Hello all! Last year you may remember a blog post I made on the impacts of Argentine black and white tegus where they are introduced in Florida. Since last year there has been some further development on what tegu species are residing in Florida, what the tegus are eating, and how easy it is to accidentally lose a beloved (and expensive!) pet.
As a quick recap of my previous post: the Argentine black and white tegu is a large lizard native to South America – specifically Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. These lizards can reach up to four feet in length, spend most of their time on land, but can swim and remain submerged for long periods. These critters are intelligent, and when kept as house pets can be very attached to their owners and quite docile – making them wonderful pets. However, as the tegu grows very large it can become more work than their owners care to give, many owners and individuals who sell animals in the pet trade become irresponsible and release their Tegu into the wild. Occasionally, beloved pets are lost when not kept in a secure outdoor enclosure, not watched appropriately, or accidentally get loose and run away.
Currently there are three species of tegus in Florida – the Argentine black and white tegus (Salvator merianae), Gold tegus (Tupinambis teguixin), and Red tegus (Salvator rufescens).
The Argentine black and white tegu is the most apparent of all tegus in Florida. They have established populations in south Florida and central Florida, which occurred from two separate incidents of introduction. In the past year it has been seen that these tegus eat many vertebrate species including lizards, turtles, birds, rodents, and snakes in addition to native and nonnative plant species and insects. They pose a huge threat to ground nesting birds, American Alligators, and American Crocodiles, as they love to consume eggs. The Argentine tegus also have a “morph” or a genetic combination that is seen in the pet trade called a “Blue Tegu” which have also been seen in south Florida. These Blue Tegus are thought to be escaped pets, which range from $300-$400 in retail price at pet stores, while regular black and white tegus retail for under $200. Althought they are of special color morph, these blue tegus are still Argentine black and white tegus which means they can survive and damage the natural ecosystems in Florida.
The Gold tegu is very similar to the Argentine tegus. They are from South America, and have been trapped in Florida since 2008. They can grow up to three feet in length, and usually live in the tropical forests of northern and central South America, and Panama. In their native range they are known to feed on insects, invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and fruit. This means they are likely eating similar item sin Florida, although nothing is currently known about their dietary habits. What is known about the Florida population is that they are reproductively active. Hatchling, juveniles, and adults have been captured over the past decade. It is theorized that the Gold tegus have been introduced via the pet trade industry. To read more about the Gold tegu in Florida this paper by J. Edwards et al. is a great place to start! These animals retail for approximately $50, but they are also not as commonly kept as pets due to their naturally aggressive temperament.
The red tegu has been seen recently in the popular video on social media posted above! Quite a wonderful companion. This is one of the largest of the Tupinambis species and usually grows to be four feet in length or longer. They are powerful tunnelers and love to dig where they are native. They use these burrows for refuge during the day and night, as well as shelter for their eggs. They are known to eat birds, rodents, eggs, and other reptiles - making them another prime candidate for impacting the environment in Florida! There have been a total of eleven sightings since 2007 that span through seven counties in Florida. The Red tegu goes for a retail price of $200-$300, and for this reason it is also thought that the animals seen were escaped pets.
All three species of tegus go through brumation (reptile hibernation), where they reduce activity and resign to burrows for the cooler months of the year. This is one of the many reasons why tegus are such a formidable invasive animal in Florida! They have potential of surviving much further north than even the Burmese python. As you can see, these animals do cost quite a pretty penny. The red tegu, Argentine Tegu, and Blue tegus all retail for $200 or more, and it is common to see household pets brought in from neighborhoods, parks, and other urban areas. They are great diggers and will escapes outside enclosures, porches, fences, and even harness/leash if they put their mind to it! The most commonly encountered tegu are still wild Argentine tegus, but it is interesting to see what other morphs and species are also present in the Florida ecosystem! I hope you all have enjoyed the update.
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!