Giant, invasive lizards spreading through parts of Florida and Georgia

If a deadly pandemic, Asian murder hornets, and giant gypsy moths weren’t enough, 2020 has something new in store for the US — giant, invasive lizards that could wreak havoc on local wildlife.

The Argentine tegu lizard is spreading through several southern states, feasting on the eggs of ground-nesting birds and other reptiles, such as American alligators and the endangered gopher tortoise, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Believing that the lizards spread after pet owners released them into the wild, the reptiles are now considered to be “established” in parts of Florida and Georgia, the DNR warns.

The department is now on the prowl trying to eradicate the black and white lizards — which can grow up to four-and-a-half feet long — from the state before they can ravage Georgia wildlife.

DNR wildlife biologist John Jensen said there is fear that the reptiles will “displace” the gopher tortoise, a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing, if they continue to spread through the state.

“They can have negative impacts on our native species. They eat just about anything they want — plant and animal matter. And one of their favorite foods is eggs,” Jensen said in a video PSA the department published recently, titled “Have You Seen Tegus in the Wild in Georgia?”

“We really encourage the general public to report sightings of this animal. That allows us to determine where to focus our trapping efforts in an effort to eradicate this species,” Jensen said.

Jensen said the lizards are “common” pets and warned owners against letting theirs loose in Georgia.

“If you’ve come to a point where you no longer want this animal, there are reptile adoption groups that may take it and try to find a home,” he said.

“Releasing it into the wild is the absolute worst thing to do.”


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