Skip to comments.Nile Monitor Lizards Invade SW Florida Town
Posted on 06/26/2004 7:16:15 AM PDT by dukeman
CAPE CORAL -- Gregg Klowden and Zach Reffner wage war against lizards. BIG ones.
In the battle to rid Southwest Florida of the 7-foot invader known as the Nile monitor, speed is essential.
"The lizards can climb a tree like a shot out of hell, swim like a fish and outrun a man," said Klowden, a University of Florida-trained biologist. "They do everything but fly."
These über lizards, first spotted in Cape Coral in 1990, have taken to the Florida sun so well that they're thriving. Because the rapacious reptiles are such skilled hunters, biologists worry they will devastate endangered bird populations and upset the natural order.
No one knows for sure how they arrived here, although most biologists blame the exotic pet trade, but for the past year, Klowden has been trying to ensure that they don't stay long. The 37-year-old has been trapping the lizards, among the largest in the world, for a scientific study to investigate and ultimately eradicate them.
Todd Campbell, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Tampa, started studying the monitors last summer, with $60,000 in grants from the Charlotte National Estuary Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. He has since hired Klowden of Port Charlotte and Zach Reffner, a 19-year-old reptile enthusiast from Cape Coral, to hunt the monitors, relatives of the 10-foot, 300-pound Komodo dragon.
While Klowden was checking traps on a recent evening, his phone rang. Reffner's rang a moment later. Two different callers reported seeing the same lizard, a 6-footer, lingering near a canal halfway across town.
The pair rely on such calls to help find the lizards. But they decided not to pursue this one because "by the time we get there it'll be long gone," Klowden said.
Based on calls, the reptiles seem to be all over town. Klowden has fielded many calls from the fearful: "It's sunbathing on my sea wall. It's climbing on my roof. It's swimming in my pool. It's chasing my son Timmy!"
"It's a rare bird that hasn't seen one at all," Klowden said.
He doubts, however, that Timmy's traumatic encounter actually happened as reported, because the lizards are "very wary of humans."
Klowden has found burrows around the city dug into sandy slopes overlooking canals. With 400 miles of canals in the city, there's a lot of choice reptile real estate.
"If I could build a Nile monitor preserve, I'd build Cape Coral," Campbell said.
As of Thursday, the two dozen wire traps set across the city and camouflaged by a carpet of precisely placed leaves had nabbed 59 of them, ranging in length from one foot to seven. The smallest weighed as much as an AA battery, the largest as much as a full-grown beagle.
Once captured, these black and gold reptiles are euthanized and frozen for later dissection and study. Campbell has a freezer full of them in his Tampa laboratory.
After studying about 20 of the carcasses, Campbell believes they are breeding during the summer, laying as many as 60 eggs at a time, and going into a torpor during the colder winter months. Campbell has found that the lizards have a taste for spiders, cockroaches and birds, and they appear especially fond of the brown anole, a ubiquitous exotic in its own right.
But no one is sure how far these reptilian invaders have roamed.
To date, the monitors have been reported as far north as Gasparilla Island, and since word of the project has spread, sightings have poured in, some on Pine and Sanibel Islands, others in Charlotte County. However, many of those are unconfirmed.
"They could pretty much become established in all of Florida," said Campbell, estimating that there may be as many as 1,000 in Cape Coral alone. "But hopefully not on my watch."
A recent night's watch progressed slowly. The trappers wended their way through the treeless maze of streets in Klowden's silver Saturn, stopping at each of the more than two dozen wire traps. Time after time they came up empty. At one trap, the squid that baits the monitors was missing. The cage door had failed to swing shut behind whatever entered.
Finally success. "Aha!" Reffner exclaimed. "We've got a live one.",p>
A 3-foot monitor raced from one end of the cage to the other, crashing violently against the metal bars.
As the trappers approached, it hissed, a long gutteral hiss, like air being forced from a football.
Number 60 nabbed!
Klowden concedes, "We've barely scratched the surface."
Size 7 please.
So some basic math with the following assumptions, the estimate is of sexually mature adults, or of juveniles that will reach adult hood. Balanced M and F population.
1000 lizards. Assume 500 females. 60 babies each. 30000 new lizards a year.
You're going to have to find something to prey on them, or catch a WHOLE lot more than 60.
Presumably something is preying on them, at least the small young, or the whole place would have been overrun already. I think effort in that regard would be more rewarding than driving around checking traps.
Alligators, hawks, storks, herons, egrets, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, and housecats would all prey on this species as soon as they hatch. Mature ones have fewer enemies but the hatchlings should be quite vulnerable and no doubt a certain percentage do buy the farm.
Snakes likely eat a few, too, perhaps even the eggs.
I could see training teams of dogs to hunt them. A pack of trained dogs will go after a bear, they surely could handle a lizard. And if they tree it, boom.
I see a huge tourist potential, hunting big lizards with dogs. I'll bet a good Plot or Walker hound (Keep your "There Ain't no good Walkers" comments to yourself, please) would be just the thing. If the lizards are bad to fight we could breed a little pit bull into the hound.
A pack of dogs can be trained to hunt them, and a pack can do a good job if they trap one away from scrubland and marsh (in those areas a monitor can shimmy away so fast you'd swear it could outrun a rifle slug). Although a full grown Nile Monitor can cause serious hard ....I once watched a Savannah monitor (a similar species to the Nile ....also pretty long but a little smaller than the Nile) fight a lion to a standstill. The lion could have easily killed it, but the lizard was position itself where the lion would have been either bitten or whacked with the tail. I guess the lion decided lizard meat was not worth the momentary pain. (oh, I've also seen a monitor bite. Those lizards have a line of the most vicious razor teeth this side of Aliens! Thin curved sharp teeth ....a mouth of razors. Again, can't kill you, but a 7 footer will give you something to remember).
The thing this thread does is answer my question about the introduction of foreign reptilian fauna to climates that dip in temperature. It says the lizards simply become topor during cold weather ....hibernate! In africa they obviously do not do that. Meaning, other tropical reptile species can do the same.
I've always wondered what would happen if someone purchased several hundred Kraits, Taipans and Mambas and sprinkled them in some grove or swamp. After all, anyone can buy them and the govt doesn't seem to think licenses are required for dangerous exotics!
Sorry for the myriad spelling and grammatical errors. I was typing too fast.
Never cared much for Florida. This just makes it a bit less likeable.
LOL on your photo! Looks like Miami Beach!
If you like that, go to this thread. Free Republic's Godzilla fans hang out there.
Think it's some kind of survival device they evolved?
If anyone finds an offense against this, it'll be Planned Parenthood.