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Ever wonder about those lizards in Garden City?

posted Dec 9, 2012, 8:17 AM by Joseph DiLallo   [ updated Jun 12, 2014, 8:01 PM by Bird Sanctuary ]
Small lizards are a common site all across Garden City. There's a lot of rumor about where they came from, but ever wonder what the truth is? We've got an article just for you:


The Garden City 'Lizard' Population

    Garden City residents and visitors have noticed the small lizards which roam at the Garden City Bird Sanctuary. Other large lizard groups have been in the vicinity of Community Park and Adelphi University for many years. Others can be found in Franklin Square, West Hempstead, and even Valley Stream, Carle Place and in Queens! Many visitors have asked about these harmless little creatures. During 1993, Rob Alvey, a member of the Garden City Environmental Advisory Board, conducted a research program to study and learn more about the lizards. "Newsday" expanded this study in 2003 and identified a large number of communities on Long Island where they can be found.

The lizards found in Garden City are a colony of a type of lizard not native to Long Island or North America. These reptiles are actually Lacertids, a member of the genus Lacertidae. The lacertas are often referred to as "true lizards" and are found extensively throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. All lacertid species have typical lizardlike features including scales, well developed legs, and a long tail. They are reptiles which first appeared on Earth during the age of the dinosaurs. Fossils of similar reptiles have been found which date back to the Carboniferous Age, about 260 million years ago.

    The species of lizards seen in at the Tanners Pond Environmental Center in Garden City area are commonly referred to as Ruins Lizards or the related species, Wall Lizards. These particular lizards are commonly found in Italy, where they are frequently observed basking in the sun on the walls of Roman ruins. The lizards are green or brown with a pattern of black spots that appear as stripes on their backs. They can reach a length of 7-10 inches, but many of the ones observed are juveniles, at 4-6 inches in length. Over half of the reptile's length consists of the lizard's tail. The tail contains a weak bone segment that is easily broken off. The lizards are food for birds and other small animals. If a bird grabs a lizard by the tail, the tail frequently can break off in the bird's beak allowing the lizard to scamper away to safety.

The lizards at the Tanners Pond Environmental Center

In 1967, a shipment of lizards to a pet store/nursery - Gardener's Village in West Hempstead apparently got loose. The details are murky. The store and its owner, Robert White, are long gone. There are two versions. In one, Gardener's Village turned the lizards loose because customers weren't buying, and in the other, the creatures escaped when their packaging was inadvertently opened during delivery. The total amount of lizards that were released was most likely less than 50. However, some soon found their way to the nearby Garden City Municipal Yard, where an old closed concrete incinerator tower must have reminded them of ancient Roman ruins, and the Italian ruins lizards adjusted easily to their new home. A decade later, the nearby Garden City Nursery School discovered them, and later made the lizard symbol their mascot.

    In 1996, shortly after the TPEC's Garden City Bird Sanctuary was started, truck loads of compost and soil from the Village were brought to the 9 acre site for re-landscaping the area. Apparently, lizards hitched a ride. The lizards breed and every August new, young lizards are seen in the area. The population by 2010 was roughly 500-700. They hide under the small rock footwalls, bask in the sun, and are heard scurrying through the leaves. Some children love chasing and catching them, but they do not make good pets. They need plenty of natural sunlight to stay healthy, and since their main diet is spiders, it's hard to keep a food supply in a home.

The lizards are not dangerous or harmful. There is no native population of lizards on Long Island that the lacertids compete with. The native toad population on Long Island died off from pesticide use, development, possibly changing climate. The lizards fill an empty ecological niche, and are eaten by some birds and mammals. (A few people have even observed larger versions of the lizards, but the sightings end when the snow melts.)


For information on the Tanners Pond Environmental Center including the Garden City Bird Sanctuary and Alvey Arboretum, visit the website www.gcbirdsanctuary.org or e-mail gcbirdsanctuary@gmail.

Membership is $35 per year for families. The organization is a nonprofit 501(c)3. The work is volunteer.