Hailing from South America, the tegu, an exotic lizard, has made its way into the Sunshine State and is now considered to be established in the south Florida region.
These invasive black and white lizards can reach up to four feet in length. While they spend most of their time on land, they are capable of swimming. Native to South America, specifically Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, tegus now have breeding populations in Miami-Dade, Polk and Hillsborough Counties. Like many other invasive species, it is likely the populations were founded by escaped or released pets, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
“Tegus love eggs and are a direct threat to the endangered crocodile, as they are expanding into the nesting area and are known to eat reptile eggs,” said Jon Lane, chief of the Invasive Species Management Branch. “Tegus have been seen and captured inside Everglades National Park. In the park they will compete with other native reptiles as well as impacting alligators and eating their eggs.”
The FWC does not recommend capturing a tegu. While they’re most likely not aggressive, they will defend themselves with their sharp teeth and claws. If you see a tegu, take a picture and report the sighting and location by calling 1-888-IveGot1. Reporting a sighting will assist wildlife managers to better understand where the animals are found. A free phone app, IveGot1, provides an easy way to report exotic species findings.
The FWC is currently working with other agencies and organizations to assess the threat of this species and to develop management strategies such as targeted trapping and removal. The goal of these partnerships is to minimize the impact of tegus on native wildlife and natural areas.
Be part of the solution
• Don’t leave pet food outside.
• Cover outdoor openings and clear your yard of debris to minimize hiding and burrowing areas.
• Don’t release exotic animals into the Florida ecosystem. It’s not only illegal, but can be harmful.
• Report all tegu sightings to the exotic species hotline at 1-888-IveGot1 or online at Ivegot1.org.
• Be a responsible pet owner. Take the time to learn about an animal before you take one as a pet.
- Tips courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission