Crawford: Leaping lizards!

Colin Crawford, Columnist

I don’t know when my hatred for lizards first started. Something about their scaly hides and beady eyes has always unnerved me, and their penchant for wriggling around still grosses me out. 

I remember one instance from years ago when I was in the pool with my family, floating on a pool noodle. I blew through the hole of the noodle to spray water at my cousin, but never in a million years would I have expected a small green anole to pop out the other side. Horrified, I scrambled away from the now-untouchable pool noodle and swam to safety on the opposite side of the pool. 

My lizard aversion is well known among my family. I have even accidentally classically conditioned my dogs to run to the door whenever I say “Ew” or inhale loudly because they know it is likely I have seen a lizard. It’s gotten to a point where if I gasp at a shocking video on my phone or express disgust at something completely separate from reptiles, they start barking and race to peer out the french doors that look out onto our patio.

Living in South Florida, I am forced to face my fears on a near-daily basis. It is hard to escape them, especially when there is such an awful array of species. Small geckos often invade my house — bathrooms are an unfortunate hotspot for them. Whenever I spot one, it is ultimately up to my dad to catch it, as both my mother and sister share my affliction. 

But I’m writing this not just to inform you of my distaste for reptiles as a whole, but to give context so it is evident that my acknowledgement of their impact on the environment comes with reluctance. 

Yes, native lizards do help their respective environments. They help control bug and insect populations and are a natural part of the food chain in the Everglades, an important wetland that is endemic to South Florida. 

But lately I’ve noticed that the green anole that used to terrorize me as a child is no longer around. They’ve been driven out by a larger, more disgusting competitor: the curly-tailed lizard. The curly-tailed lizard is native to the West Indies and although a zoo escape let the lizards loose in 1935, it wasn’t until a Palm Beach sugar cane grower released them as a way to control a pest problem in 1943 that the population boomed.

This invasive species has spread rapidly across Florida and is wiping out populations of native lizards. They quite literally eat smaller lizards for breakfast. This is problematic because curly-tailed lizards have few real competitors when it comes to native species; in fact, their biggest competitor is another, more famous invasive species — the green iguana. 

Iguanas have also been in Florida for decades and are quite a nuisance due to their size and quantity. They can also swim in both saltwater and fresh water and can be submerged for up to four hours, making them sometimes elusive. But they have become so problematic that they are legally considered a pest and can be hunted year-round with no limit.

Florida is definitely no stranger to invasive species. There seems to be an endless list of species that have taken over an important ecosystem: the Everglades. Close to 26% of the fish, birds, mammals and reptiles are invasive. Most of these species are animals that were originally kept as pets but escaped or were released by their owners into the wild. Though I will never understand having a reptile or an amphibian as a pet, it is imperative that people properly care for them and protect the environment. 

So yes, I hate lizards, but I hate negative environmental impacts even more and it is essential to raise awareness about invasive species. Perhaps your hometown isn’t as invasion-prone as mine, but chances are there is some pest wreaking havoc. I encourage you to use sites like the National Wildlife Federation to learn more about invasive species and how to stop them. 

Colin Crawford is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.