Leapin’ lizards! Watch for tegus
An invasive lizard species may be making its way to Lee County.
Argentine black and white tegu have been spotted in neighboring Charlotte County. The non-native species can prey upon native birds, mammals and insects and may negatively impact bird, alligator and turtle nests.
“In the last year, the FWC has received three confirmed tegu sightings on or near Bronco Road in Punta Gorda,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Melody Kilborn.
“The FWC has also received unverified reports of tegu sightings nearby off of Washington Loop Road, Bermont Road, and within the northern boundary of Babcock-Webb WMA,” she added.
Information cards were mailed to Charlotte County homes in hope to help biologist with removal of these large, terrestrial lizards.
According to FWC, there are two Florida counties with existing tegu breeding populations -Hillsborough and Miami-Dade.
Although these breeding grounds may be far from Lee County, the existence of the species in Charlotte County could mean these large specimens could be headed here next.
Tegu may grow up to four feet in size and are most active during the day, taking to a burrow at night.
Their diet consists of fruits, vegetables, eggs, insects and small lizards and rodents.
The lizards, native to South America, are believe to have been brought here via escaped or released pets.
They are black and white in color with banding along the tail, spending most of their time on land, though they can swim and submerge themselves in water for long periods of time.
Females in Florida can lay up to 35 eggs, with breeding season being the early summer.
Juvenile tegus have a green coloration on their head that fades shortly after they are born.
“Tegus are not innately aggressive, but will defend themselves if aggravated or threatened,” said Kilborn.
“Continuing to monitor tegu population and stopping the spread of the species is vital to conserving Florida’s native wildlife, which can be negatively impacted by this species,” she added.
The FWC says tegu are especially attracted to pet food.
“Never leave pet food outside. Anything that can attract other animals or wildlife, such as cats or raccoons, can also attract tegus. Cover outdoor openings in buildings and clear your yard of debris that tegus might be able to hide or burrow in. Never release exotic animals into the Florida ecosystem. It is not only illegal, but also can be harmful to native wildlife,” Kilborn said.
So what should you do if you spot a tegu?
“Report all tegu sightings to the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 1-888-IVE-GOT1 or online at Ivegot1.org. If possible, take a picture and note the exact location when reporting. Reports of tegu sightings are handled on a case-by-case basis. The best method of removing tegus is by trapping. Depending on the situation, the FWC may be able to provide assistance with removal or provide a list of trappers to the reporting individual. Do not attempt to catch a tegu on your own. They are wild animals and will defend themselves. Please take a picture and call the hotline.”
If any residents have an exotic pet they no longer wish to keep, instead of releasing it into the wild, call the hotline number or bring it to one of FWC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Days.