Huge South American lizards moving north to South Georgia

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Voracious' Big Lizards Invade Florida, Southern States, Study Says

The South has a climate suitable for Argentine black-and-white tegus

Tegu lizards are perfectly legal in Georgia — as pets.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, however, has been working since the beginning of the year to trap tegus sighted in Toombs and Tattnall counties, DNR states on its website. It's also investigating reports of tegus in other parts of Georgia.

People have reported seeing them crossing dirt roads, and they've shown up on trail cameras, Channel 2 Action News reported earlier.

According to a report last year, much of the South and "northern Mexico probably contains suitable habitat for one or more of these tegu species."

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Argentine black-and-white tegus can grow to be 4 feet long, weigh up to 10 pounds and live for 20 years. Because they are not native to Georgia, it is illegal to release them into the wild.

According to DNR, adult tegus have few predators and can multiply quickly. Females can reproduce when they reach about 12 inches long and can lay about 35 eggs a year.

Although they don’t tend to be aggressive toward humans, they will defend themselves, DNR states. “Tegus can react fast, and have sharp teeth and claws and strong jaws,” its website states.

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The biggest threats are to Georgia’s birds, small mammals and reptiles, and insects. Tegus are considered an invasive species, and 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.”

The large lizards haven’t been spotted this far north yet, but DNR asks the public to let it know if you happen to see one. This helps biologists document occurrences. Note the location, take a photo and report the sighting:

If you or someone you know has a tegu lizard as a pet but can no longer care for it, the best thing to do is contact an animal shelter or agency that can rehome it.

» How to protect your pet from snakebites

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