LOS ANGELES (AP) — Scientists are studying why the Italian wall lizard introduced into a Los Angeles neighborhood 20 years ago has virtually replaced a native species.
The relative newcomer has essentially taken over a five-block radius from where they were let into the wild in San Pedro in 1994. A homeowner brought a few of the bright green lizards back from a trip to Sicily and they have since thrived and multiplied, according to the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/182Ni5n).
Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, has been studying the lizard population and trying to capture up to a dozen of the foreign invaders every month. He plans to dissect some of the ones he has caught to determine whether they are stealing native lizards' food, preying on them or carrying parasites that might be killing them off.
"Since I started studying this population, I've seen literally a thousand wall lizards in this area and just two native lizards," Pauly told the newspaper. "The takeover feels pretty complete."
Pauly said he wants to prevent the area's native species from being wiped out, but is expected to do his own research and manage the museum's reptile and amphibian collection of 184,000 preserved specimens. While the museum supports the urban lizard safaris, it's not exactly subsidizing them.
"Who pays the bills when I drive out to San Pedro? I do," he says. "But I do that because you can't get a grant unless you have some preliminary data ... and we have a good time, and we get to do some cool science."
Pauly has managed to document other lizard species in the Los Angeles area, including a population of Mediterranean house geckos in the San Fernando Valley a few years ago.
"I basically have a job," he said, "that allows me to be a 5-year-old for the rest of my life."