The Georgia Department of Natural Resources wants us to look out for the Argentine Black and White Tegu. I received the following notice today by email.
"Argentine black and white tegus are big South American lizards that are popular in the pet trade but trouble when released in the wild. Tegus have been causing problems in Florida for years.
"Now it’s possible these reptiles that can grow up to 4 feet long have a toehold in south Georgia.
"Talk of large, odd-looking lizards has been circulating in eastern Toombs and western Tattnall counties. They’ve been spotted crossing dirt roads. They've turned up on game cams. One was even trapped in a farmer’s shop.
"Underscoring the stories, since last summer DNR has documented at least four adult Argentine black and white tegus and 20 sightings in the stretch of forest, farmland and sandy-bottomed streams from Lyons to Reidsville. Senior wildlife biologist John Jensen and others at DNR investigating the issue are concerned the area has a breeding population, although recruitment – young tegus – has not been confirmed.
“"We think there’s something going on,"Jensen said. 'But we need to know more.'
"DNR is encouraging residents to report tegu sightings. The agency will emphasize that message at the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival this weekend, only a 20-minute drive from the Toombs/Tattnall County line.
"Why the worry? Argentine black and white tegus are an invasive species that grows large, reproduces fast and eats lots of things, from fruit to eggs, birds and small mammals. Tegus would pose a threat to native wildlife, including gopher tortoises, a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing. Tegus have been documented using gopher tortoise burrows and eating tortoise eggs and the young.
"The eggs of ground-nesting birds such as northern bobwhites and wild turkeys could be susceptible. Tegus also will eat vegetables, pet food and chicken eggs.
"If tegus are reproducing in the wild, catching them early is crucial. Once established, as with Florida’s two known populations, the only effective response is trying to stem their numbers and spread. Meanwhile, a study published last year rated much of the Southeast as potentially suitable for Argentine black and white tegus.
"With the winter dormancy period ending and tegus’ reproductive season starting, DNR has a simple request regarding the non-native reptiles: 'If you’ve seen something,' Jensen said, 'let us know.'
Four feet long?!? Are you kidding me? They're about as big as some 'gators!
You don't live in Georgia? That doesn't mean you shouldn't be concerned. If they're in south Georgia now, they could be in your southern state before long.