Invasive tegu lizards expanding in Everglades National Park in Florida


Black and white tegus are invasive reptile species native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. The species was introduced to Florida through the pet trade and then likely released from captivity into the environment. The lizards have been steadily moving to Northern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama over the past few years.

The lizard grows up to 4 feet long and weighs 10 pounds or more. Researchers are mainly concerned about the tegus' eating habits because their diet mainly consists of eggs of other birds and reptiles, which means they pose a threat to endangered native species.

The lizards were documented in the park in 2020 and roughly 300 traps have been placed in the park to catch them. By April, the traps were catching 10 or so tegus a day. As the months grow warmer, more lizards are expected to be captured.

Kevin Donmoyer, an invasive species biologist at the national park, said:

They can get up to 10 pounds. The size of a small dog. Captive tegus, there's plenty of material on the internet with big tegus walking around people's houses, hanging out with the dogs. So we know, at least by 2020, they were breeding in the park. The population is still growing. We're trying to learn as much as we can as we go, and just keep bumping up the [capture] numbers, learning more and more about them.

Last year, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission added the Argentine black and white tegu to its prohibited species list. As per the new rule, pet owners cannot purchase tegu lizards, among other nonnative reptiles newly prohibited. Those who already own them, must get them registered and microchipped. The lizards can’t be released to the wild, and if owners do release them or their tegu lizard escapes, they can be traced back to the owner.

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