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 Author: Jenna is a graduate student at the University of Florida. Currently she is studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation while working in south Florida to manage invasive animals. Jenna primarily works with the Argentine Black and White Tegu and other invasive lizards.
The Common Agama, Rainbow Lizard
The Common Agama is native to Africa and can comfortably occupy urban, suburban, rural and undeveloped habitats. In Africa they occur in desert, dune, savanna, forest, rainforest, and mountainous areas. This lizard is yet another non-native species that can be found in southern Florida. They occur in Dade, Charlotte, Broward, and Seminole counties; likely posing threat to native insect and small vertebrates. There are several subspecies of agamas, and Florid has a mixture of West African subspecies and East African subspecies. The West African subspecies have bright orange-red heads that fades to a blue-indigo body, and end with a lighter blue-white tail tipped with black. They can reach up to 12 inches in length and are a diurnal species which can be seen moving around during the daytime.
The diet of these lizards consists of mostly grasshoppers, ants, beetles (James and Porter 1979), flowers, grasses, and discarded human food (e.g., candy, bread, cake, carrot pieces (Romer 1953, Chapman and Chapman 1964, Harris 1964, Cloudsley-Thompson 1981). Adults have also been known to eat their own young. They display behaviors similar to that of Bearded Dragons – the adults will perform head nods, head bobs or push-ups, and basking. The head nods and head bobs are commonly used as challenge displays between males, or to entice females who are wearing their reproductive colors. Basking is common in the morning between 10 AM and noon, with the dominant males holding the best basking position, followed by the sub-males, and then females.
Female agamas will lay two clutches of eggs each breeding season, usually between the months of June through September. The sex of the eggs is determined by the temperature of the soil, with males being produced in warmer temperatures than females. In Florida the lizards are established and have been breeding for at least ten years in Charlotte and Dade county, and for less than ten years in Broward, Seminole, and Martin counties; there is also a population in Monroe county which has not yet been reported as breeding.
Links and papers:
Chapman, B. M,. and R. F. Chapman. 1964. Observations on the biology of the lizard Agama agama in Ghana. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 143:121-132.
Clodusley-Thompson, J. L. 1981. Bionomics of the rainbow lizard Agama agama (L.) in eastern Nigeria during the dry season. Journal of Arid Environments 4:235-245.
Harris, V. A. 1964. The life of the rainbow lizard. Hutchinson Tropical Monographs. 174pp.
James, F. C, and W. P. Porter. 1979. Behavior-microclimate relationships in the African rainbow lizard, Agama agama. Copeia 1979:585-593.
Romer, J. D. 1953. Reptiles and amphibians collected in the Port Harcourt area of Nigeria. Copeia 1953:121-123.
Iguanas have become one of the most common invasive reptile seen in southern Florida. You can find them in trees, crossing streets, eating the flowers in your garden... Two of the more well known species of iguanas in Florida are pictured below - the Black Spinytail Iguana (Photo by Jeff Whitlock, 2013) and the Green Iguana (Photo by Save the Prairie Society, August 3, 2017).
Black Spinytail Iguana (Ctenosaura similis)
This species is native to southern Mexico, and was first noticed in Florida in 1978. Currently it has established its self breeding populations in Dade, Lee, and Charlotte counties in Florida. Adult males of this species can reach four feet in length, and females remain smaller. These lizzards are primarily terrestrial species, and are extremely wary of humans. When they feel threatened these iguana will retreat to their burrows for safety, however they are able to climb quite well if they are unable to safely reach their burrow (Bartlett and Bartlett 1999).
The habitats that this iguana is able to exploit are very broad. They can be found living on coastal uplands, in exotic plant communities, low density suburban developments, agricultural fields, and areas surrounding core urban areas and small towns. Over the years this species has spread across south Florida. First thought to be established in Lee county (1980), then Collier county (1998), and finally Broward county (2002); this species was introduced due to released or escaped animals intended for the pet trade.
The distribution of Black Spinytail Iguanas in Florida, 10 February 2018.
Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)
The Green Iguana is a large lizard that is also nonnative to Florida. This species, like the Black Spinytail Iguana, was introduced through the pet trade as well. The Green iguana lives terrestrially, and can be seen on the ground and in shrubs and trees all over suburban developments, urban areas, small towns, and agricultural areas. They are excellent swimmers, can tolerate fresh and salt waters, and can remain under water for up to four hours at a time. Male Green iguanas can grow over five feet in length and weigh just under 20 lbs, while females usually do not exceed 7 lbs at full maturity.
