Florida Scrub Lizard, Lesser Virgin Islands Skink Move Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

In response to petitions from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Florida scrub lizard and lesser Virgin Islands skink may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The rare reptiles are at risk of disappearing due to development, climate change and other threats.

“Endangered Species Act protection is the best hope of saving these little lizards from the very big threats they’re facing,”
said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.
“The Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct, and in the face of the global reptile and amphibian extinction crisis, it’s hands-down our best tool for saving these guys.”

The Florida scrub lizard is 5 inches long, with a gray to brown background color, spiny scales and dark-brown, longitudinal stripes on its sides; males have turquoise patches on their throats and bellies. The species is found in four widely separated main population areas: Atlantic coast scrubs, Gulf Coast scrubs, the inland central peninsula and around the Ocala National Forest. It lives in scrub habitat with open sandy areas for basking, foraging and nesting, near mature pine and oak trees for shade and perches. Because it is highly habitat specific, it cannot relocate to new areas when its habitat patches are destroyed. It is declining due to agriculture, urbanization, logging and mining. The total remaining population size is unknown, but the species is known to be declining as habitat is lost. Florida counties where the lizard lives include Brevard, Broward, Collier, Highland, Lake, Lee, Marion and Polk.

The Center petitioned for protection of the lizard, as well as 52 other highly imperiled amphibians and reptiles, in July 2012. Several renowned scientists and herpetologists joined the petition, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter supporting the petition.

The Center petitioned for protection of the lesser Virgin Islands skink, along with eight other newly identified species of skinks found on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, in February 2014. These smooth-skinned lizards are at risk of extinction due to introduced predators like mongooses and feral cats, habitat loss to development and agriculture, and sea-level rise due to global climate change. The skink can grow to be about 8 inches long. Skinks are unique among reptiles in having reproductive systems most like humans, including a placenta and live birth; they have cylindrical bodies, and most have ill-defined necks that, together with their sinuous movements and smooth, bronze-colored skin, make them look like stubby snakes.

Earlier this month a new study predicted that about 20 percent of lizard species will go extinct by the year 2080 due to global climate change. Lizards are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate because they must regulate their body temperatures by basking in the sun and cooling off in the shade; climate change will make it harder for them to find suitable patches of microhabitat.

Following today’s announcement that the species may warrant protection, the Service will accept public comments and conduct a one-year review of their status and will then issue “12-month findings” determining that protection is warranted, not warranted, or “warranted but precluded,” which would put the animals on the candidate waiting list for protection.

Globally nearly 1 in 4 amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say. This loss is all the more alarming because lizards, frogs, snakes and salamanders play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.