Sarasota Magazine – Silhouetted against the moonlight, the strangest lizard I had ever seen hung on my porch screen.
A foot long from head to tail, with wide golden eyes and a baby-blue body with bright tangerine spots, it looked like something a child might draw with a big box of crayons.
I caught it with a mixing bowl and a Van Morrison Moondance LP sleeve and placed it in an empty cardboard box. It was big and beautiful and angry. I named it Gloria.
I grew up in Southwest Florida catching lizards, snakes and frogs, but never had I seen a creature like this.
A quick internet search revealed Gloria to be a tokay gecko—a voracious rainforest species from Southeast Asia that outcompetes, displaces and eats native Florida geckos and other lizards.
Like the Burmese pythons that gorge on Everglades wildlife—in just a few decades, they’ve wiped out some 90 percent of the mammals that once thrived in the Everglades—Gloria is a part of a scourge of invasive species spreading throughout Florida.
Now that I had Gloria in my possession, I wasn’t sure what to do with her. I learned that it would be illegal for me to release her back into my downtown yard—or anywhere in Florida.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) website recommended that I euthanize her humanely. But how serious was the gecko’s trespass? Did she merit execution? I had to find out.
The first thing I learned is that what is and isn’t labeled “invasive” depends on a species’ behavior.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Invasive Species Information Center identifies an invasive species as a plant, animal or microbe that is alien to an ecosystem and “whose introduction is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”
That explains why honeybees, which are vital to U.S. agriculture, aren’t considered invasive even though they are native to Europe.
Florida consistently ranks as one of the top five places in the world with the most invasive species. And the state is the world epicenter of invasive reptiles …
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