Georgia’s got a big problem with a giant lizard with a huge appetite. It’s the black and white banded-tail tegu, and it’s got the state’s Department of Natural Resources alarmed, as reported by CBS News.
South American Tegus, which are not native to the US, are often purchased as pets and then ‘released,’ but they were never intended to live in the wilds of Georgia. If they become established, they’ll be nearly impossible to get rid of. They were first seen in Florida, and since 2017 have been growing in numbers in Georgia as well.
This initially cute reptile can grow up to 4 feet long — not the nicest thing to encounter when you’re out and about, and in fact some people mistake it for an alligator. It can weigh up to ten pounds, and to support that weight it likes to eat other creatures’ eggs. It’ll devour the eggs of turtles, alligators and ground-nesting birds like turkey and quail. The tegu especially likes the taste of gopher tortoise eggs and can sometimes take over their burrow homes; the gopher tortoise is a protected and endangered state reptile.
Tegus mostly hang out on land but can also swim and submerge for long periods. They’re active during the day and you may spy them by the roadside. Typically, they burrow during colder weather, but climate change may be affecting that impulse. The scariest part? A female tegu can lay 30 eggs per clutch... and her offspring may live for 15 to 20 years.
State officials are asking people to report the sighting of any tegus in the wild to the Georgia Invasive Species Task Force. The online form includes a map to identify where the reptile was spotted and how big it was, among other data. Luckily, they seem to be confined, at least for now, to the counties of Toombs and Tattnall in the southeast and are not yet walking upright towards Tokyo out of the ocean.