Giant 4ft Long Lizard Now Established In Georgia As An Invasive Species

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

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

The Argentinian black and white tegus poses a real threat to Georgian fauna. 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.

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 Wilde Natural Resources 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.

Young Argentinian black and white tegu (Dustin Smith).

They ask anyone who sees this lizard, alive or dead, to report it to the authorities. The DNR asks you to note the location, take a photo if possible and report the sighting:

Online: www.gainvasives.org/tegus
Telephone: (478) 994-1438
Email: [email protected]

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