Originating in Central America to the tropics of South America and some eastern Carribbean islands, the Green iguana was first reported in Florida in the 1960s in Hialeah, Coral Gables, and Key Biscayne. Now the popualtions spread along the Atlantic coast in Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties; along with the Gulf Coast in Collier and Lee counties.
Distribution of the Green Iguana in Florida (EDDMAPS, 10 February 2018)
Status in Their Native Ranges
Although the Green Iguana has not been formally assessed in its native range, both it and the Black Spinytail Iguana are listed as being of least concern where they originate from. This means that they are exhibiting characteristics of a healthy population that is reproductively active and not exposed to any threats which may cause them to become threatened, endangered, or extinct.
Diet and Impacts
The diet of the iguanas includes a wide variety of vegetation. They are known to eat shoots, leaves, blossoms, and fruits of plants including nickerbean, hibiscuses, garden greens, jasmine, orchids, roses, Washington fan palms, squashes, and melons. They also occasionally feed on bird eggs, carrion, insects, and tree snails.
Due to their diet, iguanas pose a threat of damage to residential and commercial landscape vegetation and are considered a nuisance animal by property owners. They are most attracted to trees with fruit and flowers, with the exception of citrus. The dig burrows, which can erode and collapse sidewalks, foundations, sea walls, berms, and canal banks. They pose a threat to native and endangered species of tree snails, as well as have the potential to spread diseases and infectious bacterium Salmonella to other reptiles and to humans through water contact or surfaces contaminated with feces.
Iguanas can be legally removed year round with land owner permission. They are not protected by any laws except for the anti-cruelty laws. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages the removal of Green iguanas on private land by landowners, and captured iguanas can be kept as personal pets or humanely euthanized. The iguanas cannot, however, be relocated and released at other locations.
In order to deter iguanas from your own property you can alter the habitat around our home ot humanely harass the animals until they leave. Some effective methods are: removing plants that act as attractants; filling in holes to discourage burrowing; putting wind chimes or other items in the yard to make intermittent noises; hanging CDs or other reflective material outside; and spraying the animals with water.
Iguanas in the Florida Keys
Dealing with Iguanas
Iguana Assistance for Homeowners
The spectacled caiman got its name from the bony ridge between its eyes which give it the appearance of wearing a pair of glasses. These caiman can grow up to approximately nine feet in length, with females being of smaller size than males. They have a stout snout, and a triangular ridge of skin atop each eye which give the appearance of a type of 'eye brow'. Mature individuals are olive-green with faint black spots and banding on their tails, this coloration is usually more distinct in younger individuals. Its coloration overall is quite variable, with some individuals having different coloration, sizes, and skull shape - these features have led to distinction between three subspecies of spectacled caiman.
Range and Biology:
This species is widely distributed compared to other crocodilians. The spectacled caiman and its subspecies can be found in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, and Ecuador - it has also been introduced as a nonnative species in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Florida, USA. Theses animals thrive in all lowland wetland and riverine habitats, preferring bodies of still water like lakes, ponds, and marshes. They are also tolerant to moderate salinity.
The caiman is highly adapted for water life. It is a superb swimmer and aquatic predator. The adult caiman feed on fish, amphibians, reptiles, and water foul - particularly large individuals have also been know to take on mammals including deer and pigs! In dry conditions when food sources are scare this species is also known to cannibalize smaller individuals.
The spectacled caiman was first sighted in Florida in 1960, and span across two counties in the state. It poses threat to a variety of native vertebrates and competes for food and space with the native American alligators. They are presumed to have been released or escaped from the pet trade, and can be found in Broward and Dade counties throughout marshes, lakes, ponds, and canals. These crocodilian are susceptible to colder weather, which has confined them from moving further north. There have been efforts to remove the caiman populations, and in 2001 a nest of 41 eggs was found and collected, and 39 of those eggs hatched in captivity. Since 1970 there have been no reports of breeding, however the populations are still present.
