November 1, 2017

This picture of the Asian water monitor was taken on Oct. 7.

Contributed This picture of the Asian water monitor was taken on Oct. 7.

KEY LARGO — Local biologist Jim Duquesnel is seeking the public’s help in finding a rather large, invasive water monitor in the Twin Lakes subdivision. The lizard is drab gray, dark brown or olive with yellow or white spots that appear as bands. It’s more than 5 feet in length and appears to be an Asian water monitor based on a photo.

It’s not clear how this water monitor got here, but biologists say it definitely doesn’t belong. No one has reported losing a pet water monitor, although they are legal to own due to lax laws dealing with such species.

Residents in the area have confirmed two sightings of the lizard hanging around Canal 47 along Adams Drive.

It has large grappling-hook-like claws and sharp teeth and has been evading capture for at least three weeks. The semi-aquatic lizard can hold its breath for 30 minutes underwater, grow up to 7 feet long and live for about 20 years.

Experts agree the lizard poses no threat to people, but say it could eat a small dog or cat if one was easily available.

“A teacup Yorkie would probably make a good meal for it,” Duquesnel said. “It’s potentially fast enough to catch a cat or a rat too. It will take down anything that it can swallow whole.”

According to herpetologist Todd Campbell, P.h.D, Asian water monitors are the second largest lizard in the world, behind the Komodo dragon. He adamantly believes the big lizard would run away before anyone was able to get remotely close to it.

The fear of being bitten by one and having to be hospitalized is irrational, Campbell said.

“Rapid sepsis is seen with Komodo dragon bites. It is not seen in any other monitors,” he said.

Kirk Weatherly, who lives in the area, first saw the lizard on Oct. 7. It was sunbathing about 20 feet from the shallow canal entrance when he snapped its picture.

“My wife and I were heading back in on the boat, and when we turned the corner, it was there. Once I got a good look at it, I knew it wasn’t a croc and definitely not from around here. When it heard us, it stood up taller, posturing, like we got its attention,” Weatherly said.

Wildlife volunteer and Twin Lakes resident Bob Darling has been on the lookout. He’s been setting a humane trap every morning and closing it nightly to prevent a misfire since the water monitor is diurnal.

He’s excited to find it. 

“I’ve been checking, but so far nothing yet. Hopefully, we get him soon,” he said.

Darling uses eggs, chicken and turkey necks as bait, which was gnashed the day the Free Press visited.

At least one Twin Lakes resident claims to have seen the monitor six months ago.

Campbell isn’t convinced.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s recently been released or is a post-Irma escapee until someone proves me otherwise,” he said. “If it was a recent release, it would be clueless where to get food, and these things can move easily at least a kilometer a day.”

It will be found hiding under things or in the mangroves, according to Campbell.

Asian water monitors hunt by eyesight, but also have a keen sense of smell, “better than a beagle,” he said. They are strictly carnivorous and opportunistic eaters. It will scavenge a meal.

Duquesnel and Darling were refocusing their efforts as of last Friday. 

“We have seven traps to put in four canals and we are determined to find it,” Darling said. “We need more eyes on the lookout, though.”

In a odd coincidence, a resident in the area was able to trap a large lizard that Duquesnel confirmed was a savannah monitor, which are native to Africa. 

“It was only 2 feet in length, and the one I’m looking for is 5 feet. Nonetheless, it’s a great find,” he said.

If you see the Asian water monitor, do not attempt to catch it. Try to take a photo of it and call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wildlife hotline at 888-404-3922 or Duquesnel directly at 305-304-4445. Time stamped sightings can be viewed and documented on where Weatherly’s initial sighting is recorded.