TOOMBS COUNTY, Ga. — In Georgia, we have to deal with wild hogs, kudzu, and now, invasive lizards.
They're called tegus, and they're not the kind of animal we want to welcome into the area.
The Department of Natural Resources is actively trapping these tegus and euthanizing them when they find one.
Here's why: the lizards are eating machines -- they go after native plants or they might chow down on a small gopher tortoise, which is a protected species in Georgia, and as Bob Sargent with DNR explains, there are other things on their menu.
"They prey on eggs of nesting birds, including some of our game species like quail and turkey. They prey on native reptiles, other lizards," he said.
Sargent says tegus began showing up last year.
It's legal to own them but illegal to dump them, outside which is what they think happened.
To date, DNR has caught 14 tegus in two years, which means they are apparently surviving through the winter.
"We're running 75 traps a day," Sargent calculated.
Right now, the state is seeing the reptiles in Tattnall and Toombs counties, but that's just a hop, skip, and a jump into Wheeler, Laurens, and Treutlen counties, and just over an hour from Macon.
"We're not sure if these animals have spread beyond these counties or not, but it's a big landscape," he admitted.
In one study, it showed that big landscape could include the entire southeastern United States.
"There was a high probability the species could spread from the Carolinas to Texas," Sargent projected.
Right now, the only other state they inhabit is Florida.
If you see a tegu, you can shoot it if it's legal to shoot on your property, but Sargent says approach it with caution.
"Don't try to catch one of these animals by hand -- they could bite," he warned. "They have lots of small teeth, as do most lizards do, and powerful jaws, so they could deliver a nasty bite if you try to pick it up."
So be on the lookout for another invasive species chomping its way through the woods or your backyard, and call the state if you spot one -- they'll come and set a trap in your area.
DNR says make sure if you shoot this animal, it really is a tegu. They've had reports of people shooting other native lizards.
If you see a tegu, you can call 478-994-1438 to get in touch with the state.
Here is the DNR link to report a siting to the state.
There is another organization helping with tegus.
The Georgia Reptile Society has officially formed a “Tegu Task Force”, which operates through their licensed rescue program. This task force, much like the entirety of the organization, is run by volunteers within the society, and headed by their Adoption Director, Kathy Smith.
"We have known of the issue with tegus for over two years now and have always offered to help," said Smith. "With the formation of the task force, we hope this will encourage people to reach out, to allow us to help contain the animals humanely, and place them with responsible owners and education programs."
Here is the link to the Georgia Reptile Society.
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