DNR is assessing a wild population of Argentine black and white tegus in Toombs and Tattnall counties in southeast Georgia. Here’s how you can help.
At a Glance
Argentine black and white tegus (Salvator merianae) are big, fast-moving lizards native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. Black to dark gray with white speckled bands across the back and tail, these reptiles can grow 4 feet long, weigh up to 10 pounds or more and live 20 years. Hatchlings have bright green on their heads, a coloration that fades at about 1 month old.
Tegus are active during the day. These terrestrial lizards are rarely found more than a few feet off the ground. But they are strong swimmers and can stay submerged for extended periods. Tegus occupy savannas and disturbed habitats such as forest clearings, fence rows and roadsides. They winter in burrows or under cover in a hibernation-like state called brumation. In Argentina, tegus are found from sea level up to altitudes of 4,100 feet.
Tegus are legal as pets in Georgia but it is against the law to release non-native animals into the wild. Adult tegus have few predators and can multiply quickly. Females reach reproductive age at about 12 inches long or after their second season of brumation. They can lay about 35 eggs a year.
As a non-native species, tegus are not protected by Georgia wildlife laws or regulations, but animal cruelty and local ordinances apply.
The Argentine black and white tegu is an invasive species that poses threats to Georgia’s birds, small mammals and reptiles, and insects. Tegus also eat fruit, vegetables, plants, pet food, carrion and the eggs of chickens, ground-nesting birds and other reptiles, including American alligators and gopher tortoises, both protected species. Tegus have been documented eating young gopher tortoises.
Although not considered aggressive toward people, they will defend themselves if threatened or harassed. Tegus can react fast, and have sharp teeth and claws and strong jaws.
DNR is working with the U.S. Geological Survey and Georgia Southern University to address tegus in Toombs and Tattnall. With support from USGS and DNR, Georgia Southern is trapping tegus and following up on local sightings. DNR is also investigating occasional reports of tegus elsewhere in Georgia.
Early detection and rapid response are key to preventing the spread and impact of tegus and other invasive species.
Reporting tegu sightings in the wild to DNR. This helps biologists document occurrences and determine the best response. Note the location, take a photo and report the sighting:
Toombs and Tattnall County residents are advised to keep pet food inside, cover outdoor openings and clear their yards of debris that can provide cover for tegus.
Be a responsible pet owner: Georgians should do their research before buying an exotic pet, and don't let it loose.
Sources include: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.