Skip to content

The Florida Chameleon Catchers: A New Breed of Catcher

Florida's climate is so hospitable; everyone wants to live here – including non-native species. Florida has more invasive species than anywhere else in the world, which have invaded all native habitats, marine, freshwater, and terrestrial, in the state. Should Floridians welcome their new bizarre neighbors, or should they fight back?

Since invasive species lack natural predators, they tend to thrive in Florida – particularly in the Everglades, threatening the destruction of habitats and indigenous species. The problem is so extensive that it's breeding new ingenious ways of animal control. For one, the idea of chowing down on non-native wildlife has been growing in popularity. You can find invasive species cooking contests and sample recipes at various festivals.

However, people can’t consume all the species or do so fast enough to keep nature in balance. Enter catchers. It’s important to mention that catchers don’t actually harm the animals – they merely adopt or sell them.

You’ve probably heard about Florida’s Burmese python problem. Now let’s talk about one of the most fascinating and beautiful non-native creatures to be found in the Everglades.

Herping Florida's Chameleons: One Small Invasive Reptile at a Time

Like other invasive species, chameleons were introduced to Florida through the pet trade. These small reptiles were brought over from parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Thanks to humans releasing their pets to the wild when they got tired of them. Here’s the issue—there are now six different chameleon species to be found in the Sunshine State, and two are known to be breeding.

Chameleons have a high reproductive rate and can thrive in many temperate environments. As a result, they're incredibly enjoying their time in Florida, where there's no shortage of insects, lizards, small frogs, and mammals to prey on. Plus, they also feed on a lot of agricultural pests, including caterpillars, geckos, and weevils, so they do help out Floridian farmers a bit.

Still, their population is getting out of hand. Even though they’re not as harmful as the Burmese python per se, chameleons still pose a significant threat to the ecosystem. Their growing population means they'll eat more native species at a rate that doesn't allow their populations to replenish. For this reason – and because chameleons don't rank too high on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission priority list – some residents have taken matters into their own hands.

Chameleon catchers, or herpers, are a small dedicated community who head out into Florida’s wilderness in search of these color-changing reptiles. These catchers catch the invasive chameleons in the wild to give out as pets to fellow enthusiasts. These catchers gather in online forums to discuss hiding spots and share chameleon herping tips.

But wait… Is any of this legal? Yes, as it turns out. Chameleons are a non-native species which means they’re not protected under Florida law. You can find one in the Everglades, pluck it off a tree and just take it home with you. Still, as with most things, there is a catch. Once you catch one, you can’t put it back because it’s illegal to release exotic animals into the wild.

That said, chameleon catching isn't without its controversies. Some herpers engage in an illegal practice called ranching, where they catch chameleons and breed them for selling. A panther chameleon, for instance, can fetch up to $1,000, making its ranching pretty lucrative.

Chameleon trading has also exploded on Craigslist and other advertisement websites; whether the sellers are licensed is a whole other matter. Most ranching activities go unnoticed because it's difficult to prove whether the sellers found the chameleons in the wild and bred them or just happened to have them on their property.

Helpful Herping of Chameleons

You’ll no doubt run into one of these creatures while visiting the Everglades. Chameleons can inhabit a wide range of ecosystems, from forests and savannahs to shrublands. You can even find them in your backyard.

They can be incredibly difficult to spot during the day, though. That's why catchers do their herping at night armed with torches.

Here’s what you can do to help out. Supposing you see a chameleon, take a picture, note down its location, and report the sighting online at or on the IveGot1 app. Or if you happen to have an unwanted exotic pet, you can surrender it to animal rescue centers or call the Pet Amnesty hotline at 1-888-IVE-GOT1.

Find The Right Mortgage

For more than 20 years, Phil have been helping customers achieve their home purchase and refinance goals by providing them with invaluable resources and support.

Schedule a FREE Consultation
Phil Ganz

Subscribe to Get Your First Time Homebuyer Checklist

Sign up for the weekly newsletter to stay up to date on the latest real estate market trends, loan news, and so much more!