The Department of Planning and Natural Resources has experimentally returned the namesake St. Croix Ground Lizard to the main island of St. Croix for the first time in 50 years, the agency announced this week.
The St. Croix Ground Lizard, whose scientific name is Ameiva Polops, is only 3.5 inches in length as a fully grown adult and is one of the world’s most endangered reptiles, according to Planning and Natural Resources.
In an effort to help recover the species from being endangered, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has reintroduced two experimental populations to St. Croix.
The indigenous lizard was last seen on the main island in 1969 at Fort Frederik, with a few left on the offshore cays of St. Croix. “This project introducing small populations to enclosures for monitoring over the next year at the University of the Virgin Islands wetlands and the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge is the first small step towards recovering an indigenous species of the Virgin Islands,” said Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol in a statement Wednesday.
Invasive species like mongoose and rats, along with degradation of their natural habitat, reduced the population until none remained on St. Croix. Small populations remained on the four tiny nearby islands – Buck Island, Protestant Cay, Ruth or Shell Island and Green Cay.
The endangered species of St. Croix Ground Lizard (Ameiva polops) should not be confused with the introduced species of the Puerto Rican Ground Lizard (Ameiva exsul) on St. Croix, which is found across the Puerto Rican Bank but was inadvertently introduced to St. Croix in the mid-1990s. The introduced Puerto Rican Ground Lizard was first reported in Estate La Grande Princess and has slowly expanded over the last 25-plus years. The Puerto Rican Ground Lizard is much larger than the St. Croix Ground Lizard and eats native lizards and insects.
This project was organized by the Division of Fish and Wildlife with support from a wide range of collaborators including the University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. National Park Service, DPNR Coastal Zone Management Division, St. Croix Environmental Association, California Academy of Sciences, and Texas A&M University.
For more information, contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife on St. Croix at 340-773-1082.