8 more non-native tegu lizard sightings in SC have wildlife officials concerned

Eight sightings have been confirmed, while more than 80 have been reported.
This black and white tegu was spotted by a Columbia homeowner.
This black and white tegu was spotted by a Columbia homeowner.(Angie Kodek via SCDNR)
Updated: Sep. 10, 2020 at 12:48 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Eight more sightings of non-native black and white tegu lizards in South Carolina have been confirmed in the past three weeks.

Most of them have been in Lexington and Richland counties, while two came from Berkeley County and one from Greenville County.

Wildlife officials have removed five lizards from the wild so far. They say it’s important this species does not establish itself in the state, like it has in Georgia and Florida.

In August, the Department of Natural Resources warned the public to be on the lookout for tegus after one was spotted in Lexington County.

These lizards eat birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, fruits, vegetables, insects and eggs. They threaten native species like turkey and quail, as well as the state-endangered gopher tortoise, DNR officials said.

Since DNR released information about the first tegu sighting on Aug. 21, they’ve received more than 80 reports of sightings from the across the state.

The non-native species threatens South Carolina wildlife, DNR said.
The non-native species threatens South Carolina wildlife, DNR said.(Dustin Smith - SCDNR)

“The number and distribution of black and white tegu reports in just a few weeks is concerning," State Herpetologist Andrew Grosse said.

One confirmed sighting came from a Columbia homeowner.

The lizards that officials were able to find and remove consisted of both females and males that were between 2 and 3-feet long.

Tegus mature and reproduce quickly, wildlife officials say. They can grow to be 4-feet long and weigh more than 10 pounds.

They’re popular in the pet trade, but once the lizards get into the wild they are destructive and aggressively invasive.

Officials have put down the lizards they’ve captured so far and performed autopsies to study the lizards' behavior and movements.

“Necropsies show the tegus have all been scavenging native plants and animals, including toads, various insects and muscadines,” Grosse said. “This indicates these individuals are wild, free roaming and foraging opportunistically. It is important that this species does not establish in our state.”

Anyone who thinks they have seen a black and white tegu in the wild should report it to Grosse at grossea@dnr.sc.gov. If possible, DNR asks people to include a photo, location, time and date the lizard was seen.

DNR says tegus in the wild in South Carolina are not protected by state wildlife laws or regulations because it’s not a native species.

For more information about black and white tegus, including natural history and identifying characteristics, click or tap here.

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