Anyone who sees a tegu in the wild should snap a photo and report the sighting to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

By Cailey Rizzo
May 15, 2020
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Credit: Getty Images

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has put the entire state on lookout for four-foot-long black-and-white lizards that will “eat just about anything they want.”

The Argentine tegu is an invasive species threatening Georgia wildlife. The animals are originally from South America, but they have started to appear in South Florida and a few Georgia counties. They particularly enjoy feasting on eggs from ground and nesting animals, like turtles and birds.

Invasive species like the tegu “are a significant problem for native animals and plants,” according to the DNR. “Invasives compete with native wildlife for food and other resources. They can cause habitat damage and transmit diseases and parasites. In many cases, they also prey on native wildlife.”

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is concerned because the tegus are eating the eggs of protected species and may push them out of their burrows. Tegus don’t have natural predators in Georgia and the females are capable of laying up to 35 eggs per year, so they can very quickly take over an area.

John Jensen, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Conservation Section, warned the public about the tegus' intrusion in a video.

Anyone who spots a tegu in the wild is encouraged to take a photo and report the sighting to the DNR. They are sometimes confused for baby alligators that have wandered far away from water. Although they are not naturally aggressive, when they are threatened, they may lash out with their sharp teeth and claws.

But some folks also keep the animal as a pet. The DNR encourages people to do their research before adopting an exotic pet and, if they find they can no longer take care of it, to responsibly relocate the animal through an adoption center. "Releasing it into the wild is the absolute worst thing to do," said Jensen.