Growing population of invasive tegu lizards threatens native Florida species

An invasive species of lizard is calling Florida but as their numbers continue to multiply in the wild, they apparently eat native species.

According to scientists at the University of Florida, the population rate of Argentine black and white tegu lizards has increased in recent years. Even the colder months don’t have a big impact on them. They burrow and wait underground for winter.

They are normally spotted in South Florida, but have been seen as far north as St. Lucia County, reports the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation. This is likely a problem that started with the tegu lizards released by owners, or they escaped.

They eat just about anything – from bananas to baby gopher turtles.

Argentinian black and white tegu (photo FWC)

“Tegus prey on the nests of other animals, and researchers have documented tegus eating American alligator eggs and disturbing American crocodile nests in Florida,” the FWC reported. “A recent analysis of the gut contents of tegus by the FWC revealed that they consume endangered juvenile gopher turtles and foods of agricultural value, highlighting the impact this species may have on wildlife and sensitive farmlands.”

The gopher tortoise is protected by Florida law, as are the burrows it builds for shelter. Its population is already threatened due to habitat destruction, fragmentation and degradation.

The stomach scan was performed on 124 tegu lizards, and FWC discovered that they ate frogs, toads, other lizards, and even snakes.

In 2019, authorities successfully removed 1,425 tegu lizards from the wild. This is actually double what they were able to remove four years ago.

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This year, the FWC added the Argentine black and white tegu to its list of prohibited species. If you owned one before April 29 of this year – when the rule was put in place – you can keep it until it dies, but you must have a license.

Pet owners had until the end of July to tag their lizards. The species cannot release it, and if the owners release them or their tegu lizard escapes, they can be traced back to the owner.

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Essentially, they cannot be brought into the state as pets and are restricted for research, education, control or “eradication,” according to the FWC rule.

To learn more about the Argentinian black and white tegu, Click here. You can find out more about List of non-native FWC species here.

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