Florida has more nonnative reptiles and amphibians than anywhere else in the world with more than 60 that are established and breeding. South Florida has a subtropical climate, island-like geography (water on three sides, frost to the north), major ports of trade which provide plants and animals entry into the United States, thriving trade in exotic pets, and occasional destructive hurricanes which increases risk of escapes.
Africa’s largest snake, the African rock python, are breeding in a small area of south Florida (estimated 6 square miles of land). The African rock python has a thick, long body, which is patterned in blotches that range from brown, olive, and yellow-toned tan, which form irregular stripes and chunky-block pattern. It has a triangular head and many sharp, backwardly curved teeth, and is covered in small smooth scales. Around the mouth are heat-sensitive pits, which are used to detect warm-blooded prey, even in the dark. African rock pythons are found throughout almost the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Ethiopia and Somalia and south to Namibia and South and western Africa.
Image: Edward Mercer, a non-native wildlife technician for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, holds a North African Python during a press conference in the Florida Everglades about the non-native species on January 29, 2015 in Miami, Florida (Image source: Jan. 28, 2015 - Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)
FWC In Florida, these snakes are a high priority species for management due to their large size and because of the extensive invasion of a similar species, the Burmese Python. They are very difficult to find, so determining how many north African rock pythons are present within the area is challenging.
Detection for the Burmese Python is between 0.005 and 0.01, and if we assume north African pythons are similar, then we would need over 300 visits to the area with no observations of pythons before it could be concluded with 95% confidence that the north African rock python population is not expanding.
There are efforts being carried out by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the University of Florida (UF) to research and remove the north African rock pythons from the wild in Florida. Biologists from FWC and UF, along with South Florida Water Management, and a handful of other organizations conduct surveys each week to locate these snakes. This year alone there have been two live captures of the African pythons, and one dead-on-arrival python which was run over with a commercial grade lawn mower. Recently, this species has been completely banned in the state of Florida, which means no new animals can be imported or exported from the state. Removal efforts have been in place since the first python sightings occurred in 2001, and banning this species will help keep these pythons from becoming as big a nuisance as the Burmese python.
More information on the Northern African rock python can be found by following the links below:
FWC Pest Brochure
Sun Sentinel News Article
What is EIRAMP?
This Everglades Invasive Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring Program (EIRAMP) was developed as a method for monitoring the spread of exotic species in southern Florida. South Florida is prone to invasion by nonnative species due to its sub-tropical climate; mosaic of agricultural, natural, and urban habitats; and island-like geography being surrounded by water on three sides and freezing temperatures to the north. The state of Florida alone currently hosts more established alien reptiles than any other state or nation (Meshaka et al. 2004). The natural portions of land are under increasing pressure from invasion by nonnative species, and current methods of interception and eradication of invaders has not been able to match the increasing threats.
Prevention of the introduction of invasive species is the best defense against invasions. Followed by the early detection of invaders and rapid response efforts towards their removal. Once populations are established and wide=spread the option for management becomes limited and expensive. Surveying current habitat for native amphibians, reptiles, and mammals alongside invasive species aids in determining the impact exotic species have in southern Florida. This monitoring program was developed to establish the status and spread of existing populations of invasive reptiles and amphibians, provides early detection and rapid response for removal of invasive species, and to provide information on the invasive animals collected while surveying.
The areas being surveyed have potential for detection of nonnative amphibians, reptiles, and mammals; there are currently 22 areas, with potential for additions if there are particular areas of concern. The surveys conducted once a month, within 30 minutes of sunset. While driving or walking, animal species that are observed are identified and recorded on a data sheet. This information, along with the GPS location, habitat type (parking lot, tree, road, etc.), and the number of individuals observed. Invasive animals (primarily Burmese Pythons) are removed when encountered.
Environmental information including time of night, temperature, humidity, and general weather (rainy, clear, cloudy) are also recorded. At the end of each survey the data recorded is entered into a computer database. Once in the database, all of the surveys can be sorted through. For example, I could ‘search’ for every animal seen under “cloudy” conditions; or for every “Burmese Python” that was encountered.
What Do We Learn?
