Meet the Italian wall lizard, NJ’s other invasive species

The spotted lantern continues to be a media darling. As the powers that be ask us to wipe out these pests, they continue to make their way through the Mid-Atlantic and flaunt their beautiful colors in the process.

NBC Philadelphia recently published a story about two students at Princeton High School who are looking for other ways to eliminate the spotted lantern fly rather than crush it. It’s an interesting experiment that exposes the lanterns to contagious fungi. But the students are also looking for ways to combat another invasive species in the area.

The Italian wall lizard.

These rapid developments originate from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Switzerland, but above all from Italy.

So How? ‘Or’ What were they introduced to New Jersey? Look no further than Burlington County.

While these reptiles have been spotted in the Northeast for over 30 years, their origin story was a mystery until 2010. It turns out it all started in the calm and unsuspecting Mount Laurel, in New Jersey.

That year, an anonymous resident of Mount Laurel stepped forward and admitted to the Burlington County Hours that he bought 120 Italian wall lizards from an amphibian supplier in the Bronx, NY, in 1984. He then released them outside his parents’ house in order to rid the property of insects.

While he seems to have good intentions, I think we can all agree that 120 lizards is a bit overkill.

Once he freed the lizards, they almost instantly adapted to the Mount Laurel neighborhood, not far from the town’s municipal complex. It was 1984, and they still roam the area today. And while Burlington County, NJ remains their central command, they have since migrated across the United States.

As part of their study, students at Princeton High School collected Italian wall lizards from Mount Laurel and Topeka, KS to study differences in behavior. Grade 11 student Ida Sidik made an interesting observation that the Mount Laurel lizard was “particularly more aggressive.”

Considering their origins in the Bronx and generations living in New Jersey, one can only assume that “particularly more aggressive” means lizards speak very fast and are extremely sarcastic.

Pat Halbe, the township clerk until 2011, told the Burlington County Times that an Italian wall lizard seemed to know when she was passing by. Halbe said, “It’s almost like a daily ritual. When I come back from lunch, it passes in front of me.

Sure enough, the former township clerk was on to something. I decided to stay at Mount Laurel in the area where the lizards were released on Canterbury Rd.

Between 10 and 15 of these tiny lizards crossed my path as I walked through the area. I tried to approach a few of them so that I could take pictures, but quickly learned that they were moving at a rapid pace. I did however manage to barely capture a video of one crossing my path. Look carefully:

“Better than nothing I guess” was my thought process after realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to approach without getting dirty. And I didn’t want to do that.

Instead, a deep dive into YouTube led me to videos of people who were more fortunate in stalking Italian wall lizards.

As for the Princeton high school students examining how to reduce the influence of the two invasive species in New Jersey, they couldn’t come up with any sort of lizard experiment. It’s not like there is a public campaign to kill them on sight.

The residents of Mount Laurel seem to have embraced them, eagerly awaiting their emergence every year, as it means spring is just around the corner.

The students tell NBC Philadelphia the only solution is to pick one up and keep it as a pet.

I’m saying if these Italian wall lizards are so good at killing bugs and aren’t a nuisance, why not release more and send them after the spotted lanterns?

A much more toned down version of Godzilla vs. Mothra.

Left: Getty Images / iStockphoto, Right: AP

The above post reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 producer, writer, and host Joe Votruba. All opinions expressed are his.

Questions, corrections or comments? Send Joe Votruba an email. Follow Joe on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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