Florida has unique ecosystems, filled with wildlife that are not common in other areas of the United States. The Agama lizard is an example of this wildlife that has made its home in the state of Florida. Agamas in Florida, however, are a topic of concern for wildlife enthusiasts, scientists, and conservationists alike because these lizards are not native to the state and are considered invasive.
Invasive species can wreak havoc on the entire ecosystem of an area, and the agamas in Florida are no exception. Keep reading to learn more about these invasive species.
Invasive Agamas in Florida
Agamas (Agama agama) are a family of lizards that are native to sub-Saharan Africa. They have well-developed limbs, striking coloration, and a crest of spines running down their backs. They have a reddish head, which helps to easily distinguish them from other lizards.
Agamas can thrive in a wide array of habitats, which makes them a popular reptile in the pet trade. It is this pet trade that is blamed for introducing these creatures into the state of Florida.
Experts believe that these lizards were purchased as pets and then either intentionally or unintentionally released or escaped while in captivity. Once they became established in the wild, agama lizards began to reproduce and spread throughout Florida.
Agamas in Florida: Distribution and Habits
The first reported sighting of agamas in Florida was in 1976, and they have since established themselves in South Florida. The agamas found in Florida are also called redheaded agamas, common agamas, or rainbow agamas. No matter what you call them, they are invasive and harmful to Florida’s native flora and fauna.
Agama lizards have mainly been reported in the Miami-Dade and Broward counties of Florida. These areas provide the ideal subtropical climate that the lizards need to thrive. While agama lizards are primarily ground-dwelling creatures, they can climb trees and shrubs when looking for food and shelter.
These opportunistic reptiles feed on a wide array of items, including small vertebrates, plant matter, insects, and even flowers. Because of this varied diet, agama lizards can quickly adapt to the environment, making them successful invaders.
Impact on Native Ecosystems
The presence of these lizards in Florida has raised concerns because of their adaptability and large appetite, both of which can disrupt the local ecosystem in a variety of ways:
- Competing For Resources: Agamas compete with Florida’s native lizard species, such as the green anole (Anolis carolinensis), for habitat and food. This increased competition can cause the populations of native species to begin to dwindle.
- Potential Reduction Of Native Fauna: The agama lizard preys on a wide array of small vertebrates, such as spiders, insects, and even small birds. This behavior can disrupt the local food sources and have a negative impact on much more native wildlife besides other lizards.
- Preying On Eggs: Another problem with agama in Florida is that they will very happily consume the eggs of birds and reptiles that nest on the ground. This can have a major impact on the reproductive success of Florida’s native species.
- Changing The Behavior Of Native Species: When agamas, which are not native species, are introduced into an area, it can cause the native lizards to change their behavior. They do this to help avoid competition and protect themselves from becoming prey to the agamas.
- Spread Of Diseases: A common issue that occurs with invasive species is the introduction of parasites and/or diseases to native wildlife. To make matters worse, if these parasites and diseases are not common in the area, the native wildlife may not have a defense to protect them. This can further threaten the populations of local wildlife.
The first step to managing the potential harm that agama lizards can cause in Florida is to recognize just how damaging their introduction can be. Thankfully, the state of Florida has put forth several different management efforts that include:
- Public Awareness: Educating the public about the negative impacts of releasing non-native or exotic pets into the wild can go a long way to reducing the accidental introduction of these, and other, invasive animals. For example, Florida started the End Non-Native Destructive Species campaign that is based in South Florida. This non-profit “works on land with plants, mammals, reptiles and in the ocean to fight the growing spread of invasive species.”
- Collecting And Removal: Certain government agencies and organizations have begun programs to capture and remove invasive lizards from habitats deemed sensitive or vulnerable. This approach aims to help reduce the amount of invasive species and protect Florida’s native species.
- Continued Research And Monitoring: Through continued research and monitoring, scientists have a better understanding of the behavior and ecology of agamas in Florida. This invaluable info is needed for effective management strategies.
- Regulatory Measures: The state of Florida has put regulations in place to restrict the import, sale, and ownership of certain exotic species. At this point in time, agama lizards are not on the prohibited list, but that could change in the future.
What Should I Do If I See Agamas in Florida?
If you see an agama in Florida, you should report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as soon as possible. Reporting these observations helps the commission to better manage invasive species. However, you shouldn’t merely contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission without having credible information that what you are seeing is actually an invasive species.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a credible report will contain a high-quality, non-blurry photo of the animal. The commission may need to enlarge the photo to see details, so you want to make sure that it is of high enough resolution, so it won’t lose its quality when blown up.
You will also need to include the location where you saw the animal. While they prefer GPS coordinates when possible, a street address or a detailed description of the location will also work. The third thing that is required for a credible report is the date when you saw the animal.
Include the time when you saw the lizard if you have that information. If not, you can still report the sighting with only the date.
How Can I Report Agamas in Florida?
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers three different ways to report a sighting. They have a free smartphone app, called ‘IveGot1’. It was developed by the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.
This app is available for both iPhone and Android devices. You can also report the sighting through a web form on IveGot1.org. The final method of reporting invasive species is to call the FWC’s Invasive Species Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (483-4681).