Dog-Sized Lizards Slowly Invading Southern United States

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The South has an invasion on its hands. No, it may not be aliens, but it is large and reptilian. Dog-sized lizards are slowly sweeping across the southern part of the United States.

Black and white tegus are native to Argentina, far away from the likes of South Carolina and Georgia where they’ve been spotted. The reptile has a spotted pattern and can grow up to four feet long, making it the size of everyone’s favorite canine companion. The lizards also live 15 to 20 years and can lay up to 30 eggs a year.

The rest of the country can thank pet owners in Florida for introducing the large lizards to the country. Importers brought around 79,000 tegus to the U.S. over a 15-year span.

The animal was reintroduced to the wild when pet owners abandoned them or they escaped. Now it seems the lizard is here to stay.

“The whole southern part of the U.S. is at risk of tegu invasion,” Amy Yackel Adams warned Outdoor Life. Adams is a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Lizards Are Making Their Way North

The Florida Everglades has become a haven for the creatures, which threaten natural wildlife like turtles and ground-nesting birds. After-all, the lizards aren’t picky eaters. So far, the park has captured 900 of the lizards just this year. They’ve also become prey for the Burmese python, which is also an invasive species.

“The Everglades are an internationally important hotspot of biodiversity. The national park has been greatly altered by the pythons,” Yackel Adams said. “The tegus could be a potential prey item for Burmese pythons in that system. That helps to increase the number of pythons because now they may be able to use that as prey source.”

But, the lizards have started to migrate northwards to South Carolina and Georgia. For instance, the creature has been spotted in two Georgia counties and four counties in South Carolina. So far, the states have taken the ecological invasion seriously. But can the invasion be prevented?

“[Tegus] undergo extreme hunting pressure in South America for their skin,” Yackel Adams said. “That does not seem to really make a dent in their population, so that gives you a sense of how difficult their removal is once they are established.”