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Florida's rampant with nonnative reptiles

August 23, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Which of the reptiles pictured here is considered a non-native or invasive species to Florida?

It was a trick: all three are just a few examples of exotic animals who now call southwest Florida their home.

The Mound House's environmental educator, Dexter Norris, focused on slithering scales and sleek shells during his monthly Breakfast on the Beach at Newton Park.

Article Photos

Burmese python, photo credit: National Invasive Species Council,

"This is a huge topic in Florida," he said. "It's a great climate for animals to come here and thrive."

There are many kinds of invasive animals besides reptiles; a full list can by found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website,

Norris honed in his talk mostly on specimens Fort Myers Beach residents are likely to encounter on the island, such as the iguanas and red-headed agamas near the Mound House. But he made sure to mention that so far, Burmese pythons have not arrived on Fort Myers Beach.

These pythons are an issue in the Everglades, where they compete with other native species for resources. This competition is why any nonnative species can pose a threat to the local ecosystems, Norris said.

"They're coming in late to the game with the rules already established," he said. "They're exploiting that loophole."

It's not the animal's fault they are invading: many of them started out as imported pets, especially snakes, lizards and turtles. Then, they either escaped or were released by owners who no longer wanted them and they proliferated in the wild jungles of Florida - or even just the local urban environments. Other invasive species got caught on ships, in shipments of supplies, or in other areas and ended up in Florida by accident.

There are some species that the FWC does not prioritize removal, Norris said, such as anoles. There are several species of anoles, but they are so widespread that removal would cost too much when they can focus that funding on a more concerning species, such as Burmese pythons or cane toads.

Eradication can take time and effort; sometimes, it's impossible to remove them completely. The goal becomes managing the population, Norris said, even when those methods seem "mean." Getting rid of an invasive species usually means locating them and killing them as humanely as possible.

"Conservation is not kind, but doing the right thing doesn't mean it's nice," Norris said. "Prevention is the best medicine."

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified a green anole as a nonnative species. Cuban green anoles and Hispanola green anoles are nonnative; Florida green anoles are a native species.



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