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Jurassic Mound: Invasion of the curly-tailed lizard

It was 1870 when the English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley published a treatise titled Further Evidence of the Affinity between the Dinosaurian Reptiles and Birds. Huxley wrote that if the leg bones of, “a half-hatched chicken could be suddenly enlarged, ossified, and fossilized as they are, they would furnish us with the last step of the transition between Birds and Reptiles; for there would be nothing in their characters to prevent us from referring them to the Dinosauria.”

In the years that have passed since Huxley made what must have seemed an outlandish hypothesis, a genetic examination of the bird has revealed a direct link between the modern chicken and the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex.

While the mighty chicken is most readily associated with Key West, as least here in the Conch Republic, several small flocks of these squat feathery creatures roam the streets of Plantation Key’s Indian Mound neighborhood. None roam, scratch, or crow outside the Sioux Street office window, but then chickens will not be the feathery predators that will soon begin terrorizing the property. Soon blackbirds (or grackles) will begin running across the pea rock and through the garden beds like glossy Velociraptors in search of prey.

While the idea of any kind of seasonal change in the Florida Keys is often debated by those unfamiliar with everyday life here, a myriad of seasons come and go. In addition to the subtle shifts between winter, spring, summer and fall, there are the more demonstrative declarations like hurricane, lobster, tarpon and tourist seasons. Perhaps one of the more overlooked seasons is baby lizard season. Soon (if not already), the tiny eggs deposited by brown and green anoles weeks ago will begin to crack and relinquish miniature replicas that will crawl out and greet the world.

Unfortunately, the activity will begin to attract the attention of grackles (or some kind of blackbird). When they fly in and start stalking the property, the activity can prove eerily reminiscent of scenes from the Jurassic Park film collection. While rooting for the babies to escape, the lizards and birds are simply engaging in a circle of life ritual.

The thing that will be different this baby lizard season, however, is the introduction of a new predator patrolling the Sioux Street office property — Leiocephalus, the curly-tailed lizard. Initially introduced into the Palm Beach area in the 1940s in hopes of mitigating insect damage to sugar cane fields, the reptiles adapted. Indigenous to Cuba and the Bahamas, South Florida’s climate has proven a seemingly natural extension.

First reported on Key Largo in 1995, colonies have progressively established themselves along the island chain. While clearly curly-tails feast on spiders, cockroaches and other insects they are voracious anole eaters, too. Of course in order to appear truly transparent, it should be noted that while green anoles are an indigenous species, brown anoles, like their curly-tailed counterparts, are an invasive species first observed in the Keys in 1887.

While several curly-tails have made themselves apparent in the area, one in particular seems to have established a residence on the other side of the office window. This particular lizard is really a not-so-curly-tailed lizard as the gimpy regeneration of his battle-wounded tail makes this one unmistakable. Though the gimpy-tailed lizard is probably too small to eat a mature anole, it could gobble up three or four babies at a single feeding — brown or green.

Of course the impact from the introduction of invasive species is being felt up and down the archipelago, from the coral reefs to the Everglades. Invasive lionfish are creating havoc in local waters while pythons are decimating the rabbit, raccoon, and opossum contingency in the Everglades.

Here on Sioux Street, the gimpy-tailed lizard is taking a toll on the local anole population. With every opportunity the lizard is chased out of the yard. Stronger sanctions have been considered. It would not be a difficult assignment as half the time the little bugger escapes beneath one of the flower pots. It would not take a great deal of effort to simply twist and turn the pot until it smashed closer to the substrate. The problem with that scenario is that sometimes geckos and frogs pass the day underneath the flower pots and there is no quarrel with the geckos or frogs.

In any case, out at the reef lionfish roundups have been sanctioned while in the Everglades government sanctioned python hunts have gained national attention. Perhaps it is time to begin hunting down curly-tailed lizards — at least the gimpy-tailed one here at the Sioux Street office.

Brad Bertelli is a published author of four books on Florida and Florida Keys history. As well as operating Historic Upper Keys Walking Tours, he is s the curator of the Keys History & Discovery Center, located at the Islander Resort. His column will appear every other week in The Reporter. Reach Brad with comments and questions at WhyPanic@aol.com.

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