Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Invasive, Dog-Sized Lizards Pose Threat Across Southeastern U.S.

Animals
Invasive, Dog-Sized Lizards Pose Threat Across Southeastern U.S.
The Argentine black-and-white tegu is an invasive species that can reach four-feet long. Mark Newman / Getty Images

These black-and-white lizards could be the punchline of a joke, except the situation is no laughing matter.


That's because the Argentine black-and-white tegu is an invasive species of dog-sized lizards that scientists worry could pose a threat to endangered species across the Southeast.

The tegus first came to the region as escaped or released pets and began to spread in South Florida more than a decade ago, National Geographic reported. But they are now reaching other states in the region and have been spotted in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.

"[T]he entire southeast portion of the United States is at risk," U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) biologist Amy Yackel Adams told National Geographic. "Much of this area has a climate that is suitable for tegus."

For scientists, the tegus' eating habits are the most concerning aspect as they spread. The lizards, which are native to South America and up to four-feet long, consume everything from eggs and small birds to low-growing fruit. In Venezuela, they are nicknamed lobo pollero, or "the chicken wolf," for their habit of stealing eggs from chicken coops. In the U.S., they could pose an additional hazard to the eggs of threatened or endangered species like the Eastern indigo snake.

Protecting native wildlife is a major concern in Georgia, where the tegus have been spotted mostly in Tattnall and Toombs counties, Discover reported.

"They are very efficient predators of our native fauna that don't recognize them as predators," Georgia Southern University biology professor Lance McBrayer told Discover.

Of special concern are ground-nesting birds such as quails and the gopher tortoise, which is the Georgia state reptile, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

However, the tegus' egg-stealing ways also make them easier to trap, according to Discover. Seven were captured in Georgia in 2019 and six were captured this year. Those numbers are large enough that McBrayer thinks the lizards are likely breeding in the wild.

"We suspect that they are breeding, but we have not captured a juvenile," he told Discover. "So, we can't say with absolute certainty that there are baby tegus running around."

McBrayer and Yackel Adams told Discover that the goal is to remove the lizards from Georgia before they can establish a population.

"We're at that early invasion," Yackel Adams told Discover. "It's the best time to deal with it."

Meanwhile, state officials are also working to stop the tegus from spreading in South Carolina, where they have been spotted at least nine times since August, WCIV reported in September.

"The number and distribution of black and white tegu reports in just a few weeks is concerning. Documented sightings come from as far north as Greenville County and as far south as Berkeley County," State Herpetologist Andrew Grosse told WCIV.

"The individuals removed measured between two and three feet long and consisted of both females and males. Necropsies show the tegus have all been scavenging native plants and animals, including toads, various insects and muscadines. This indicates these individuals are wild, free roaming and foraging opportunistically. It is important that this species does not establish in our state."

The climate is a key reason why tegus stand a good chance of spreading throughout the Southeast, since their native region is roughly the same latitude, McBrayer told Discover. Their range could grow even further as the climate crisis
expands tropical and subtropical conditions to the north, National Geographic reported.


Plastic bails, left, and aluminum bails, right, are photographed at the Green Waste material recovery facility on Thursday, March 28, 2019, in San Jose, California. Aric Crabb / Digital First Media / Bay Area News via Getty Images

By Courtney Lindwall

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
Trending
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less