This article was originally produced  on  July 24, 2002  as a bi-monthly news column for the Vero Beach Press Journal

 

 

Quick Links:  Green Anole    Brown Anole    Skinks    Geckos    Glass Lizard    Horned Toad    References

Date of release:  July 28, 2002

Daniel F. Culbert, County Extension Agent

LEAPIN’ LIZARDS

Newcomers who spend any time in your Florida Yard will notice a few unusual holdovers from the Dinosaur era .  Children and pets love to play with our local lizards, while inside the home they are considered by some to be a nuisance.  They are a sign of a healthy landscape and reduce pest populations around your Florida Yard.  Today’s column comes from Extension Specialist Frank J. Mazzotti and the staff of the UF Museum of Natural History. 

Many people fear lizards them out of misunderstanding, and others are fascinated by their abilities to climb walls, change color, and lose their “disposable” tails.    When trying to capture a fleeing lizard, a predator often grabs for the tail, which snaps off, wiggling and distracting the predator.  The lizard escapes, and its tail grows back, but is no longer bone – just cartilage.

Several different kinds of lizards inhabit our landscapes.  While many species (and  subspecies) of glass lizards, anoles, geckos and skinks have been found in Florida, 42 are introduced, often escaping from a former life as a pet.  Four invaders have been documented in Indian River county by the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission.  Below are the appearance and habits of some common local lizards.

The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) is the most common local native lizard.  It normally inhabits trees and shrubs, changing color from emerald green to a medium or dark brown. Anoles are mistaken for the non-native chameleons, and are more closely related to iguanas.  Changing  colors helps them hide from both predator and prey, and  sunlight and heat influence their colors.  At low temperatures, anoles remain dark; but after sunning, they can turn a light green.

Green anoles are 5-8 inches long.  Males expand a bright pink throat fan and bob their head to attract females or drive off competitors.  When threatened, they flee into the vegetation.  Every two weeks from spring to fall, females seek moist leaf litter or house plant soil to lay small 1/4-inch white eggs. They hatch in 5-7 weeks, and grow into the adults, which will live for a year. They catch flies, beetles, spiders, and other small invertebrates by slowly sneaking up and rapidly leaping on their next meal.  They are popular pets, and care instructions are available.

Green anole - green phase. Photo by Paul Shipman

Green anole - brown phase. Photo by Tom Spinker

Brown Anole. Photo by Tom Spinker

 Cuban Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei sagrei) Brown anole; note extended throat dewlap. Photo by John Sullivan

The Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) is similar looking but more abundant than the green anole.  It was accidentally introduced from the West Indies in the early 1900's.  This exotic species varies from yellowish tan to brown in color, and is never green.  The Brown anole has a more blunt snout than the green anole.  Females and juveniles have a series of light-colored diamonds down the middle of the back.  Like their green cousins, male brown anoles use a throat fan (dewlap) for marking territory or attracting mates; however, their fan is bright red. 

Brown anoles are often seen on the walls of buildings and on rocks and logs.  When threatened, they flee to the ground to hide, but  will dash  rapidly forward to grab their food.  The diet of brown anoles may include ants, roaches, spiders, beetles, and other small prey.

SKINKS are smooth, shiny lizards with tiny limbs and cylindrical bodies. These shiny lizards are primarily terrestrial, but they readily climb trees and are seen on boardwalks in search of insects.  They lay their eggs in rotting wood in the spring.  The young Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Eumeces inexpectatus) has a rainbow of color with fluorescent blue tails.  As this native matures, the tail color fades,  as do the five narrow light colored stripes on its back.  Older adults are uniformly brown.  The smaller Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) is another native skink, 3 to 4 inches long,  occasionally found scurrying through leaf litter while hunting for tiny invertebrates to eat.

Southeastern Five-lined Skink. Photo by Tom Spinker

Ground or Brown Skink.  Photo by: Eric B. Holt

GECKO LIZARDS are sometimes found in our area.  Mediterranean geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) and the Indo-Pacific gecko (H. garnotii) have been in Indian River County for 25 years.  Geckos are nocturnal, secretively hiding during the day behind shutters, under shingles, and in cracks and crevices. They emerge at night to catch insects around outdoor lights, clinging to walls and windows.  Mature females lay fertile eggs that hatch into more females often without the help of males - there are no males of some species!  These five inch long lizards are dark grayish-brown during the day and a translucent flesh-white at night.  Darker or lighter spots may be present, especially on their bumpy tail.

Mediterranean Gecko  photograph © 2004 Mediterranean Gecko. Photograph by Kevin M. Enge © 2003  Indo-Pacific Gecko  photograph © 2004  Indo-Pacific gecko.  Photograph by Kevin M. Enge © 2003 Eastern Glass Lizard. Photo by Kenneth L. Krysko 

Although resembling a snake, the Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis) is a legless lizard that can reach several feet long.  Unlike snakes, it has eyelids and ear openings on the side of the head.  If attacked, the tail breaks off with ease, and this is the basis of its common name.  During the day it forages for insects and other small invertebrates.

Another exotic lizard once reported in our area is the Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum).  It is also a local escapee from domestication, and finds a liking to ants in dry sandy areas.  (It is especially well liked by alumni of Texas Christian Universityy - it’s their infamous “Horned Toad” mascot.)

Texas Horned Lizard  photograph © 2004

(c) Texas Christian University Department of Athletics 2005.

Too often lizards are overlooked, but since they feed on insects and other small invertebrate pests, they are natural pest control agents. If found on porches or in homes, do your best to share your space with them - there are no repellants.  Seal openings around doors and windows  to exclude them.  And if indoor lizards are trapped and released outside, they can work for you in reducing unwanted pests.  Some wildlife depends on lizards as food.  Land development, pollution, indiscriminate and accidental killing, and the introduction of non-native species are causing native lizard populations to decline.  Give these leaping lizards a helping hand in your Florida Yard!

If you need additional information on landscape lizards, visit your county Master Gardeners, or call or stop by your county Extension office. For those with other questions about Florida Yards,  my phone number is 863-763-6469 and you can send e-mail to dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu.

UF/IFAS References 

Branch, Lyn C.  and Hokit, D. Grant  Florida scrub lizard (Sceloporus woodi)  Fact Sheet WEC 139.  Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service,  March 2000. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW133 

Sekerak, Carrie M.  and Mazzotti, Frank J.  Lizards of South Florida Part I: Native Species  Fact Sheet WEC 129.  Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, July  2001. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW061

Other Links:

Anole Care Sheet  http://www.geocities.com/anolepage/care.html   

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission  Exotic wildlife in Florida  http://wld.fwc.state.fl.us/critters/exotics/exotics.asp  

King, F. Wayne and Krysko, Kenneth L. Amphibians & Reptiles of FortMatanzas National Monument. Gainesville: Florida Museum of Natural History (FMNH) 1999. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/foma/fomaherps.htm 

Spinker, Tom   Florida Lizard Photos (website)    Valdosta: 2005.  [Several photo pages of  lizards, both native & exotic, found in Florida.] http://www.southalley.com/lizards.html 

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