Flesh-Eating African Lizards Are Roaming Florida. Thanks, Pet Trade.

Flesh-eating West African Nile monitors have invaded Florida, presumably thanks to careless pet owners.

Alien species winding up where they don’t belong is getting to be a worryingly ho-hum occurrence, from Asian kudzu creeping its way across the eastern U.S., to lion fish eating their way through Caribbean coral reefs, to zebra and quagga mussels from eastern European waters throwing Great Lakes ecosystems out of whack. But this invader is different: It bites.

Florida is now home to three breeding populations of West African Nile monitors. Just to be clear, these are not cute little things. Nile monitors are the largest lizards in Africa, and now the biggest ones in Florida. These flesh-eaters grow to be as long as 2 meters (roughly six feet). They’re aggressive predators who eat mammals—wait, that’s us—birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and eggs.

  • D. Gordon E. Robinson
  • It’s believed the monitors were first shipped to the U.S. as young pets and then released by their owners. Three shipments arrived at three Florida locations: Cape Coral, Homestead, and West Palm Beach. Since monitors love waterfront property just as much as the humans who purchase that pricey real estate, these three places are now the sites for their breeding colonies.

    And boy, do they breed, laying up to 60 eggs in a single clutch. The largest colony, Cape Coral, has over 1,000 monitors

  • Vincent Buenfil
  • This why a Google search finds articles like, “Nile monitor lizards invaded Florida and they're winning the battle” and “WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT THE GIANT LIZARDS?

    Researchers think that the fact that the invaders are the newly classified West African Nile monitors means that at least this is just Florida’s problem for now. DNA studies by Stephanie Dowell of Fordham University and her supervisor Evon Hekkala only recently revealed the West African Nile monitor to be genetically distinct from North and South Africa Nile monitors. If South African Nile monitors were roaming the Sunshine State, Hekkala told The Atlantic, “[That monitor’s] invasiveness is much greater. It is so pre-adapted to the North American climate that it could spread almost to Chicago, even without climate change.”

    The lessons for us all seem clear. Well, first, watch out if you’ll be walking in Florida. (The state is actually an evasive-species magnet.)

    Second, and more importantlynon-native creatures are not sensible pet candidates.

  •  Lionel Mauritson
  • They can wreak havoc on native species when they escape. It’s bad enough when alien organisms are imported unknowingly, but acting on an exotic-species infatuation is just a disaster waiting to happen. Especially when that cute little thing grows up and goes looking for something, or someone, to eat.


    -Headline image: Jeppestown

    A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

    Giving our solar system a "slap in the face"

    Surprising Science
    • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
    • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
    • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
    Keep reading Show less

    Too much sleep results in cognitive decline, researchers find

    We know the dangers of too little sleep. Now for the other side of the story.

    Photo: Vladislav Muslakvo / Unsplash
    Surprising Science
    • Western University researchers found that sleeping over eight hours per night results in cognitive decline.
    • Oversleepers suffer similar difficulties on certain cognitive tests as those who sleep under seven hours.
    • Not all the news is bad: One night of oversleeping results in a cognitive boost.
    Keep reading Show less

    California wildfires death toll climbs to 50

    Firefighters in California are still struggling to contain several wildfires nearly one week after they broke out.

    (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
    Politics & Current Affairs
    • Hundreds of people are still missing after three wildfires spread across Northern and Southern California last week.
    • 48 of the 50 deaths occurred after the Camp Fire blazed through the town of Paradise, north of Sacramento.
    • On Tuesday night, a fourth wildfire broke out, though it's mostly contained.
    Keep reading Show less