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Lizards from Italy Living in the U.S.A.

Updated on October 6, 2012

European Wall Lizard ( Podarcis muralis )

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Lizards from Italy Living in the U.S.A.

If you are curious about the European Wall Lizards that live in different parts of the United States or you just like reptiles and want to learn more, then this article may catch your interest. The two wall lizard species that Americans see came from different parts of Italy. In the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana parts of the country where I live there is the Italian or European Wall Lizard species nicknamed the Lazarus Wall Lizard. This is the species Podarcis muralis and is less colorful than the other wall lizard. The Lazarus or European Wall Lizards living here were introduced by a member of the well known Lazarus family around 1951 after returning from a trip to Lake Garda located in northern Italy. The boy who released the lizards was George Rau and he lived with his family on the east side of Cincinnati,Ohio.Cincinnati has the same type of climate as the region of northern Italy that this species came from, so the lizards had no problem surviving, hibernating and breeding. They eat insects and are often seen in yards, especially around gardens. There are thousands of them now and they have spread from Cincinnati to other parts of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. They are great adapters and get around more than people realize. Some will climb onto trucks or other work vehicles with wood, rocks, straw or debris and travel to another location where they may populate. People use to keep them as pets and the pet shops once sold them a long time ago. The release of these lizards by pet owners is another reason they have spread out so much. I see them in the yard as soon as it gets warm out and the Sun is shining. They lay in the Sun on the rocks around the garden or other parts of the yard. These lizards are smart, curious and fast. I once kept some myself to study them further. The eggs they lay are like tiny stones. None of the European Wall Lizards I kept laid more than ten eggs. The babies are very tiny but still pretty quick for being so little.

European Wall Lizard ( Podarcis muralis )

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These lizards are small reptiles. I have never seen a head and body length over three inches and usually they are not even that big. However, the tail can be twice the length of the body which gives them a larger appearance. Only the males of the Podarcis muralis species have any color. The males can have blue or blue-green spots on the lower sides and may have orange or yellow under the chin. They have whitish spots on the body with a gray and/or brown base color. Sometimes a rusty orange color is seen on the tail. The belly can be white or have a pink to pink-orange color on some males. The females are mainly shades of brown and have smaller more narrow heads than the males. Females are also a little smaller in size and not as commonly seen. You can see other photos of this species on my website Caveman’s Nature Site http://www,wildcaveman.weebly.com by going to page 2 of the nature photos section. This species is bold and will get close to humans in order to see what they are doing. I have seen them run over my feet while digging in the garden or sitting on the patio. They watch and look for an opportunity to get food, especially if you are moving objects in the yard. Also, I watched these lizards drink pear juice from over-ripened pears that I left behind the garden. Sometimes they would sit right next to me when I am doing something in the yard. They are good climbers and are often seen on window sills, wood piles, trees and rock walls. They do help with keeping harmful insects out of the yard. Typically, there are some older males laying out in the highest elevation location within an area where a group of the lizards live. They are the watchers of the grounds and if they run off from being scared of something then the other lizards scatter as well. I use to watch this when studying the lizards on the east side of Cincinnati, Ohio. Though they are aggressive survivors, they are not defensive after being caught. I have handled hundreds of them. Sometimes I had to pick them up from being trapped in buckets, wheel barrows, large empty flower pots, the pool or window pits. They sometimes crawl up walls and fall into these places. The lizards will die if someone does not rescue them. The European or Lazarus Wall Lizards in this region of the country have not caused a problem for any of the other species in any way, as stated in reports.

Italian Wall Lizard in New York ( Podarcis siculus )

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The other European or Italian Wall Lizard species in the U.S. is most commonly seen in southern California within Los Angeles County, New York City and also in Topeka, Kansas. It is the species Podarcis siculus from southern Italy. This species of wall lizard is more colorful and comes from a warmer region of Italy. It is notably different in appearance when compared to the Lazarus Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis. The head and body length can be up to 3.5 inches. As with the other species, this wall lizard can also have a tail that is twice as long as the body. When looking at the Italian Wall Lizard species Podarcis siculus, you can easily see the green on the head, neck and body of the adults. Aside from the green and brown color, they have reticulated or checkered markings on the sides that may extend over the back. The belly is usually white to grayish in color but sometimes there is a faint tint of green. The females are smaller with smaller heads and have more of a striped pattern. Some individuals change from green to brown during the summer months. Aside from feeding on insects, they do eat some vegetable matter. In New York, they were introduced around 1967 in the town of Hempstead due to a pet escape or release. They have expanded to Long Island, Manhattan and spread as far north as the Bronx. Winter in New York is much colder than in southern Italy but these small reptiles adapted to survive. So, like any other reptile living in a seasonal climate, the wall lizards stay in underground lair and are not seen during winter. Of course, it is possible these days to see one during winter time because of the increasing climate change creating more warmer days during cold months.

Italian Wall Lizard in California ( Podarcis siculus )

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In California, the Italian Wall Lizards Podarcis siculus are living in Los Angeles County where it is warm all year round. They were introduced there in 1994. Just as in New York, the lizards were once pets that got released. Though they are seen on rock piles or around gardens, these lizards can also be found in parks, sandy areas, hillsides, fields and on human structures. California and New York are not the only states that contain this reptile species. Kansas also contains Podarcis siculus lizards. They simply call them the Italian Wall Lizards there as well. The little reptiles were first seen in Topeka, Kansas in the 1950’s where they were either released or escaped from a pet shop that had closed down. Currently, they have spread as far south as Wichita, and as far west as Garden City and Dodge City. Topeka also contains the Western Green Lizard ( Lacerta bilineata ) which is another introduced species from Europe. They are a larger lizard that can have a head and body length up to 5 ½ inches. This species in their native habitats are found throughout Italy but also the Northern portions of the Iberian Peninsula, France, Switzerland, northern Spain, southern Slovenia and Western Germany. These lizards are mostly medium lime green to florescent green with fine black speckles when they are adults and also have a tail much longer than the body. Females rarely have speckles but they look more like blotches when the spots are present. Some adults retain white lines on their body that they had as juveniles. Males have a blue throat and cheeks during the breeding period. Some females are a green-brown in color instead of all green. They are not nearly as widespread in Kansas as the wall lizards.

Western Green Lizard ( Lacerta bilineata )

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Various reptile enthusiasts, zoologists and universities have been keeping track of these lizard species brought over from Italy. There has been no known damage to the ecosystems or loss of other species as a result of these lizards being introduced into the United States but their activities are being monitored. They are all harmless to humans and many people take an interest in them. However, people must remember that pet species from other countries or even other regions in your own country should not be released into the wild. Though these lizards have not caused any damage, there are many feral animals that were released in the U.S. and other countries that have caused harm to the ecosystems or the indigenous species population.

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