The Invader

By Carl Zimmer | May 20, 2008 1:44 am

invaderRuss writes:

Podarcis sicula (Italian wall lizard) is native to Italy, and the nearby Mediterranean coast. It thrives in cities, and has probably been a human urban commensal for 2000 years. They and their congeners (P. muralis) have been introduced into many places in Europe, including France, southern England, and Germany. they may be the most widely introduced temperate reptile species. There are at least four extant populations of Podarcis sicula and muralis introduced to North America: Long Island (NY), Topeka (KS), Cincinnati (OH), and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. there was a population in Philadelphia but they are apparently now extinct, and I recently heard of what sounds like a separate introduction in central NJ. All releases are associated with the pet trade and are decades old. Podarcis is here to stay, lacertid lizards finally made it over the pond.

I’m interested in them because I’m interested in invasive species and what they can tell us about natural invasions. I’ve looked at the parasite loads of all four extant pops, and they are quite depauperate compared to what would be expected. I’ve done really detailed work on the demography and the food habits of the LI pop, and next year I’m going to Italy to document the same things in the native habitat. I’m
expecting to see evolutionary changes as they adapt to the new environments.

I mostly study turtles; this is my first real foray into lizard work. However, I couldn’t see how my favorite turtles would transfer into a nice tattoo, not quite colorful enough.

Click here to go to the full Science Tattoo Emporium.

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Comments (4)

  1. Ben Goering

    Haha. I live in Topeka, KS and I’m pretty sure I saw a ton of these guys where I used to go to daycare as kid. Awesome memories.

  2. Russ

    Ben: yes, if you saw little green lizards in Topeka, then almost certainly you were enjoying an Italian invasion. Topeka not only has Podarcis, but a much smaller population of introduced Lacerta viridis, a larger and vividly green lizard.

  3. We have tons of them at the 9 acre community bird sanctuary/arboretum in Garden City, NY. They were accidently brought in with truckloads of compost from the Village municipal yard around 1996. Kids love to chase & net them.

  4. Cos

    The Cincinnati population isn’t directly from the pet trade. They were actually smuggled here by two brothers of a local prominent family in the 1950s. They caught and smuggled them home in socks from family vacations in Italy. We call them Lazarus Lizards which was the families name. There are biologists at the University of Cincinnati that have been researching them. If you haven’t already, you could probably find their work. They are interesting and do make good pets for kids.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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