SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. – The Georgia Wildlife Agency is asking residents to report sightings of an invasive lizard that may pose a threat to native species.
The state Department of Natural Resources is trying to locate and eradicate South American tegus from Georgia before the lizards can thrive in larger numbers. So far, the only known wild population in the state has been found in Toombs and Tattnall counties in southeast Georgia.
Wildlife officials hope to prevent the black and white lizards from spreading further. They can be up to 1.2 meters long and weigh up to 4.5 kilograms. They have a varied appetite that favors the eggs of turtles, alligators, and ground-nesting birds.
“They can live almost anywhere and eat almost anything,” MNR wildlife biologist Daniel Sollenberger said in a news release.
“We are focusing our efforts on achieving two goals: documenting the extent of tegus presence in the southeast Georgia wilderness and removing these animals as soon as possible after they are detected,” Sollenberger said. “With locals, hunters and others helping us monitor and control tegus, we are cautiously optimistic about our ability to control this population.”
Authorities aren’t sure exactly how tegus were introduced to the wild in Georgia, but they are commonly kept as pets.
Last year, the DNR removed a single tegu that was spotted on a game camera and later caught in a trap. Seven were recovered, dead and alive, in 2020.
Wildlife officials warn that if tegus become established in the wild, they will be nearly impossible to eradicate. Wild populations have also been found in South Carolina and Florida. Trapping at a site along Everglades National Park can produce hundreds of lizards each season.
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