Red-headed reptiles spreading across South Florida, raising concern

Reptiles are potentially dangerous for Florida’s native ecosystem

The agamas are native to East Africa and were likely introduced to Florida as exotic pets, Gioeli said. One reptile dealer is reported to be responsible for releasing them in Homestead.
The agamas are native to East Africa and were likely introduced to Florida as exotic pets, Gioeli said. One reptile dealer is reported to be responsible for releasing them in Homestead.

They’re redheaded, quick-footed, and can hide under cars.

The Peter’s rock agama is another non-native reptile species calling South Florida home, according to News 6 partner WPLG.

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“The first reported acknowledgment of them being in Florida was in 1976,” said Ken Gioeli with the University of Florida.

The agamas are native to East Africa and were likely introduced to Florida as exotic pets, Gioeli said. One reptile dealer is reported to be responsible for releasing them in Homestead.

Males have a bright reddish head and a multicolored tail, and recently their population seems to be booming in South Florida. They’ve been spotted in urbanized environments like strip malls and parking lots.

The agama’s skills as agile hitchhikers have scientists concerned.

“You’ll drive somewhere and bring that lizard with you,” said Dr. Bryan Falk with Everglades National Park. “And we can be dispersing them in other parking lots. And if those parking lots are next to a natural area then we potentially spread that population to a natural area that we would be concerned about.”

While they don’t yet have a foothold in the park or in the wild, their movements and diverse diet are potentially dangerous for Florida’s native ecosystem.

“If you look at what their diet is in their home country in the home area of Africa, you’ll see that they’re primarily carnivorous, with an interest in insects,” Gioeli said.

One insect includes native and endangered butterflies like the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak, which is native to the pine rockland habitat of southern Florida.

“By the time the general public recognizes then non-native reptile, it’s beyond our ability to basically eradicate it at that point,” Gioeli said.

Falk, with Everglades National Park, is asking the public to report the Peters’s rock agama when they see it. Identifying the population is important to keeping a handle on it.

One way to track the agama yourself is with the downloadable IveGot1 app. Click here for more info.


About the Author:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.