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Invasive giant lizards that 'eat just about anything they want' spreading in Georgia and Florida

Oh great, now we have murder hornets and giant lizards.

Hal Beral /VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Argentine black and white tegu, also known as the Argentine giant tegu, is a lizard species that can grow up to four feet long. The invasive lizards native to South America have been spreading in Georgia and Florida. Wildlife officials are concerned about the lizards because of their insatiable diet.

The Argentine black and white tegu is native to tropical rain forests, savannas, and semi-deserts of eastern and central South America. These animals were brought to the U.S. as pets because they are extremely intelligent and can even be housebroken.

The large lizards have found their way into the wild in Florida and Georgia. Now, wildlife officials in the Southeast are concerned that these invasive lizards are threatening other species.

Florida's state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said that the Argentine giant tegu has been spotted all over the state starting in 2006, and have since established populations in South and Central Florida.

In Georgia, the lizards have established populations in Tattnall and Toombs counties. Wildlife officials said the lizards, which can live for 20 years, have been spotted for three straight years, meaning that they can survive the cold of Georgia's winter.

"Releasing it into the wild is the absolute worst thing to do," said Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist John Jensen. "It will affect our native species and we can't have that."

Please tell me these things eat murder hornets. Tegus are omnivores that have sharp teeth and a strong bite. They eat insects, spiders, snails, small birds, eggs from reptiles and birds, seeds, and fruit.

"They eat just about anything they want, plant and animal matter, and one of their favorite foods are eggs from ground nesting animals such as gopher tortoises, our protected state reptile," Jensen said.

First murder hornets, then gypsy moths, now giant lizards. What will be next? An invasion of poisonous frogs? Maybe killer bears?

Have You Seen Tegus in the Wild in Georgia? www.youtube.com

"Established from escaped or released pets, these large lizards are voracious predators that have been found consuming a variety of native wildlife in the longer-established Florida populations," according to the Orianne Society, a group dedicated to the conservation of reptiles and amphibians.

Jensen added that the lizards could take over the homes of burrowing animals, such as gopher tortoises.

"We're trying to remove them from the wild because they can have negative impacts on our native species," Jensen said in a YouTube video warning of the dangers of the invasive lizard.

Jensen encouraged Georgians who spot the lizard to take a photo and report any tegu sightings online.

"If you're able to safely and humanely dispatch of the animal, we encourage that and we want that information, too," Jensen said.

UF/IFAS Research - Invasive Tegu www.youtube.com

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