They are big. They are ugly. They are hungry.
No, it’s not a science fiction movie, it’s invasive lizards that are making their way into the Lowcountry. They are called tegu lizards.
In August, a Lexington County resident spotted an unusual lizard in the woods. Report-ing it to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) the lizard was captured and fear began to spread through the state that there might be more than one.
The concern was well founded. So far, there have been five captured: one in Greenville, Lexington, Richland, and two in Berkeley County. They are reproducing and spreading out.
These scaly lizards are native to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Urauguay, but kept as pets in the U.S., they escaped or were released into the wild somewhere near Miami, Fla. Their population is growing and now they are moving into the lowcountry.
Tegu lizards can grow up to four feet in length, and weigh 10 pounds. They can live for 20-30 years and during the winter they burrow into ground cover.
They can also swim and stay under water for a while. While there are several species of tegu lizard, (red, gold, and black and white), the black and white variety has moved from Florida into Georgia and now South Carolina.
According to officials, tegu lizards are not dangerous to human beings, but they are dangerous to the environment.
Tegus eat small mammals, reptiles, frogs, insects, birds, vegetables and fruit. But their favorite meal consists of eggs. This endangers our native ground bird, alligator, and tur-tle populations, which are vital to the South Carolina ecosystem.
“We are concerned about our turkey and quail populations being affected by this inva-sive species,” said Andrew Grosse of SCDNR. “Tegus mature and grow very quickly.”
Officials are also apprehensive that the lizards will affect crops and wildlife by spread-ing unusual parasites or bacterial contamination.
If you spot a tegu lizard, contact SCDNR immediately. Take a picture of it, and record the date, time, and area the creature was seen.
It is also important to know that tegus in the wild in South Carolina are not a protected species by state wildlife laws. In other words….protect the natural environment.