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Look Out, Midlands: More Sightings Of Cat-Sized Lizards That Could Threaten Wildlife

SC cracks down on non-native lizards…

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Remember the large, predatory lizards that first showed up in South Carolina last year?

Unfortunately, like most problems that 2020 gave us, the lizards are still lingering in 2021.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) reported that the Palmetto State has logged 13 official sightings of the black and white tegu lizard since it was first spotted in August 2020.

SCDNR officials said that these non-native lizards have been reported throughout South Carolina — including Greenville, Pickens, Darlington, Orangeburg, Berkeley, Richland and Lexington counties — but a majority of sightings are coming from the Columbia area.

Just last week, two tegu lizards were spotted and removed from Richland and Lexington counties.

In total, SCDNR has removed nine tegus, but officials are concerned that a these non-native lizards could potentially muck up the ecosystem in South Carolina.

For example, SCDNR experts said that tegus could negatively impact “ground-nesting birds like turkey and quail, as well as other species such as the state-endangered gopher tortoise.”

In May, state wildlife officials added black and white tegus to the list of restricted non-native wildlife — which means it’s illegal to bring them into South Carolina.

Those who have already made the lizards pets are required to register and microchip the animals at the owner’ s expense by September 25. It’s also against the law to breed them.

Adult black and white tegu lizard (File Photo by Dustin Smith)

If a person is caught with an unregistered non-native lizard, they could face a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of more than $500.

These “voracious” lizards, popular in the pet trade, can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh up to 10 pounds, according to SCDNR.

Last year, SCDNR Herpetologist Andrew Grosse said the uptick of tegu sightings “concerning.”

“The introduction of any non-native species can have serious negative impacts on native wildlife. Black and white tegus are no exception,” said SCDNR herpetologist Andrew Grosse, “Tegus mature and reproduce quickly, though most concerning may be their preference for eggs.”

egus eat a “variety of prey” including “birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, fruits, vegetables, insects, and eggs,” the report said.

They are fast-moving and strong swimmers, according to Georgia DNR. They live up to about 20 years and “can multiply quickly.”

Tegus began invading Georgia in 2018, according to Georgia DNR. Officials believe this started with captive pets getting loose in the wild in Toombs and Tattnall counties.

According to Georgia DNR, tegus are not a threat to dogs and cats.

“Florida’s wildlife agency—which has been dealing with tegus much longer than Georgia DNR—is not aware of any predatory attacks on pets in that state,” Georgia DNR officials said. “However, DNR advises against leaving pet food outdoors: It can attract tegus and other wildlife to your yard.”

If you spot a tegu lizard, report the sighting to SCDNR here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR..

Mandy Matney

Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].

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