“Giant” lizard established as invasive species in Florida
Argentine black and white tegu. Photo and caption: Stan Kirkland/Florida FWC/www.fox13news.com
The culprit is the so-called Argentine black and white tegu and it poses a real threat to wildlife in Florida and Georgia.
The Argentine black and white tegu is the largest lizard of its species. It can be up to 4 feet long and weigh 10 pounds. The Department of Natural Resources (MNR) said many people report them to authorities mistaking them for baby alligators.
It has been established as an alien and invasive species at several sites in South Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission reports that there are established breeding populations in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties. Researchers believe these populations arose through intentional escapes or releases from pets.
“Tegus are not native to our state and have been known to eat native species, including alligator eggs, and endangered wildlife, such as hatchling gopher tortoises,” according to the Division of Wildlife’s website. wildlife resources of georgia. “Adult tegus have few predators and can multiply rapidly. Females reach reproductive age at about 12 inches long or after their second season of brumation. They can lay about 35 eggs per year.
Young black and white argentinian tegu. Photo and caption: Dustin Smith/www.fox13news.com
“Potential impacts of tegus include competition with and hunting of native Florida wildlife, including some endangered and protected species,” the FWC website states. “Tegus feed on the nests of other animals, and researchers have documented tegus eating American alligator eggs and disturbing American crocodile nests in Florida.”
According to the DNR, the lizard has also established itself in Toombs and Tattnall counties in southeast Georgia. DNR officials say Tegus will eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds such as quails and turkeys and other reptiles, such as American alligators and gopher tortoises, which are protected species. They will also eat chicken eggs, fruits, vegetables, plants, pet food, carrion, and small live animals, from grasshoppers to young gopher tortoises.
The DNR and its partners are working to eradicate a feral population in Toombs and Tattnall counties. They fear the lizards have the potential to spread “rapidly” to other parts of Georgia. While lizards are legal as pets in Georgia, it is illegal to release them into the wild.
The Orianne Society, which is dedicated to the conservation of reptiles and amphibians, also warned of invasive lizards. “Established from escaped or released pets, these large lizards are voracious predators that consume a variety of wildlife native to longer-established Florida populations,” the Orianne Society wrote on its Facebook page. .
The Society said it believes the tegus are able to survive the state’s cold winters, meaning their population has the potential to spread quickly. “Eliminating invasive species early in the invasion process is essential to have the best chance of success,” the company said. “All sightings should be reported to Georgia DNR immediately.”
Tegus aren’t the only invasive species making headlines. The Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, has made its way to the United States. These invasive creatures are known to kill up to 50 people a year in Japan, according to The New York Times. The insects also have the potential to devastate America’s bee populations, which are already in decline.
In Florida, you can help by taking a photo, noting the location and reporting this information by calling FWC at 1-888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681) or reporting online at IveGot1.org. The Georgia DNR asks you to note the location, take a photo if possible, and report the sighting online at www.gainvasives.org/tegus.
Melissa’s writing career began over 20 years ago. Today, she lives in South Florida with her husband and two boys.