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VIDEO: Invasive lizard population spreads across Vancouver Island

Even record-breaking heat didn’t diminish European wall lizard population

Fishing for lizards is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel on a hot day near a rock wall in one Saanich neighbourhood.

Admittedly, Gavin Hanke, the curator of vertebrate zoology/knowledge at the Royal BC Museum, has been capturing them a long time. This, the common wall lizard, is particularly prolific in his neighbourhood, which is a relatively new development. A researcher down to the bone, he’s sourced the abundant to Derby Road a few blocks away starting in 2019 – and they’re spreading quickly.

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The wall lizard was first introduced in the Saanich Peninsula in 1967. Other intentional and accidental releases over the years have bloomed the population.

“I bet we’ve got 700,000 on the Island now,” Hanke said.

The European wall lizard populations runs the Island from Metchosin to Campbell River with credible reports from Ucluelet, Powell River and even Broken Group Islands.

The problem with this prolific reptile is it’s invasive – with largely unknown impacts on local ecosystems.

Hanke knows they eat earwigs – he once smooshed some wall lizard poop in his hand and found an earwig tail. They also eat ants, termites and pillbugs, and pollinators – wasps, mason bees, bumble bees and honey bees. He worries they’re eating the early form of the chorus frog.

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Wall lizards will even eat each other. It’s among the reasons the population spreads so rapidly once one appears in a place. The young flee to new territory to avoid being eaten by a parent. Then their young flee them.

Research shows they expand 40 to 100 metres a year, and Hanke pleads with residents to slow that spread by not doing it intentionally. The lizards are also known to hitchhike on plant pots, firewood and hay bales. The alligator lizard, native to the region, isn’t nearly as abundant.

“We’re asking people not to move them around,” Hanke said.

When he catches one, for research purposes or the museum, a few drops of Orgagel in the mouth euthanizes them quickly. The benzocaine soaks directly into the brain and the critter numbs then dies quickly.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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