Biggest lizard pet
They slither through doggie doors, eat small households pets and have nasty dispositions, and now the 7-foot Nile Monitor lizards are stalking South Florida.
In the past month, nine Monitor lizards have been reported in central Palm Beach County, Fla., with additional unverified reports in central Broward County.
Once kept as household pets, these giant lizards have crawled around Florida for the past 10 years. But increased sightings over the past several weeks have alerted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who say that the hot summer months stir up the reptiles.
"This is a high-priority species for us, " said Scott Hardin, coordinator of the FWC's Exotic Species Coordination Section. "We plan to go after them aggressively to either try to eradicate them or suppress their numbers if they are determined to be established."
Last week, one Monitor lizard crept through the doggie door of a South Florida home - sunning itself on the patio before the FWC removed it.
"They're not very pleasing to look at. They look very ugly, " neighbor Christie Vazquez told ABC affiliate WPBF.
"(It) crawled from the canal, through our yard to the next door neighbor's house, " said Vazquez. "It's a little scary because we have a little girl, and then we have our little dog that we let run around."
So far, two Monitor lizards have been euthanized as a result of FWC's surveying and trapping efforts.
FWC spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro said that the Monitor lizards exhibit defensive behavior when threatened such as biting and scratching.
"They have sharp teeth and really sharp claws and a tail that they swing like a whip, " she said.
Scott Hardin, the FWC's exotic species coordinator, said Monitors pose an "absolutely minimal risk" to children, but he encourages parents to be watchful for large lizards that appear to be threatening in any way.
"In the unlikely event that someone were to be scratched or bitten, (FWC) encourage(s) them to seek medical attention because there is a risk of infection, " Hardin said.
The FFW advises homeowners not to capture the lizards if found in their homes. Instead they encourage residents to report sightings to 888-IVE-GOT1 - a hotline set up by the Nature Conservancy and Everglades National Park in cooperation with the FWC.
Ferraro also advised pet owners in Florida to remain vigilant. "Nobody has called our agency saying they have eaten their dog recently, but it's happened before, " she said.
According to the FWC, Monitor lizards pose the biggest threat to the wildlife ecosystem, feasting the eggs of protected nesting birds such as limpkins and green herons.