I get a lot of requests from people whose yards (and sometimes homes) have been invaded by big reptiles. Although our largest native lizard-shaped lizard is the broadhead skink, which can grow to a little over a foot long, Florida is now inhabited by several species of large lizards from various parts of the world. (I say “lizard-shaped lizards” because most people view our legless glass lizards as snakes, even though they’re definitely not.)
All of these animals are from warmer parts of the globe, so summer is the time of year they are most active. Naturally, they must have some level of cold resistance, or they wouldn’t be able to survive our winters. But all of them prefer the heat.
Another thing they have in common: All are here as a result of the exotic pet trade. While I’m not against owning exotics, I think it’s pretty stupid to sell animals that actually make lousy pets to people who aren’t properly educated about that fact. The only one here that makes a halfway decent captive is the veiled chameleon, but it’s too high-strung to really call a pet.
There are two basic reactions that people have to discovering one of these jumbo saurians on their property: They either panic — full-on hyperventilating, heart palpitations, scream-like-a-little-girl panic — or they say something along the lines of, “Huh, that’s a surprisingly big lizard.” You know, sort of how you might remark about an interesting piece of junk mail.
The main determining factor in which reaction you’ll see is how long the person has been living in Florida. The longer they’ve been here, the calmer they are about it. Because when you live here, you see some things.
Either way, most people who’ve had a micro-godzilla encounter are curious about what kind it was. Hence, this column. To make this fit in the magazine, I’ve had to set a cutoff size: No lizards smaller than 14 inches max size. Also, I’ve only included species that I have personally seen in Charlotte County.
Capt. Josh Olive is a fifth-generation native Florida Cracker and a Florida Master Naturalist, and has been fascinated by all sorts of wild things and places since he was able to walk. If you have questions about living with wildlife, contact him at Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com or 941-276-9657.