Invasive lizard threatens Georgia wildlife

Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 4:56 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Georgia’s population continues to grow. But now there’s something else that wants to call the Peach State home, it’s an invasive lizard called tegu.

Daniel Sullenberger, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources Senior Wildlife Biologist, tells CBS46, “if you see one it will be the biggest lizard you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Tegus grow as long as 4 feet and live close to 20 years. The invasive lizard is native to South America, but now it’s threatening Georgia wildlife.

Sollenberger says, “they’ll eat plants and animals, fruits, insects, small mammals, and they really really like eggs. We have a lot of things here that lay eggs that we don’t want them eating.”

The lizards will eat hatchlings of protected species, including the gopher tortoise and American alligators.

So far, tegus have been spotted in southeast Georgia in Toombs and Tattnall counties. They were likely once kept as pets. Georgia DNR officials say they’re not sure how the lizards got into our state, but they want to make sure their population has not spread.

Georgia DNR is asking all Georgians to watch out for tegus now during their most active season.

“Right now, they’re coming out of their burrows. They want to mate and they want to find food, so they’re moving around a lot, particularly the males will travel around a lot looking for other females, " Sollenberger says.

You can spot tegus by their distinctive tail, which is black to dark gray with white speckled bands across the back. Tegu hatchlings have bright green on their heads, a coloration that fades at about one month old.

Sollenberger says, “they take up too much space in the food web, and there’s not really room for anything else without displacing some animals that we have here already that we’d like to keep around.”

Georgia DNR says if you see a tegu, take a picture and send it to them here. And if you can, trap it legally.