Fourth Annual Long Island Natural History Conference






















Lizards among us: Italian wall lizards in suburbia

Russell L. Burke, Chair, Biology Department, Hofstra University

Italian Wall Lizards have been successfully introduced into at least four urban and suburban locations in North America, all close to the same latitudes as their native range.  Extant Podarcis populations have been studied to a limited extent, and their date of origin, number of released individuals, and source population can be reliably estimated.  These are the only successful introductions of lizards into temperate North America.  It is not coincidental that they are restricted to urban and suburban areas.  Few native North American lizards exploit urban habitats above 35o latitude, so wall lizards encounter few native competitors.  Wall lizards thrive in urban/suburban areas in southern Europe, and are common commensals with humans there because they are diet and habitat generalists that quickly habituate to new environmental conditions.  They are also apparently well adapted to the specialized guild of potential predators that inhabit urban areas in both their native and new habitats.

Italian wall lizards were introduced to a suburban/light industrial area of Garden City, New York, in 1966.  Currently, their range in New York is highly discontinuous but includes the Bronx, over 23 km to the west and Hampton Bays, 105 km to the east. The population continues to spread, primarily along powerline and railroad rights-of-way and through the assistance of individuals.  My lab’s research on this population has included genetic origin, food habits, freeze tolerance, parasite loads, activity patterns, and basic demography, including reproductive rates and survivorship. They are depredated by raptors and cats.  We’ve found that wall lizards in New York have similarly diverse diets and predators, much lower levels of activity, but higher reproductive levels, compared to their counterparts in Italy.  We have also identified their location of origin in Italy, providing the framework for more detailed ecological and evolutionary comparisons.

Russell L. Burke received his B.S. in Zoology from Ohio State University, his M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from University of Florida, and his Ph.D. in Biology from University of Michigan.  He has taught undergraduate and graduate students at Hofstra University in New York since 1996, and is now a Professor, Department Chair, and Donald E. Axinn Distinguished Professor in Ecology and Conservation.  He has conducted phylogenetic, ecological, and conservation research on a wide variety of vertebrates and has published 45 scientific papers, primarily on population and community ecology, especially in developed landscapes.   He’s run a citizen science program involving research on diamondback terrapin in Jamaica Bay, New York since 1998 and has also conducted long term projects on eastern box turtles and wood turtles. Email: