Nearly 70 species of lizards have invaded Florida, the Everglades

Florida is home to some pretty fantastic animals.

From piscivorous spiders to alligatorcrocodiles, panthers, black bear and all sizes and kinds of the Sharksthe Sunshine State has a lot to offer when it comes to physically capable hunters and the intimidation they can cause.

The burmese python wreaked havoc on animals in the historic Everglades, eating many native animals and competing with others for breeding and feeding space.

The lizards are there too. From the mentally threatening to the exotic and even jaded, most of these animals don’t belong here; but they have become a permanent part of the Florida landscape.

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Cape Coral, Florida green iguana still the center of attention in the new enclosure

At least 67 alien species that inhabit Florida

From the mop-headed iguana to the Chinese water dragon, there are at least 67 alien species that inhabit Florida. They range from docile, domesticated killers to pure predators.

“We have no reports of an invasive species of lizard seriously injuring anyone,” Segelson said. “However, any animal will fight back.”

The invasion began in 1928 with the horned lizard, according to state wildlife records.

Many were introduced to the Florida wild through the pet trade. Owners have released enough lizards in certain areas to form breeding populations that will likely become a fixture of the Florida landscape.

Here’s a look at five species that have invaded the state: Argentine tegu, Nile monitor lizard, iguanas, African agama, and brown basilisks.

argentinian tegus

Reaching nearly 5 feet at maturity, black and white Argentine tegus are big enough for lizards and they are effective predators.

First documented in Florida in 2002, these massive lizards are found in southwest Florida and in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties, according to FWC.

“They are efficient egg predators, consuming the eggs of ground-nesting birds and reptiles,” Segelson said in an email. “They may also impact other native ground-nesting wildlife such as the gopher tortoise, American crocodile, sea turtles and ground-nesting birds.”

A black and white Argentine tegu feeds on a banana in captivity.  These large lizards are popular pets and have become established breeders in parts of Florida, competing with and even preying on native species.

Tegus can thrive in tropical rainforests and even deserts and are native to Central and South America.

They are popular as pets, and some owners say they are as loving and caring as many of our domestic furry companions.

Nile monitors

Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and along the Nile, these beastly lizards are adept climbers and can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes, according to FWC.

They have been established in Florida since at least 1981.

“Probably the largest established invasive lizard species in Florida is the Nile monitor lizard,” said Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC. “They are the largest species of lizard in Africa and can reach lengths of around 6 and a half feet and weigh up to (almost 18) pounds, although a typical adult averages 5 feet long and weighs nearly 15 pounds.”

FWC says these lizards are established in Lee County on the southwest coast and in Palm Beach between Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic Ocean.

A Nile monitor glides through short grass.  These lizards can grow up to 5 feet and compete with and eat native Florida species.


Native to Central and South America, iguanas are vegetarians, but they can look awfully scary swimming in a stream or sprinting across your lawn.

With large whipped tails and colors ranging from charcoal to exotic yellows and almost neon greens, iguanas have plagued much of South Florida’s developed areas.

An iguana swims through a channel off Summerlin Road near Pine Ridge Road after being spooked recently.

They can be found in river systems and lakes, just about anywhere there is water and trees or levees to climb.

Reports of iguanas seem to be on the rise in the Lee County area, anecdotally, as they have recently been spotted at retention ponds in the Fort Myers area, golf courses in Cape Coral, and even on the relatively undisturbed Estero River.

Stone Agamas of Peter

An African agama lizard sits in the sun on a tree trunk in South Fort Myers near Pine Ridge Road and San Carlos Boulevard recently.  Lizards are not native to Southwest Florida.

Now found in the historic Everglades, Peter’s rock agamas are one of Florida’s most visually striking invasive creatures.

They’re easy to see but hard to catch, biologists say, and they’re likely a Florida staple after they were first documented in 1976.

Experts believe the Peter’s Agama was introduced through the pet trade decades ago, as documented in a 1983 study of invasive lizards in South Florida.

brown basil

A brown basilisk lizard rests on a tree branch.  This species is known as "jesus lizard" for its ability to cross calm waters.

Known widely as the “Jesus lizard”, the home range of brown basilisk extends from tropical Mexico through Central America to northern South America.

They get the name “Jesus” from their ability to walk on water.

According to biologists, basilisks eat insects like grasshoppers and spiders, worms and occasionally fallen fruit.

First documented in Florida in the 1970s, basilisks were problematic in the Cape Coral area several years ago.

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.

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