Florida Keys

There is a large and likely dangerous lizard on the loose in the Keys

A large reptile, tentatively identified as a water monitor, has been spotted in a bayside subdivision off mile marker 103 in Key Largo. Biologists are trying to catch the exotic species. Residents are cautioned not to try to capture the lizard, which can be aggressive.
A large reptile, tentatively identified as a water monitor, has been spotted in a bayside subdivision off mile marker 103 in Key Largo. Biologists are trying to catch the exotic species. Residents are cautioned not to try to capture the lizard, which can be aggressive.

State biologists this week boated through a Key Largo subdivision, looking for signs of a large lizard that should not be loose in the Florida Keys.

The reptile, tentatively identified as a common water monitor, is estimated to be between four and five feet long.

Water monitors, native to South Asia, can be aggressive and potentially dangerous, cautioned Jim Duquesnel, a longtime Keys biologist who has worked with several state and federal agencies.

“Water monitors are capable of inflicting a lot of damage, first with their tail and then with their teeth,” said Duquesnel, a volunteer with the search. “If somebody does try to get hold of it, they could be in for a lot of stitches.”

Kirk Weatherly, a resident of the Twin Lakes subdivision on the Key Largo bayside off mile marker 103, photographed the reptile on Oct. 7. Invasive-species experts who examined the photos confirmed it was a water monitor Friday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which sent staff to the Keys this week, lists water monitors as a threat to the state’s native species. Water monitors can eat fish, crustaceans, birds and native reptiles like geckos and baby crocodiles.

Duquesnel said Tuesday that a Twin Lakes resident reported seeing the water monitor several months ago, in the same canalfront area off Crane Street where Weatherly photographed it. “That would be great news because it means it’s staying in the same general area and could make it easier to trap,” he said.

The monitor likely is an escaped or released pet, Duquesnel said. “Even if it was tame while a pet, it’s almost certainly lost that if it’s been in the wild for months.”

Nile monitors are prohibited to be sold as pets in Florida, but other varieties of monitor lizards are not as strictly regulated. It is illegal to release nonnative species into the wild.

Sitings of the water monitor can be reported to the FWC hotline, (888) 483-4681.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

Biology students from the University of Florida trap invasive Tegu lizards in south Miami-Dade County.

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