Move over iguanas, invasive Argentine black and white tegus are South Florida’s newest lizard problem, becoming so widespread and abundant that costly long-term management may be needed.
Tegus are terrestrial lizards that rarely climb more than a few feet off the ground and are strong swimmers found in freshwater and marine environments, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“But beware, this lizard is aggressive and eats eggs of all kinds,” warns Ft. Lauderdale resident Katie O’Reilly. After hatching, juvenile tegus grow quickly and can live up to 20 years, reach sizes of nearly 4 feet in total length and weigh close to ten pounds.
An omnivore that eats fruits, vegetables, eggs, insects, and small animals, tegus are native to Brazil, Paraguay, eastern Uruguay and northern Argentina. They’re particularly fond of alligator and turtle eggs.
Brought in and sold at pet stores, once an exotic pet gets into the wild it breeds like crazy and displaces native flora and fauna.
“One way to tell the tegus and monitors apart from other lizards is that they flick their tongue out like a snake does,” said local resident Beca Copeland.
Breeding in Florida occurs in March and tegus can lay an average of 35 eggs per year. Females construct nests of dried vegetation, often at the base of trees, in clumps of tall grass or in burrows.
TEGU SIGHTINGS MAP:
The State of Florida lists tegus as Class III wildlife. A permit is not currently required to possess tegus as personal pets, but the state does require a License to Possess Class III Wildlife for Exhibition and/or Public Sale to possess these reptiles for commercial use and a Captive Wildlife Importation Permit to import them into the state.
Wildlife officials are tagging and tracking the tegus and urge residents call 1-888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681) if they spot one or report the sighting through the free app available on the iTunes store. The app allows observations of invasive species to be reported directly with an iPhone that uploads to a designated location and is e-mailed directly to local and state verifiers for review.