Another invasive species identified in Georgia and South Carolina
Wild pigs, coyotes, and snake fish have long been a problem as invasive wild species in Georgia and South Carolina. Now, the tegu is making an appearance on land along the Savannah River, becoming another non-native apex predator rampant in the southern United States.
The tegu is a giant lizard that is over four feet long and weighs 10 pounds.
The animal, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers, has been spotted from Florida to Georgia in areas ranging from the Savannah River to Lake Hartwell and the species is encroaching in space throughout the South Carolina Midlands. , according to the SCDNR.
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Savannah River Ecology Lab spokesperson PJ Perea explains that the lizard, originally from Argentina, has become something of a fashionable animal for the people of Florida. Once the owners found out the size of the animals, they released them to the nearest waterway.
The released animals began to mate and created colonies in Florida that grew large enough to expand into the temperate regions of the southern United States,
Giant lizards migrated – as part of the exotic animal trade – from Argentina to North America via Florida. Tegus that were released or escaped in Florida thrived in the wild and slowly moved northeast for years.
Black and white tegus have no natural predators and can eat anything from endangered gopher turtles to the eggs of nesting birds like nightjars and wild turkeys.
Lizards are also said to be fond of eggs of American alligators, a tightly managed species. Hunting for alligators is permitted in Georgia, but in the event of a sudden loss in species numbers, the alligator could be put back on the endangered species list and hunting would be prohibited.
Normally, tegu lizards are not a threat to humans, but small pets can be prey for animals and a bite can be quite painful.
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Tonya Bonitatibus, director of Savannah Riverkeeper, said the species is particularly harmful due to its adaptability and lack of predators.
“They are the lizard version of the wild pigs. They tear up everything and eat almost anything and they are fast, ”Bonitatibus said. “I hate to say this, but if anyone encounters a tegu, shoot them if you can, then turn the carcass over to the DNR for review.”