Lizards Gone Wild

Hunters asked to be on the lookout for South American tegus that can grow to 4 feet long and can harm native species.

Brad Gill | September 27, 2019

If you’re out poking around the woods in Toombs or Tattnall counties this fall and happen to see a lizard that matches the description of an Argentine black and white tegu, get a picture if possible, and if you’re sure it’s a tegu, feel free to shoot it. State, federal and university ecologists would prefer this non-native, invasive species not be in the Georgia woods at all, and they sure don’t want it to spread.

According to DNR, “Argentine black and white tegus have been found in the wild in eastern Toombs and western Tattnall. These lizards native to South America pose a threat to Georgia’s wildlife. DNR is working with Georgia Southern University and the U.S. Geological Survey to stop their spread.”

Tegus, popular in the pet trade and likely illegally released or escaped from pet owners, will eat the eggs of wild ground-nesting birds, such as quail and turkeys. They will also eat alligator eggs, young gopher tortoise eggs, chicken eggs, pet food, small animals, fruit, vegetables and plants. They also reproduce very fast in the wild—at just 2 years old a female can begin laying 35 eggs a year.

“Our goal is to engage folks to help us better determine the status and possible distribution of this invasive species in the area, and to help us address the problem. Basically, tegus don’t belong here and our wildlife don’t need another predator to deal with,” said Rick Lavender, WRD Communications and Outreach Specialist.

There have been about 20 reports in this area since summer 2018. Not all of those reports have been confirmed, but DNR and Georgia Southern have trapped eight tegus as of September 2019 and collected a ninth hit by a car.

DNR is asking hunters and homeowners in the area to report dead or alive tegus sightings. Again, hunters are encouraged to shoot them to help stop the spread of this South American, non-native species. Photograph the lizard if possible, and report it to the Georgia Invasive Species Task Force. Additional questions can be fielded at 478.994.1438 or by email.

GON would also be interested in seeing a photograph of one of these lizards if you happen to stumble upon one while out in the woods. Send those photos to [email protected].


More Facts About Tegus
• The Argentine black and white tegu (Salvator merianae) is native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.
The Argentine black and white tegus, the largest tegu species, can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 10 or more pounds.
• Argentine black and white tegus are black to gray or beige with white speckled bands across the back and tail. Hatchlings have bright green coloration on their heads that fades at about 1 month old.
•  Although tegus are terrestrial, or land, lizards and rarely found more than a few feet off the ground, they also are strong swimmers.
• Tegus are popular in the pet trade. In the wild, they can reproduce fast: Reproductive-age females (2 to 3 years old) can lay about 35 eggs year.
• They are not considered aggressive but will defend themselves. Tegus can react fast and have sharp teeth and claws, strong jaws and a strong tail.
• Tegus are legal in Georgia to own as pets. However, it is illegal to release any non-native animal into the wild.
• A study published in 2018 revealed that Argentine black and white tegus could expand across the southeastern U.S., from the Carolinas to Texas
Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan rates non-native invasive plants and animals such as tegus a significant threat to native wildlife. The plan is a comprehensive strategy for conserving wildlife and natural habitats statewide.

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