Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., woman brought home a plant and ended up with a pet lizard

Sandra Turgeon was watching television with her boyfriend when she noticed her cats chasing after something that had darted across the living room floor of her Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., home.

“I thought there might be a spider, because sometimes there’s a spider in the house and they start to chase it,” Turgeon said about the Saturday night experience. 

As Turgeon got closer, she realized, “No, it’s too long to be a spider. What is this thing?

“It looks like a lizard. I’ve never seen a lizard in the house before.”

Turgeon grabbed a nearby Tupperware container and tried to corral the leaping lizard.

“I put it on the floor in front of him, and he hopped right in. I put the lid on and I said to my boyfriend, ‘That’s a lizard.'”

Her boyfriend disagreed, until he saw it scurrying around in the Tupperware.

Turgeon followed up with a Google search, which only brought up newts and salamanders of northern Ontario, not the creature in her Tupperware. It wasn’t until she posted a photo on the social media site Reddit that she got her answer.

Turgeon decided to keep the little anole, outfitting it with a tank and heat lamp. (Supplied by Sandra Turgeon)

“Within about 30 minutes, someone had responded and said, ‘That’s a brown anole lizard,'” she said. 

“It seems like it happens fairly frequently that lizards in the nursery will lay eggs in the soil and about a month later, they hatch.”

Plants imported from Florida

According to the University of Georgia, brown anoles originated in southern Florida and the Caribbean decades ago. The species has expanded northward, and unlike green anoles, they’re less likely to live in trees and are usually found on the ground or in low vegetation. They also thrive in any habitat and are abundant in suburban or urban areas.

Turgeon guesses her anole made its way into her home via a potted plant she purchased at a local Metro grocery store. 

“He had to make his way out of the rim of the pot through the soil,” she said. “I guess they must be buried a little deep in the soil.”

According to Turgeon, reports of more anoles being discovered in plants purchased at the same store have been circulating on Facebook groups devoted to Sault Ste. Marie house plants.

“The Metro here is aware,” she said. “They were contacted and said that if anybody finds any little lizards, they can bring them to the Eden Reptiles if they don’t want them, or they get assistance with setting up a little tank and habitat for them.”

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson with Metro said the plants were imported from Florida.

“Even though they are inspected before leaving  the state, sometimes these instances do occur,” the company said. 

In Turgeon’s case, she said that if she hadn’t discovered the anole — which she estimates to be about the size of a loonie — she doubted it would have survived long at her house.

“If he crawled behind the couch or something, I might not have ever noticed him and he wouldn’t have survived, — or my cat may have caught it and eaten it.”

Although she is used to keeping plants indoors and is aware they sometimes can come with bugs attached, Turgeon said she wasn’t “expecting a pet,” but decided to keep the lizard.

Ernie Rowntree, owner of Edens Reptiles in Sault Ste. Marie, is shown holding a turtle. He says that when it comes to anole lizards like the one Turgeon unexpectedly found in her home, ‘they’ll leave eggs for months.’ (Facebook- EdensReptiles)

She bought an aquarium, heat lamps and fruit fly culture from Eden’s Reptiles, a local reptile shop. She also enlisted the advice of the shop’s owner, Ernie Rowntree. 

And she gave her new pet a name:

“I don’t know if it’s a guy or a girl, but I figured Larry is if it’s a boy or Lara if it’s a girl,” she said.

Advice from lizard expert

Rowntree said he often deals with reptile “turnovers” — they’ve been rescued or discovered, or sometimes need to be given away.  

He’s only heard of a few instances where hatchlings travel via potted plant, usually in bigger cities with warmer climates, and Turgeon’s brown anole case was the first he’s heard of it happening in the Soo.

Rowntree has since fielded other calls from people who have brought home little reptiles as unexpected hitchhikers from the same grocery store.

I was very surprised, of course, that they had found these little creatures. And then I was very concerned because these creatures lay eggs in groups.– Ernie Rowntree, Ernie’s Reptiles

“I was very surprised, of course, that they had found these little creatures,” Rowntree said.  “And then I was very concerned because these creatures lay eggs in groups.

“They’ll leave eggs for months,” he said. “There could be numerous that still haven’t hatched yet. This could just be the beginning, I hate to say, of what could come. Or it could be the end.”

For people who manage to catch a lizard, or a brown anole, Rowntree offers this advice:

“Keep them warm, because they’re very, very small,” he said, adding the most appropriate temperature is around 78 to 84 degrees when the lizards are young. 

A grocery chain in Sault Ste. Marie is getting calls from customers about anoles being found in potted plants bought at the store. (Supplied by Sandra Turgeon)

They will also need a steady diet of fruit fly culture, something he carries in his own store.

Rowntree advises people not to release any exotics into the wild.

“Any exotics will harm our natural wildlife,” he said. “We actually have over 12 rescued red-eared sliders [a semiaquatic turtle] that stay with us forever here in the ponds and at our house, because people unfortunately do turn those loose and they have become invasive.” 

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