Tegu Lizards Invade Hillsborough County, FL

By: Tina Volpe - February 27, 2014

Some very large lizards are roaming around Hillsborough County, FL. There have been at least 100 sightings and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation agency is concerned.

They are tegu lizards, green and black reptiles that can grow up to four feet long and weigh more than 30 pounds.

Wildlife officials are worried that the ecosystem will be disrupted by a non-native species. They believe a breeder may have released his animals into the wild. Another probable cause for their numbers in the wild are previous pet owners who realized that these were not the cute little reptiles they purchased when they began to grow quite large.

“People buy these cute little lizards at the pet store and then they grow to be too big for an aquarium and they are too expensive to feed and then they just set them free in the preserves,” FWC biologist Tessie Offner said in a statement, according to WTSP News.

Although they are native to South America, the climate in Florida is similar to their natural environment, and they are having no trouble surviving.

“Certainly we have a lot to learn,” Steven Johnson, with the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, told the Tampa Tribune. “But there is potential for impacts to native species by direct predation from tegus.”

“They have a broad diet and consume fruits, seeds, insects, snails, as well as small vertebrates, including reptile and bird eggs,” he continued. “They are a particular threat to imperiled species such as gopher tortoises and scrub jays (tegus are capable of climbing small shrubs to get at scrub jay nests).”

The concern is that they breed so quickly, with the typical female laying from 20 – 50 eggs per year, that their impact could seriously disrupt the native wildlife.

“Although direct predation on native vertebrates – small birds, rodents, reptiles and amphibians – is likely the greatest threat,” Johnson told the paper, “tegus could compete with native species for food and space if their populations became dense enough.”

They are not a threat to humans, according to Exotic Pets, stating that the lizards are actually pretty docile. However, biologists are concerned if they are not dealt with, they could throw the entire ecosystem out of whack.

“We had a whole gopher turtle preserve on our 1,100 acres and now they are all gone,” Marvel Stewart, a volunteer horse rescue worker, told WTSP News. “We see four to five a week on our property.”

Since the natural predators of the lizard are largely non-existent in the area, their invasion is only going to get more troublesome. Animal control has made an effort to capture and humanely euthanize them, but keeping up is difficult, not to mention finding them.

The lizards are being lured and trapped using raw chicken; Florida Wildlife commission has set at least 28 traps in the wetland conservation areas and many more on private property in an attempt to curve the population boom, but there are still hundreds of lizards in the wild.

Image via YouTube

Tina Volpe

About the Author

Tina VolpeTina Volpe is an author, freelance writer and a college student. She loves spending time with her rescued feathered and furry friends... cooking Italian food, reading, writing, hiking and dreams of a huge animal sanctuary. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Google+

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  • Zanthar

    In Florida we also have a bigger problem with Burmese pythons being released by “caring” owners, They have done hunts for the B p’s. { they love to sit in the sun on roads in the middle of nowhere, run over their head if you can }The NRA should support hunting both of them where ever they are, if they are that large and invasive. It’s a win/win. If your hiking in the area you should be permitted to bag those pests. When I was in junior high in Chicago, we used to shoot rats in this field, no one ever stopped us, we were just having fun killing them buggers, some get pretty big,well I’m just saying…

  • Paul Berg

    In my humble opinion, both the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Agency are equally criminally responsible for allowing the importation of these vicious cold-blooded reptile predators into this country. Under the guise of them being “pets” these agencies have endangered our indiginous wildlife. These reptiles are in no way any type of “pet”. An immediate bounty should be place on all these reptiles even if it means the funds will come out of the salaries of the incompetent moron administrators who are allowing these animals into this country. Also, they should probably be criminally prosecuted for their negligent actions.