Georgia faces invasive 4-foot species of lizard, Argentine black and white tegu, wildlife officials say
Georgian wildlife authorities are trying to eradicate the invasive black and white Argentine tegu, an omnivorous lizard that can grow up to 4 feet in length and is now established in Toombs and Tattnall counties.
They weigh over 10 pounds and their diets range from small animals and eggs of protected reptile species to fruits, vegetables and even grasshoppers, according to Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
They are also known to eat chicken and turkey eggs and to feed on pet food stored outside.
Keeping tegus as pets is legal in Georgia, but releasing non-native animals into the wild is not.
Anyone who crosses paths with any of the lizards, whether alive or dead, is asked to report the sighting to MRN officials to help biologists track their spread.
Tegus being an invasive species, they can be killed on private property with the permission of the owner and in accordance with applicable local laws.
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The Argentine black-and-white tegu – named for its coloring but native to the South American countries of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and its namesake Argentina – is the largest of all tegu species, authorities say. . They can live up to 20 years.
They have few natural predators and females can lay more than 30 eggs per year, according to the DNR. They are not considered aggressive towards humans, dogs or cats, but they can be potentially dangerous with their teeth and sharp claws if threatened.
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They can survive through the colder months when they rustle, a reptilian version of hibernation, experts say, putting them at risk of spreading deeper into the state.
The DNR, the United States Geological Survey and Georgia Southern University are all involved in trapping, euthanizing and tracking tegus in Toombs and Tattnall counties.
The invasive species is also present in Florida.