Georgia officials warn of 4-foot-long invasive lizards that eat 'anything they want'

Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is warning residents that an invasive species of giant lizards has established in the state, posing a threat to wildlife and crops because they eat “anything they want.”

Officials said that they’re working to eradicate the spread of Argentine black and white tegus. The lizards can grow to four feet long and weigh upward of 10 pounds, making it easily mistaken for a baby alligator.

DNR biologist John Jensen said in a video earlier this month that the lizards “eat just about anything they want,” including both plants and small animals.

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“One of their favorite foods is eggs from ground-nesting animals such as gopher tortoise — our protected state reptile. Birds, including turkeys and quail.”

Tegus have been spotted in northern Florida over the years, but officials believe there is a current population in Georgia’s Tattnail and Toomb counties that they’re hoping to eradicate before they spread.

Native to South America, Jensen said the animal is popular with the pet trade but “releasing it into the wild is the absolute worst thing to do.”

The Orianne Society, an environmental conservation group, said in a Facebook post Monday that the lizards are “voracious predators.”

“Georgia’s colder winters have often been hypothesized as a potential barrier for many invasive reptile species becoming established in the state,” Orianne Society wrote. “However, three years of captures strongly suggests that tegus are able to survive the colder winter in southern Georgia. “

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The DNR is requesting people report sightings of the lizards, alive or dead, so biologists can respond.

Since the tegus are non-native species, they were not protected by state wildlife laws or regulations and can legally be trapped or killed. However, the DNR said animal cruelty and local ordinances apply.

The Orianne Society suggested the tegus “should be shot on sight.”

Tegus are not considered to be aggressive toward people, but the DNR warned that they will defend themselves if threatened, asking pet owners to keep their animals inside as a precaution.

“They can react fast and lash with their tails They have sharp teeth and claws and strong jaws.”

The lizard was caught on video chasing a Florida man in 2015.

News of the massive lizards came shortly after news of another invasive species  — Asian “murder hornets” — coming to the U.S. began circulating. 

The enormous hornets were discovered in Washington late last year and pose a significant risk to the honeybee populations.

The hornet's venom causes unbearable pain for larger victims who are stung, which reportedly feels like hot metal being driven through one's skin. They also can break through beekeeper suits, presenting a real threat to not only honeybees but also their keepers.