ATLANTA — Forget murder hornets. Tegus lizards are posing a real risk to Georgia.
We first told you about the lizards when they moved from Florida into southern areas of Georgia last year, but the Georgia Department of Natural Resources say the creatures are now established in the state. And that's a bad thing.
The Argentine black and white tegus can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 10 pounds. The DNR said many people report them to officials mistaking them for baby alligators.
DNR officials say tegus will eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds—including quail and turkeys—and other reptiles, such as American alligators and gopher tortoises, which are protected species.
They will also eat chicken eggs, fruit, vegetables, plants, pet food, carrion and small live animals, from grasshoppers to young gopher tortoises.
The DNR and its partners are working to eradicate a wild population in Toombs and Tattnall counties. They’re worried the lizards have the potential to spread “rapidly” to other parts of Georgia. The DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division, the U.S. Geological Survey and Georgia Southern University are trapping tegus, tracking sightings and assessing the population.
Officials are warning people in Toombs and Tattnall counties to keep pet food inside, fill holes that might serve as shelter and clear yards of debris, such as brush piles that can provide cover for tegus.
If people have them as pets, officials say the worst thing you can do it is to release them into the wild.
"Releasing it into the wild is the absolute worst thing to do. It will affect our native species and we can't have that," DNR wildlife biologist John Jensen said.
Officials want to remind people if they come across these lizards, alive or dead, to call the DNR. The reports help biologists document occurrences and respond effectively. Note the location, take a photo if possible and report the sighting online here.
DNR notes that as a non-native species, tegus in the wild in Georgia are not protected by state wildlife laws or regulations. They can be legally trapped or killed. However, the DNR said animal cruelty and local ordinances apply.