The lizard is known as the Argentine black and white tegu, and wildlife officials are working to eradicate them from the area, where they pose a significant threat to the environment.
Not only can they grow to be quite large, but they eat just about anything they can find. The tegu diet includes the eggs of ground-nesting birds like quails and turkeys, and the eggs of other reptiles such as American alligators and gopher tortoises, which are considered protected species.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Conservation Section biologist John Jensen says the lizards are capable of living for up to 20 years, and the females are known to lay up to 35 eggs a year. They typically weigh around ten pounds and are not known to be harmful to humans. However, they do not have many natural predators, and they eat a variety of things beyond eggs, such as small reptiles, pet food, and vegetables.
Another issue concerning the Argentine tegu is its burrowing habits. The lizards are known to take over burrows created by other animals, which can cause displacement.
Currently, the lizards are primarily being found in Georgia’s Tattnall and Toombs counties.
The black and white speckled lizards are legal to own as pets in Georgia. Still, Jensen urges any pet owners who are looking to get rid of their animals not to release them into the wild but to try and find a reptile adoption agency.
The biologist clarified that releasing tegu lizards into the wild “is the absolute worst thing to do.”
Jensen continued, saying, “if you are able to safely and humanely dispatch of the animal, we encourage that and we want that information too.”
People reported that the Argentine tegu was found initially in Florida before members of the species began to appear in Georgia. The Orianne Society, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving amphibians and reptiles, noted that this year is the third year that these lizards have been found in Georgia, which likely means they can thrive in Georgia’s cold winter weather.
“It is critical to remove invasive species early in the invasion process to have the best chance of success,” said the society.
On social media, several users responded to the news by making jokes about the lizards combined with the many other notable events plaguing the year 2020, including the coronavirus pandemic and the discovery of murder hornets in the United States.