Invasive lizards threaten Florida's turtles, alligators
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[July 07, 2014] By
MIAMI (Reuters) - An
invasive lizard first spotted in southern and central
Florida about a decade ago has become the latest concern
for wildlife officials after the four-foot-long,
black-and-white tegu was caught on video stealing
alligator and turtle eggs from their nests.
Scientists from the University of Florida during the spring and
summer of 2013 planted several cameras in the Everglades around
nests containing dozens of eggs.
“We captured images of tegus removing (up to) two eggs per day until
an examination of the nest on Aug. 19 revealed no remaining eggs,”
University of Florida professor Frank Mazzotti wrote of one
alligator nest in a forthcoming study, conducted with the U.S.
Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission, to be published in journal Biological Invasions this
Mazzotti said the species, found naturally in Argentina and parts of
South America, is thought to have first arrived in the U.S. via pet
traders sometime in the early 2000s. Since then its population has
boomed thanks to an ability to withstand cold and large clutch sizes
containing up to 30 eggs.
“Any species that is a predator and eats high up the food chain and
is introduced into a novel environment has potential for causing
serious ecological damage,” said Mazzotti, a member of the UF's team
of wildlife researchers known as the "Croc Docs."
Florida, and particularly the Everglades, is home to dozens of
invasive species that have escaped into the wild or been released by
pet owners after growing too large. Most famously wildlife officials
have struggled to contain Burmese pythons, and occasionally
encountered some nearly 20-feet (6-meters) long, even preying on
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Mazzotti said tegus are split into two groups, one in the Everglades
and another near Tampa on the state’s west coast. The Florida Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimated the size of the South
Florida group in the low thousands, and Mazzotti said more than 400
have been trapped in the last year.
“We can’t contain them,” he said.
(Editing by David Adams and Marguerita Choy)
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