously eating gardens, damaging boats and other property with their corrosive droppings, and even destroying concrete walls by burrowing beneath them

. The study found that people have introduced 137 foreign species of amphibians and reptiles into the state over the last 137 years, at an average of one per year. That gives Florida the dubious distinction of having the greatest number of established exotic amphibians or reptiles ("herpetofauna

") in the world. The number of unwanted critters grew slowly but steadily (like a certain fabled herpetofauna) prior to 1940 due to accidental introductions via cargo ships, mostly from Cuba. But the numbers began to increase dramatically in the 1970s and '80s as the pet trade in exotic terrarium animals took off. Today this poorly regulated industry is responsible for 84 percent of the introduced species, researchers say. And despite the fact that introduction of a non-native species is illegal without a permit, nobody has ever been prosecuted

for establishing a non-indigenous animal in the state. None of this makes zoologist Fred Kraus

too happy, who writes

:

I suggest that the distinctive co-evolved, unique beauty of each of these systems is besmirched by the introduction of alien species – much as a beautiful beach or coastline may be impaired by an oil spill. Or perhaps more aptly, the facile pollution of these self-generated biotas by human introductions is equivalent to splattering the canvases in the Louvre with day-glo paint… the aesthetic integrity of the artworks is thoroughly violated. The difference, of course, is that the impact of an oil spill lasts for mere years, vandalization of a painting may be rectified by careful restoration, but alien invasions are most usually irreversible and irreparable.

Although he wasn't specifically referring the Florida situation, he may well have been.

Image Courtesy of University of Florida IFAS Extension

Reference: Kenneth L. Krysko et al. Verified non-indigenous amphibians and reptiles in Florida from 1863 through 2010: Outlining the invasion process and identifying invasion pathways and stages. Zootaxa, 2011; 3028: 1-64. Link

.

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