Tegu Lizards in the Everglades

tegu lizardsBurmese pythons are well-known to be a major problem in the Everglades; however, there are other invasive species in this vast wetland that are a problem to the local ecosystem. One such species is the tegu lizard, which originated in South America. In fact, they are on the state’s list of most aggressive invasive species. So, how did the tegu lizards end up in the Everglades in Florida? They either escaped or were released from people who owned them as pets.

The tegu lizard is a threat to native birds, alligators, sea turtles, small mammals, and crocodiles; biologists from the University of Florida said it is believed this lizard could be as destructive as the Burmese python. This lizard is still currently sold in pet stores in the state. As of right now, trapping and selling them is legal. State workers, members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and biologists from UF have seen these lizards in places they haven’t been before, which means there is a growing number of them.

Tegus live in burrows and forage around water; they eat fruit, seeds, eggs, dog or cat food, insects, and small mammals. They are active during the day and can often be spotted on roadsides and other disturbed areas. During the colder months, they stay covered or in a burrow. Since they are able to withstand colder temps (as low as 35 degrees), biologists believe they can threaten more species than the pythons can.

The can grow up to four feet long and are black and white with a banding pattern on the tail. Gold tegus and Red tegus have also been found in South Florida. The gold tegu grows to two to three feet and has black and gold stripes while the red tegu can grow up to four-and-a-half feet in size and the males have large jowls.

Right now, black-and-white tegus and gold tegus are breeding in parts of Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties.

Right now, officials are trying to capture as many tegus as possible so that the population does not replenish itself; there are a lot more tegus in the Everglades than they thought. In 2015, they captured around 500 and in 2009 they captured only 13 tegus. Some tegus are being tracked, so biologists can better understand their patterns for trapping efforts to go more successfully.

The biologists are trying to compile convincing evidence of the tegu’s impact on mammals like the python’s, so that hopefully the state will create a plan on how to deal with this invasive species in the future.

If you see a tegu in the Everglades, take a picture and report your location and sighting at 1-888-IVE-GOT1, IveGot1.org, or the IveGot1 app.

Explore the Everglades

The Everglades is a beautiful place full of some amazing creatures; unfortunately, from climate change and invasive species, the Everglades is at risk of shrinking and even disappearing. See this breathtaking wetland while you still can. A great way to explore this Park is on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. To book a tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.