- Argentine black and white tegu lizards, which can grow up to four feet long and weigh more than 10 pounds, are an invasive species in Georgia.
- The reptiles can reproduce quickly, have few predators, and are posing a major threat to some of Georgia’s protected species.
- Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is trying to eradicate the species from the state and is asking the public to report any sightings of the lizard.
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Large lizards are invading Georgia and pose a major threat to native wildlife, state officials have warned residents.
Argentine black and white tegu lizards, which can grow up to four feet long and weigh more than 10 pounds, have been spotted in Georgia for years, and officials are now trying to eradicate the species from the state.
“They eat just about anything they want,” retired Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division biologist John Jensen said in a 2019 video about the lizards.
Argentine black and white tegus are native to South American countries, including Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and their namesake Argentina. They can live up to 20 years, and can survive colder months through a reptilian version of hibernation,according to Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.
It is unknown exactly how many tegus are in Georgia, but they don’t yet pose a threat to people or household pets.
They’re known to eat fruit, pet food, and the eggs of ground-nesting birds and small mammals like gopher tortoises and American alligators, which are both protective species. They can also displace animals by taking their burrows.
“Tegus are predators that do not belong here. We’re asking residents in the area to report them, which helps us assess the problem and remove tegus,” Daniel Sollenberger, a senior wildlife biologist with DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section told Insider.
“It also helps if they can provide photos,” she continued. “People unfamiliar with tegus might mistake native animals such as juvenile alligators and even fence lizards with these invasive reptiles.”
Female tegus can lay about 35 eggs a year, and the lizards don’t have many predators, meaning they can multiply quickly, according to Georgia’s DNR website.
“Although not considered aggressive toward people, tegus will defend themselves if threatened,” the website says. “They can react fast and lash with their tails. They have sharp teeth and claws and strong jaws.”
Tegus have been established in Florida for years, and in recent years have been spotted in Toombs and Tattnall counties in Georgia. Officials are hoping to eradicate the species from the state by trapping and humanely euthanizing them.
Georgia’s DNR is asking anyone who sees a tegu to report it to the agency and urged anyone who has kept them as a pet to contact reptile adoption organisations.
Because tegus are an invasive species, people can also kill them on private property if necessary.
“If you are able to safely and humanely dispatch of the animal, we encourage that and we want that information too,” Jensen said in his video about the lizards.
This article has been updated.
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