When we assume that contemporary management actions will be effective against the global rise of emerging alien species, we can develop management complacency, which leads to potentially disastrous outcomes for native biodiversity. Here, we propose the use of the probability of detection as a metric to assess the feasibility of management actions for alien species. We explore how detectability can influence the management of alien reptiles, a group of emergent alien vertebrates globally. We use a Rapid Biological Assessment method (time-limited transects) to estimate the probability of detection for alien reptiles present on Christmas Island (Australia). Across the five species studied, we found low probabilities of detection and poor explanatory capacity of the individual covariates included in our models. These findings indicate that management options to deal with alien reptiles are limited due to the potential high cost and low efficacy associated with low probabilities of detection. Strict preventive strategies, firmly espousing the principles of adaptiveness and precautionary policies, combined with early detection and biosecurity response activities are needed to address the emergence of alien reptiles. Our research was focussed on alien reptiles on islands, but the rise of new pools of alien species from all taxonomic realms across the world suggests that our conclusions may be applicable more generally. Further research is called for to explore the applicability of our conclusions and recommendations to other taxonomic groups and regions of the world.