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Peters’s Rock Agama Lizard Has Invaded Florida: Here’s Where It’s Been Spotted

Peters’s Rock Agama: An Invasive Species in Florida

For many Florida residents, spotting lizards with orange heads and dark blue bodies scurrying about their neighborhoods has become increasingly common. With April marking the start of the breeding season for many local critters, these colorful lizards, known as Peters’s rock agama, are expected to become more visible in the coming months, according to WKMG in Orlando.

Appearance

Peters’s rock agama, native to East Africa, are notable for their striking colors and size, with males reaching up to 1 foot in length. While breeding males display vibrant orange and blue hues, females, nonbreeding males, and young agamas are more subdued, with “brownish, rough-scaled bodies,” according to University of Florida (UF) researchers. The bold colors in males are typically seen during the breeding season, which spans spring and summer.

Dr. Steve Johnson from UF points out that Peters’s rock agama can be distinguished from other small Florida lizards like geckos by their larger size, spiny scales, and rough appearance. In contrast, Florida’s geckos have small, flat scales and a smoother look. Additionally, Peters’s rock agama are diurnal, while geckos are mostly nocturnal.

Peters Rock Agama lizard Miami

Habitat

Although Peters’s rock agama are now seen in South and Central Florida, they tend to stay close to hiding places. According to UF experts, they are often found on:

  • Building walls
  • Fences
  • Tree trunks
  • Sidewalks
  • Curbs
  • Pavements

“At one site near Punta Gorda, they live around a highway overpass and take refuge in the gaps between the concrete construction,” notes UF. These lizards are wary of humans and will quickly flee if approached too closely.

Distribution

Introduced to Florida via the pet trade in the mid-1970s, Peters’s rock agama have spread rapidly through the southwestern part of the state. The warmer climate of southern Florida resembles their native East African habitat, facilitating their spread. However, the colder winters in North Florida and the panhandle restrict their range.

Keeping as Pets

Peters’s rock agama are classified as Class III wildlife, requiring a permit for exhibition or sale, but not for personal pets. However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) advises against releasing them into the wild. Unwanted pets can be surrendered through the FWC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program.

Safety and Environmental Impact

While Peters’s rock agama pose no significant risk if eaten by pets, they might bite, which could startle but not harm pets, explains Dr. Johnson. He also advises keeping pet cats indoors to avoid interactions with these lizards.

Research on Peters’s rock agama’s environmental impact is limited, but they appear “unlikely” to have major effects as they primarily inhabit suburban areas. However, UF experts suggest they might threaten imperiled butterflies in South Florida and the Florida Keys. Despite their minimal impact, they are not native and should not be in Florida, emphasizes Johnson.

Reporting Sightings

Researchers are still studying the effects of nonnative species in Florida and rely on “citizen scientists” to help track new or expanding populations. Florida residents who spot a Peters’s rock agama can report sightings to assist ongoing research efforts.

For more information and to report sightings, click here.

Peters’s Rock Agama Lizard Has Invaded Florida

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