Giant 4-foot-long lizards now established as invasive species in Florida and Georgia

Argentine black and white tegu (Stan Kirkland / Florida FWC)

It is the largest lizard of its kind, and it now inhabits both Florida and Georgia, which is of concern to wildlife officials.

The Argentine black and white tegu poses a real threat to wildlife. According to Ministry of Natural Resources, the lizard has established itself in Toombs and Tattnall counties in southeast Georgia as an invasive species.

Tegus, who can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 10 pounds or more, is originally from South America. MNR officials say lizards were already an invasive species in South Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says there is established breeding populations in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties. Researchers believe these populations occurred during escapes or intentional releases of pets.

“Potential impacts of the tegus include competition and prey from native Florida wildlife, including some endangered and protected species,” the FWC website states. “Tegus prey on the nests of other animals, and researchers have documented tegus eating American alligator eggs and disturbing American crocodile nests in Florida.”

Although lizards are legal as pets in Georgia, it is illegal to release them into the wild.

“Tegus are not native to our state and are known to eat native species, including the eggs of alligators and endangered wildlife, such as newborn waffle turtles,” according to the Georgia Wildlife Division website. “Adult tegus have few predators and can multiply quickly. Females reach breeding age at about 12 inches long or after their second misting season. They can lay about 35 eggs per year.”

Tegus will eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds, including quails and turkeys, and other reptiles, such as American alligators and marbled turtles, two protected species. They will also eat chicken eggs, fruits, vegetables, plants, pet food, carrion and small live animals, from grasshoppers to young waffle turtles.

MNR’s Wildlife Division, US Geological Survey and Georgia Southern University say they trap tegus, track sightings and assess the population.

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Ranging from black to dark gray with white mottled bands on the back and tail, these reptiles can weigh 10 pounds or more and live 20 years, according to the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. Newborns have bright green heads, a color that fades around one month of age.

In Georgia, the tegus can be confused with native reptiles such as juvenile alligators (which are protected) and broad-headed skinks, according to wildlife experts.

Argentina-black-and-white-tegu-young_Dustin-Smith_0.jpg

Young Argentinian black and white tegu (Dustin Smith).

They ask anyone who sees this lizard, alive or dead, to report it to the authorities. in Florida, you can help by taking a photo, noting the location, and reporting that information by calling FWC at 1-888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681), or by reporting online at IveGot1.org.

The Georgia DNR asks you to note the location, take a photo if possible, and report the sighting:

In line: www.gainvasives.org/tegus

Telephone: (478) 994-1438

Email: [email protected]

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