Can the Saint Croix Ground Lizard be saved?

Introducing the Saint Croix Ground Lizard (Ameiva polops) – a lizard that was once indigenous to the island of St. Croix, but can now sadly, only be found on Protestant Cay, Green Cay, and Ruth Cay (a man-made island, constructed by dredging in the 1960s).  The last time it was seen on St. Croix unfortunately, was 1968.

Without including the tail, this little lizard will reach an adult size of approximately 1.5 and 3 inches in length.

Let it not be said that this is a picky eater!  Ameiva polops will eat just about anything it can find … ranging from ants, small amphibods and yes, even small hermit crabs!  And anoles … you had best guard your eggs or this little lizard is going to make a meal out of your babies!

If you are lucky, you will find them in a wide range of different environments ranging from beach areas to the forests.  You might even spot them in various crab burrows (probably eating the previous inhabitants).

Sadly, it is presently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species.  Why is this bad news?  It means that the Ameiva polops is at extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

So what has nearly wiped out this lizard?  Once again we see that loss of habitat, caused by humans is one of the greatest contributing factors.

But what many people don’t realize is that the introduction of the Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) to the island of St. Croix in 1884 has also left this species hanging on by a thread.  There is a genuine concern that the introduction of this mammal could actually result in the extinction of the species.

With an increase in tourism in the area and the accompanying development of the coastal areas, these lizards are now finding their natural habitat decreasing at an incredible rate.  Even something as simple as the hotel staff raking up leaves and removing the leaf litter is robbing these lizards of their natural ecosystems.

The Saint Croix Ground Lizard is slowly running out of places to live.

But it is not just humans that are impacting the survival of this lizard.  What some people forget is that natural disasters such as hurricanes which plague the islands almost yearly can leave these lizards quite vulnerable.

Because the populations are so small and isolated, there is a fear that inbreeding will, at the end of the day, make these lizards more vulnerable to natural disasters or even disease.  This lack of genetic variation may also have a negative impact on the fertility rates of these lizards.  This makes it very hard for an established population, already on the brink, to grow.

The new is not all grim … I hope.  Back in 1990, 10 individuals were relocated on Ruth Island to help build the population back up.  The encouraging news is that a recent study suggests that the population has actually grown to about 60 individuals!

Wait! There is more good news!

There is a recommendation of putting 50 lizards on Buck Island as well! Furthermore, a mongoose eradication program has been already carried out on the island – there goes one of their biggest threats!

So if we, as humans, leave their natural habitats alone and provide them with a mongoose-free environment, there is a good chance we can bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Very encouraging news! Let’s hope this continues and we are not too late to save this amazing lizard!

By Candace,


About Candace M Hansen

Wildlife advocate, conservationist and environmentalist.
This entry was posted in Featured Articles, Lizards and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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