The Argentine black and white tegu, an invasive species of giant lizard, is invading the Southeast, particularly Georgia, and threatening native wildlife.
The Argentine black and white tegu is a native animal of South America and eats the eggs of ground-nesting birds, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The tegu is able to grow up to 4 feet long and can weigh more than 10 pounds. Wildlife officials are concerned that the tegu will compete with native animals of the Southeast for food, cause damage to the existing habitat and possibly transmit diseases. They are especially threatening to the Southeast’s ecology because they have few predators, so they multiply quickly. Tegus are not a serious threat to humans.
Invasive species like the tegu can also prey on native wildlife, so the DNR is building a strategy for conserving the species native to Georgia.
Wildlife officials hypothesize that the tegu lizards were released either on purpose or accident, by someone who had one as a pet. Tegus are legal to have as pets in many states, including Georgia.
The DNR, U.S. Geological Society and Georgia Southern University are working together to trap the animals to remove them and find out how many of them are in the environment. Apart from Georgia, there were sightings of the tegu in South Carolina and Florida.
The DNR is asking people to report when they have seen a tegu, dead or alive, because the reports help biologists document occurrences.