A strange reptile sneaks into the neighborhood of Columbia

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This strange lizard roamed the Columbia neighborhood of Hollywood Rose Hill the week of April 12, 2021.

An exotic lizard with a creepy sneer was discovered roaming a neighborhood in Columbia this week, surprising neighbors and prompting questions about the origin of the strange creature.

Patrick Saucier crossed the reptile a foot long while walking his dog along Avenue Tugaloo in the Hollywood Rose Hill community. A neighbor who saw the lizard was trying to figure out what to do with it when Saucier passed by.

“It was an unusual find for sure,” Saucier said, explaining that he had put the lizard in a box in hopes of finding someone to take the animal. The lizard appeared to be a pet, he said.

So what was it?

The creature resembles a bearded dragon, an animal native to the rural Australian desert that is often sold in traveling reptile shows, said Will Dillman, a biologist with the SC Department of Natural Resources who examined a photograph of the lizard.

Bearded dragons aren’t particularly dangerous, Dillman said, but they can give that appearance. If threatened, a bearded dragon hiss and puff a scaly beard on the side of his head to appear taller, according to National Geographic.

Dillman said bearded dragons were unlikely to establish themselves in the South Carolina countryside, as other species like the destructive tegu lizard and much larger appear to have done. It is usually too cold in winter for bearded dragons, he said.

Still, Dillman said it’s possible the animals could survive in cities because there are buildings to hide under during the winter. Bearded dragons could be carriers of diseases that could spread to other animals, he said.

This is why Dillman said people should not release exotic animals like the bearded dragon, either in the country or in cities like Colombia, the state capital with over 130,000 inhabitants. The neighborhood where the bearded dragon was found is near the University of South Carolina campus.

“If people let it go, it’s not ideal,” Dillman said.

The release of exotic wildlife is a growing concern in many states. In addition to spreading disease, exotic species can prey on native wildlife or compete with native animals for food.

Saucier, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina, said he had never found anyone who claimed to own the bearded dragon, but the animal’s fate may have been resolved.

A Columbia-area high school teacher offered to take the scaly reptile in the hopes of using it for educational purposes, Saucier said. The teacher, who asked the state not to be identified, said he picked up the dragon on Tuesday night, put it in a cat carrier and took it home.

Saucier said he wanted to help the lizard, but was happy that someone more knowledgeable about bearded dragons was interested in the creature.

“It’s an exotic animal,” he said. “I just didn’t know how to handle it. “

This story was originally published April 14, 2021 12:47 pm.

Sammy Fretwell has covered the Environmental Rhythm for the State since 1995. He writes on a range of issues including wildlife, climate change, energy, state environmental policy, nuclear waste and the coastal development. He has won numerous awards, including SC Press Association Journalist of the Year in 2017. Fretwell is a University of South Carolina graduate who grew up in Anderson County. Contact him at 803 771 8537.
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