According to a press release sent out Friday, June 25, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is soliciting the help of citizens in a specific area of the state to try and eradicate or, at the very least, control a wild population of Argentine black and white tegus. Though the press release targeted those who live in Toombs and Tattnall counties, residents of southeast Emanuel (around Oak Park, for example) might be of some help as well.
Growing up to 4 feet long and weighing 10 pounds or more, the lizard native to South America is an invasive species that threatens Georgia wildlife.
Tegus will eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds—including quail and turkeys—and other reptiles such as American alligators and gopher tortoises, both of which are protected species. They will also eat chicken eggs, fruit, vegetables, plants, pet food, carrion, and small, live animals from grasshoppers to young gopher tortoises.
There are concerns as well that tegus could spread exotic parasites to native wildlife and cause bacterial contamination of crops. Research shows that these reptiles, like most, carry salmonella.
Early detection, rapid response, and public involvement are key to stopping tegus in the wild in Georgia.
DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Georgia Southern University are trapping tegus, tracking sightings, and assessing the population.
What you can do
If you see a tegu in the wild, alive or dead, contact DNR immediately via www.gainvasives.org/tegu; call 478-994-1438; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. These reports help biologists document occurrences and respond effectively. Note the location and, if possible, take a photo.
Here are some additional tips:
• Keep pet food inside.
• Fill holes that might serve as shelter.
• Clear yards of debris such as brush piles that can provide cover for tegus.
• Be a responsible pet owner. Do your research before buying an exotic pet, and don’t turn it loose!
Tegus at a glance
• The Argentine black and white tegu (Salvator merianae), largest of all tegu species, is native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.
• Black to dark gray with white speckled bands across the back and tail, these reptiles can weigh 10 pounds or more and live 20 years. Hatchlings have bright green on their heads, a coloration that fades at about 1-month-old.
• Sizes vary by age. Hatchlings can be about 6 to 8” long. Adults documented in the wild in Georgia have averaged slightly less than 2’.
• Tegus are active by day. These fast-moving, terrestrial lizards are rarely found more than a few feet off the ground, but they are strong swimmers and can stay submerged for extended periods.
• Tegus occupy mixed grassland/woodlands and disturbed habitats such as forest clearings, fence rows, and roadsides. They winter in burrows or under cover in a hibernation-like state called brumation. In Argentina, tegus are found from sea level up to altitudes of 4,100’.
• Adult tegus have few predators and can multiply quickly. Females reach reproductive age at about 12” long or after their second season of brumation. They can lay about 35 eggs a year. Hatching in Georgia would be expected in June/July.
• Tegus are legal as pets in Georgia but it is illegal to release non-native animals into the wild.
• Although not considered aggressive toward people, tegus will defend themselves if threatened. They can react fast and lash with their tails. They have sharp teeth and claws and strong jaws.