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UF/IFAS scientists on the lookout for Nile monitors seek assistance from Boca Raton residents

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Nile monitors are predatory lizards that are an immediate threat to the Everglades ecosystems. UF/IFAS scientists are asking residents in Boca Raton to be a part of the “Backyard Canal Watch/Large Lizard Lookout” social media campaign. The hope is that residents will engage in the interest of research, environmental conservation and public safety.

In response to a Nile monitor sighting in Parkland on the canals along Everglades National Park, UF/IFAS scientists at Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center have extended the social media campaign to engage residents in the neighboring city to report sightings of Nile monitors. Led by the UF/IFAS Croc Docs at the research center, the campaign hit the ground running in May in Palm Beach as a first step to capture data. UF/IFAS Croc Docs continue to follow up and enhance the campaign.

“As you continue to expand your activities during this time of social distancing, look no further than your backyard. Be a backyard biologist and help the University of Florida’s Croc Docs by reporting these invasive large lizards,” said Justin Dalaba, outreach coordinator for UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. “You can help protect Florida’s biodiversity and natural areas from your own backyard.”

The main message for this social media campaign is to encourage people in private residences and communities to be a part of the “Backyard Canal Watch / Large Lizard Lookout” and report large lizard sightings to https://IveGot1.org or by calling 1-888-IVEGOT1. Not sure if you have spotted an invasive lizard? Visit the following website (https://www.floridainvasives.org/lizard/) and check out the tool to help you learn what to look for when identifying.

“We seek to mobilize the public as citizen scientists to report Nile monitors and other large invasive lizards at a time when in-person outreach is neither safe nor feasible,” said Dalaba.

Nile monitors are invasive species popular in the pet trade industry, which is how biologists think they ended up in the wild in south Florida.

The Nile monitor, a native to sub-Saharan Africa is now breeding in Palm Beach and Lee counties. They can lay an average of 60 eggs a clutch several times a year. These semi-aquatic lizards are strong swimmers and climbers, and can be found near canals, lakes, and rivers. Nile monitors are generalist carnivores, primarily feeding on meat including fish, invertebrates, reptiles and their eggs, birds and their eggs, and small mammals.

“To our knowledge, the established population of Nile monitors in the C-51 Basin is largely localized to a suburban environment,” said Frank Mazzotti, professor of wildlife ecology at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. “Outreach efforts in 2019 led to several unexpected reports of Argentine black and white tegus from Palm Beach County, elevating the need for a wider public observational network to report large invasive lizards.”

Mazzotti, who is affiliated with the group known as the UF “Croc Docs,” notes that Nile monitors are opportunistic hunters that are known to eat crocodile eggs and have been found near American crocodile nesting habitats in south Florida. The largest population of Nile monitors in Florida is also a threat to what burrowing owls come home. Florida has the largest burrowing owl population, which the state classifies as a threatened species.

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By: Lourdes Rodriguez, 954-577-6363 office, 954-242-8439 mobile, rodriguezl@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human, and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  |  @UF_IFAS

 

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