When coming to Florida many people, including myself on my first visit, are amused by the scampering of lizards whenever you walk near a landscaped area. These little reptiles can be seen as a nuisance when they enter a home but overall they are a sign of a healthy landscape and offer benefits to humans. There are several species of lizards that live in the Northeast Florida region, some native and other non-native or invasive.
The most common of the native lizards is the Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis). These 5-8 inch long reptiles live their lives in trees and shrubs, changing color from green to brown based on the heat and sun and are able to climb glass and walls. However, they are not chameleons and are actually more closely related to iguanas.
The male Green Anole can often be seen displaying their pink throat dewlap, which they extend as a sign of dominance or as a mating display. One neat fact is that if grabbed onto by a predator, the tail of the anoles will break off and will regrow. They live their lives eating flies, beetles, and other invertebrates and are very common in the pet trade (I had a few growing up in Delaware).
Another very common sight in the landscape is the Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei). It is brown, often with white diamonds on its back, and has a shorter snout than the Green Anole with an orange throat dewlap. These were accidentally introduced from the West Indies in the early 1900’s and can be found throughout the state. This invasive species will compete for resources and eat the young of the green anole.
Skinks are a common variety of lizard, being mainly distinguished by their round bodies and short legs. The showy variety is the southern five-lined skink (Eumeces inexpectatus), which can be identified by five yellow lines running down the back of the body and a bright, fluorescent blue tail which fades with aged. The ground or brown skink (Scincilla lateralis) is another native skink that is 3-4 inches long and brown in color. Both of these species spend most of their lives on the ground around leaf litter and rotting logs but will climb walls and vegetation to get to food.
The Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) and Mediterranean Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), are not native to this area and may be invasive, but little is known of their effect on native frog and lizard populations. Both of these lizards are brown in color, with large eyes without eyelids, and have large, spread finger feet. These invaders came from the pet trade and can often be found around your porch light or in garages looking for food.
Finally, one of the most overlooked and interesting of all lizards in this area are glass lizards. These lizards range in size from 15-40 inches long, are legless, oftentimes being confused for snakes. They can be identified by their narrow head, grooves running up the side of their bodies. Their movement is stiffer than snakes and are rarely seen as they spend most of their time underground or in heavy vegetation, feeding on insects.
These often overlooked members of the ecology of your yard can provide entertainment, watching the native lizards hunt, move throughout the landscape, and establish their social hierarchy. They also provide a level of pest control, eating many insects, spiders, and other potentially harmful invertebrates. If you would like to attract these lizards to your yard, provide shelter such as shrubs, trees, logs, or other hiding places along with a diverse array of flowering and non-flowering plants to bring in insects for them to feed on.
For more information on Florida’s lizards and other reptiles, information can be found through the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Johnson Lab at http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/index.shtml and a great read on invasive reptiles can be found at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw365.