Additional non-native tegu lizards documented in South Carolina

The lizards, which have become established in Georgia, pose threat to native wildlife

The non-native black and white tegu lizard apparently brought some friends, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Since its initial report from Lexington County in August, the SCDNR has confirmed eight additional sightings, according to its news release.

Five of the sightings were from Lexington and Richland counties, two from Berkeley County and one from Greenville County, according to the SCDNR.

Of these, five tegus were successfully removed from the wild, SCDNR officials reported.

“The number and distribution of black and white tegu reports in just a few weeks is concerning. Documented sightings come from as far north as Greenville county and as far south as Berkeley county,” state herpetologist Andrew Grosse said in the release. “The individuals removed measured between 2 and 3 feet long and consisted of both females and males. Necropsies show the tegus have all been scavenging native plants and animals, including toads, various insects and muscadines. This indicates these individuals are wild, free roaming and foraging opportunistically. It is important that this species does not establish in our state.”

After taking root in Georgia and Florida, the non-native black and white tegu lizard recently made its way to South Carolina. There have been reports of at least 80 tegu lizards in South Carolina, according to the SCDNR.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources recently announced its first documented case of the lizard in the Palmetto State.

An approximately 2½-foot adult female was captured in Lexington County, the department said in a news release.

The lizards are popular in the pet trade and can grow to 4 feet, according to the release.

Grosse said in a statement to The Associated Press that the lizards pose a threat to native wildlife.

“Tegus mature and reproduce quickly, though most concerning may be their preference for eggs and the potential impacts to our native ground-nesting birds like turkey and quail, as well as other species such as the state-endangered gopher tortoise,” Grosse said.

The department is asking the public to report sightings of the lizards.

The Argentine black and white tegu, an invasive lizard species from South America, also has posed a threat to native wildlife in Georgia, state officials told The New York Times.

“We are trying to remove them from the wild because they can have negative impacts on our native species,” John Jensen, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said in a recent video while holding one of the lizards. “They eat just about anything they want.”

Eggs are one of the tegu’s favorite foods, according to The New York Times, and it’s not picky about which kind, whether alligator, quail, turkey or gopher tortoise (Georgia’s official reptile).

Tegus, which can weigh 10 pounds or more, also eat fruits, vegetables, plants, pet food and insects, according to The New York Times.

First spotted in the wild in South Florida in 2008, the lizards quickly expanded and found their way into the swamps of the Everglades, The New York Times reported.

Jensen said the lizards have become established as an “exotic invasive species” in areas of South Florida and in Toombs and Tattnall counties in Georgia, according to the newspaper.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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