Most Central and Southern Florida residents are aware of the iguana situation which has cropped up in the last couple decades. The pest didn’t exist freely in nature when I lived in Broward and Dade county as a kid in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. But an overturned pet transport trucks and irresponsible iguana owners created what we have today, which is an expanding invasive species problem.
But now there is another large reptile which is spreading even faster and further than the iguana. The Tegu Lizard is a species of large reptile that is from Argentina. They were set loose by their owners over the years, much like the iguana was, and now the population is growing faster than the iguana ever did (2000 and 2010 alone, more than 79,000 live tegus were imported from South America). The Tegu has already been spotted in Central Florida even all the way up to Georgia. There have also been sightings in Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.
The Tegu Lizard will eat just about anything it can get into its mouth. This includes eggs from endangered species like that of the Gopher Turtle and Florida Scrub Jay. To say that this invasive species is a threat to indigenous wildlife is an understatement.
In Florida, wildlife officials have been busy trapping this reptile. Unfortunately they say their efforts don’t seem to be slowing the rapid growth. This is because the reptile can lay up to 70 eggs per year. And when the weather warms up every spring the populations surge northward. However, rappers in Georgia believe they have been able to prevent a massive invasion thus far.
The Tegu is very hardy and can survive climates that other reptiles may not be able to. It can survive very cold conditions for a period of time because it is able to heat its core by 18 degrees. It can also go into a hibernation mode where it almost totally shuts down its bodily functions and waits out the cold weather in a hidden trench or nook in the forest.
South Florida is home to well over 20,000 invasive iguanas by some estimates. There are no estimates as to how many tegu lizards are in the state. Researchers are busy tagging the animals so they can study its habits to better understand how to control the population.
image from NatGeo