They can grow to be as big as a dog, and they’ll eat just about anything.
The Argentine tegu has gone from exotic pet to pest in just a matter of years.
The omnivore’s appetite for Florida’s birds and turtles makes it a threat to the entire state.
Here are nine facts about the Argentine tegu.
The Argentine black and white tegu, as the name suggests, is not native to Florida.
Last month the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned commercial breeding of non-native tegu lizards in Florida. The ban doesn’t officially start for three years.
Tegus will eat just about anything, but have developed a particular taste for eggs. According to the FWC, “they have been documented consuming American alligator eggs.
They may also impact other ground-nesting native wildlife such as the gopher tortoise, American crocodile, sea turtles and ground-nesting birds. Tegus have also consumed gopher tortoise hatchlings in Florida.”
The tegu has been spotted as far north as Georgia and South Carolina with documented populations in south Florida as well as the Ocala National Forest. Click here to view a map of where the tegu has been found.
The FWC estimates the majority of wild tegus in the state come from people buying the lizard when it is small and then releasing it once it gets too big. Florida offers an Exotic Pet Amnesty Program. To learn more about the program, click here.
A tegu can grow to be up to 5 feet long and can live for 20 years. They can become food-aggressive and difficult to handle by less experienced owners.
The FWC estimates it spends up to $1 million a year on mitigation related to the tegu.
In 2020, the Florida legislature banned the lizard, but that decision was thrown out by a judge who ruled that the Florida constitution gives that power to FWC. In response, FWC passed a rule banning the breeding of the lizards in three years, although they can still be brought into the state for research and expedition.
Reptile breeders say they are working with the state to contain the population and oppose the FWC ban, saying it is too restrictive. Breeders also say that the current problem with the tegus was caused by prior generations of reptile handlers.