An ugly and invasive lizard is making a new home in the state of Georgia, threatening native species as dangerous as the American alligator.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Argentine black and white tegu has so far only been confirmed in two counties in the state.
The lizards, which can grow up to four feet long, have been confirmed in Toombs and Tattnall counties. Authorities are urging residents to remove outdoor pet food that could present an easy meal for the beasts.
Native to South America, it’s believed that the wild breeding populations in the United States are descendants of released pet tegus.
Females can lay roughly 35 eggs every year, explaining the species’ explosion in growth. While only confirmed in two Georgia counties, the tegu may soon make its way north.
Thankfully, residents are cleared to engage the cold-blooded invaders to help stem the tide.
“Note that as a non-native species, tegus in the wild in Georgia are not protected by state wildlife laws or regulations,” the Georgia DNR states.
“They can be legally trapped or killed.”
The species has an apparent ability to eat just about any animal it can scarf down, and is devastating local environments.
While it may not be able to compete with behemoths like the alligator directly, the tegu can still do major harm.
The invasive lizard is perfectly content to chow down on gator eggs, as well as those belonging to turkeys, quail, tortoises, and other species that nest on the ground. It’s clear than an unchecked invasion would be devastating for native species.
When these reptiles encounter people, the animals can be aggressive if they feel threatened.
A 2015 encounter in Florida (a state already inundated by the lizard) had one man convinced that the lizards are not fun to have around.
“I was scared, man,” Floridian Bradley Arington said after a tegu chased him in his suburban neighborhood, according to Commercial Appeal.
“I heard this very loud hissing sound and I boogied back inside,” Arington said, “and it kept coming at me so I ran.”
While the lizards may only be able to deliver superficial wounds with razor-sharp teeth and claws, it’s parasites, bacteria, and viruses harbored by the tegu that pose real danger to humans.
Residents of Florida and Georgia are urged to call their state’s wildlife department if they encounter any tegu, dead or alive.
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