Native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, the Argentine black and white tegu (Salvator merianae) has slowly begun to invade Georgia. In 2017 and 2018, reported sightings in Tattnall and Tombs Counties did not cause much concern for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), because established tegu populations were restricted entirely to southern Florida and it was assumed the large lizards could not adapt to Georgia winters. Now, for the third year in a row, the invasive lizards have been trapped in the wild in southern Georgia, suggesting that our colder winters are not a barrier to the species becoming established in the state.
Physical Traits and Diet
Tegus are black to dark gray lizards with white speckled bands across their backs and tails. They can grow to over 4 feet long (adults documented in the wild in Georgia have averaged slightly less than 2 feet), weigh more than 10 pounds, and live up to 20 years. As omnivorous predators, tegus consume invertebrates, small vertebrates, fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, carrion, and pet food. They especially love eggs, including eggs of ground-nesting birds and other reptiles, such as American alligators and gopher tortoises, both protected species. Adult tegus have few natural predators and females can lay more than 30 eggs a year. Although not considered aggressive toward pets or people, tegus have sharp teeth and claws, strong jaws, and lashing tails they will use to defend themselves if threatened.
Likely Cause of Invasion
Tegus are popular in the pet trade because of their intelligence, large size, and long life span. Keeping tegus as pets is legal in Georgia but releasing non-native animals into the wild is not. While it is impossible to determine exactly how the tegus made their way into Georgia, it is likely that they escaped or were released from captivity.
Why They’re a Problem
The ability to live in multiple habitats, consume a wide variety of food sources, and rapidly reproduce makes the tegu lizard a prime candidate for a successful invader. Their invasion threatens our native species and wildlife not only as food sources, but also because tegus could possibly bring bacterial contamination to crops and spread exotic parasites to native wildlife.
Invasive and Nuisance Animals are No Match for the Wild Trappers Team
The tegu population is currently restricted to Tattnall and Toombs Counties but they have the potential to spread rapidly to our areas. If you spot one one of the lizards (alive or dead) you can call the Georgia Department of Natural Resources or simply give our trappers a call. At Wild Trappers our state-certified wildlife trappers safely and humanely remove nuisance wildlife, repair animal damages, and clean-up droppings and nesting materials for homeowners, property management companies, and industrial and commercial clients. We can also perform exclusion services (installing screening vents and chimney caps, sealing entry points, and building customized animal proof barriers) to prevent re-entry. Call (770) 828-9622, email, or contact us through our online form today!