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By Kelsey Hansen, Group Tours and Education Coordinator
Lizards, geckos, and skinks can be found all over Florida. Florida is home to 15 native lizard species and 34 exotic species. The native lizards can be found in upland habitats, like hot, dry scrubs or pine flatwoods. Nonnative lizards can be found throughout the state and are outcompeting several native lizard species.
Aspidoscelis sexlineata, (LINNAEUS 1766), Six-lined Racerunner. Florida Museum of Natural History.
Some people might consider lizards a nuisance or creepy, but these reptiles are actually very beneficial to ecosystems and humans. They are vital to different food chains and control pests in agricultural fields and in yards. Lizards are not only predators to crickets, cockroaches, ants, and beetles, but they are also important prey for other larger predators, like snakes. They keep an important check on insect and rodent populations, which makes them beneficial to property owners and farmers.
Two types of lizards that are seen throughout Florida, in your yard, or near other landscaping are the green and brown anole. These are a favorite of lizard-catchers and are always fun to watch during mating season as the males perform their dances and extend their dewlap, or their pink throat fan. The dewlap can also be used as a signal to adversaries to stay away since anoles are very territorial and will defend their territory. Although green anoles are not chameleons, they can change color from green to brown depending on the season, mood, or health.
A male native green anole showing off his dewlap. Photo courtesy of Dr. Steve A. Johnson, UF/IFAS
The green anole is native to Florida and is in competition for habitat and resources with the brown anole. The brown anole was introduced to Florida about a century ago, originating from Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas, and is now the most common lizard in many developed areas of Florida. Brown anoles rapid reproduction rate and prey on young green anoles has given them an advantage over green anoles. However, the green anole has adapted by moving vertically up in their shared habitats. This allows the lizard to partition, which refers to them dividing up resources, and reduces competition.
A male Cuban brown anole showing off his dewlap. Photo courtesy of Dr. Steve A. Johnson, UF/IFAS.
Another common lizard found in very xeric, sandy upland habitats, such as sand pine scrubs and evergreen oak, is the Florida scrub lizard. Scrub lizards can be found on downed logs and tree trunks, but their pattern and keeled scales provide them with the perfect camouflage. They have adapted sharp claws for climbing to avoid predators. Fence lizards feed on insects and spiders.
Florida scrub lizard, 3.5 to 5.5 inches. Credit: Steve Johnson.
Lizards can be super fun to observe and even catch at times, but just like snakes, make sure to use extra caution when around any lizard, or reptile, that may be unknown to you.