Wildlife officials in the southern US state of Georgia are asking for the public to help eradicate an invasive lizard that may pose a threat to native species, including the state-protected endangered gopher tortoise.
Argentine black and white tegus are a large lizard native to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay in South America and have recently become established as an exotic invasive species at several sites in south Florida. Tegus can have a negative impact on native species as they “eat just about anything they want” – plants and animals alike. One of their favorite foods include eggs from ground-nesting animals like the gopher tortoise and quail.
“Tegus will eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds—including quail and turkeys—and other reptiles, such as American alligators and gopher tortoises, both protected species. They will also eat chicken eggs, fruit, vegetables, plants, pet food, carrion, and small live animals, from grasshoppers to young gopher tortoises,” writes the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
It is believed that Tegu lizards were introduced to Florida either as escaped or released pets and have since made their way north to Georgia. Argentine black and white tegu (Salvator merianae) can grow up to 4-feet-long and are characterized by black and white banding along their tail. Weighing up to 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) with a lifespan of 20 years, the large lizards are fast-moving and active during the day, often in grassy or woodland areas or cleared forests as well as fence rows and roadsides. Adult lizards have few predators and can multiply quickly and, though they are not considered aggressive towards people, can defend themselves with their tails, claws, and sharp teeth when feeling threatened.
Although it is legal to own Tegus as pets, it is illegal to release any non-native animal without a permit. As such, wildlife officials are working with the US Geological Survey and the Georgia Southern University to stop their spread, but are calling on the public’s help in eliminating the reptile’s reach. Individuals are encouraged to report sightings of the animal to determine where to focus trapping efforts to eradicate the species.