A lizard species that can grow to be larger than many dogs and half the length of an alligator has South Carolina officials on high alert.
The South American tegu, a black and white or red lizard up to 4 feet long and weighing up to 10 pounds, has been reported in 14 of South Carolina’s 46 counties.
According to a WHNS story, several were released into the wild after their owners had no idea they’d grown that large.
The species generally consumes other reptiles as well as the eggs of ground-nesting birds such as turkeys. Salmonella is also carried by the invading lizard. They can live up to 20 years and females can lay about 35 eggs every year.
According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, 24 black and white tegus and two red tegus have been documented. Any sightings of the lizard species in the wild should be photographed and reported using this form.
Anderson, Beaufort, Berkeley, Darlington, Dorchester, Greenville, Greenwood, Horry, Kershaw, Lexington, Orangeburg, Pickens, Richland, and Union counties have all reported them.
The Argentine black and white tegu, originally observed in Georgia and Florida nearly a decade ago, was reported roaming at least six South Carolina counties earlier this year.
They flourish in mild temperatures like those seen around the southeast U.S. coast since they come from the tropical rainforests and savannas of central and eastern South America.
South Carolina passed legislation in 2021 requiring anyone who has a pet tegu to implant it with a microchip. In addition, residents are no longer permitted to buy or sell tegus in the state. Georgia and Alabama have laws that are comparable.
If a lizard is detected on someone’s property in Florida, they can be killed humanely.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, tegus burrow into the ground during the winter in a process similar to hibernation known as brumation because they can handle colder temperatures better than most reptiles due to their unique ability to raise their body temperature.