They heard the animal before they saw it.
Its talons clicked and clacked as it hooked in and out of a window screen at the family’s home in Apopka, Florida.
“When we investigated, we found quite the surprise,” Frank Crowder, the homeowner who shot video of the surprise animal, wrote in an email to McClatchy News.
Crowder, his wife and his nephew went to see what was making the sound on Sept. 12 and saw a giant lizard — Crowder estimates it measured between 3.5 to 4 feet and weighed 6 to 10 pounds — climbing up the screen as it flicked its long tongue in and out of its mouth.
“My initial reaction was utter shock when I saw the big fella but then it quickly switched to curiosity about where this guy came from and what species he was,” he wrote. “My wife was in shock and close to being in a catatonic state. My nephew just kinda kept his distance.”
Crowder said he initially thought the animal was a Tegu, an Argentinean reptile that’s invasive in the United States. But after seeing multiple posts from commenters on social media, he said he now believes the creature was a Savannah Monitor.
The lizards, which are native to Sub-Saharan Africa, are popular pets in the U.S., according to The Spruce Pets, a website that publishes tips for pet owners.
While they are more docile compared with other types of monitor lizards, they “have stringent care requirements to keep them healthy,” the site says. For example, their enclosures should be kept at an average of 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit with basking spots between 110 and 130 degrees.
Crowder, who lives about 20 minutes from downtown Orlando, said he’s used to animal sightings in his backyard, but for him and his family, this massive lizard that may be someone’s escaped pet, was special.
“We have dealt with a variety of wildlife,” he wrote, “but this encounter will forever be remembered.”