All of the information recorded during these surveys is put towards management plans and other scientific studies. All of the categories of information can be analyzed for patterns. For example: Looking at temperature and species, we may see a pattern in what animals are seen at certain temperatures; or time of night; or weather...see what I'm saying? This information can then be used to supplement management plans for the removal or control of invasive animals; it can also be used to monitor the populations of native animals. If we see an increase in Burmese Python sightings over the years, and a decrease in the sighting of native snakes, it may imply that Burmese Python presence is influencing the presence of native snakes. This is very important information, especially when threatened species are involved.
The most important part of these surveys are the number of surveys carried out. The more surveys conducted over several years, the more information and patterns may emerge. Data from 2012 compared to data from 2017 may reveal shocking differences in the the number of invasive species encounters, or in the type of native species encountered (more mammals than reptiles?); it even can show a change in the weather or temperature over time (very wet or dry year; hot or colder?). All of this data is ever growing, and it is never going to become irrelevant. The more we know, the more we can do to help stop invasive animals from spreading.
Wildlife Trade is an industry that revolves around transport of animals to be utilized for multiple goods and services. The demand for live animals varies in different areas of the world, but the bottom line is that animals are traded A LOT. The figure below shows the number of animals imported into JUST the USA from 1999-2010. Pretty crazy, right?
With all of this trade going on there is bound to be consequences - animals are lost or escape from shipments. The release of these traded animals results in the spread of diseases. Chytrid fungus and rainavirus are decimating native amphibian populations, and both were spread due to the trade of wildlife. Not only can these diseases impact other animals, but the SARS virus and Avian flu are both diseases spread by animals to humans.
Trade of animals occurs legally and illegally, and can result in over exploitation of wild populations. The trade industry is unsustainable, and it is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity. An even bigger threat to biodiversity is the invasion of nonnative species - a threat that is directly linked to the trade of wildlife. The trade of wildlife has increased gradually over many years - which means it is likely that nonnative introductions has increased as well.
I have hammered the threats posed by nonnative species in previous posts, especially when the nonnative species becomes an invasive one. Invasive species are any species (plants, animals, any organism) that cause economical damage, ecological damage, or threaten human health. The USA spends over $137 billion every year to manage these introduced animals even with all the regulations in place to monitor trade.
There are several policies that exist to protect wildlife from trade including:
- The Endangered SPecies Act
-Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITIES)
-Migratory Bird Act
-Wild Bird Conservation Act
These, along with various regulations at the state level, are put in place to prevent introduction, but it is not so simple. There is much man power, money, and time that is needed to dedicate for preventing introduction of species - and there is a lack of money to pay for the man power to monitor ALL of the shipments and trade involving flora and fauna; not to mention any escaped or released pets.
The demand for live animal trade is desired all over the world - from food to boots to ancient medicinal cures, live animals are wanted everywhere. This wildlife trade has introduced many species all over the world, not just in the USA. Australia, England, Guam, Japan, China, Puerto Rico, and many other countries are experiencing the impacts of nonnative specie introductions. The wildlife trade will never be shut down, but the depletion of wild animals will surly cause the market to crash.
I encourage the purchase of captive-bred (CB) animals. Although hard to find for some unique species, captive bred pets do not support the wildlife trade or depletion of wild populations. Every little bit of effort counts, support your local breeders!
*****This post has adapted a powerpoint presentation given by Dr. Christina Romagosa on wildlife trade. The information provided is my summary of her presentation that was given to a college Conservation Biology course earlier this year.*****
To keep with the theme of "animals that don't belong in Florida" I would like to introduce the Nile Monitor. Nile Monitors (Varanus niloticus) are large African lizards, which have been introduced in Florida via the pet trade - just like everything else, what a surprise. These carnivorous lizards can grow up to 8 feet in length, and weigh a whopping 30 pounds! They are diet generalists - meaning they will eat pretty much ANYTHING. I personally have been looking at some of their diet items, and they range from reptile eggs, to turtle, insects, small mammals, frogs, toads, and snakes!
These lizards were first noticed in Florida in the 1990s, and there is a heavy threat these lizards pose to a protected native species. In Africa, Nile Monitor are known to raid crocodile nests and feed on crocodile hatchlings - this feeding habit directly implicated Nile Monitors as threats to Florida's native American Crocodile. The American Crocodile is a protected species, and are recovering from a steep population decline that hit its lowest in the 1970s. Established populations of Nile Monitors could make it even harder for these crocodiles to recover.
These lizards are sold in the pet trade despite their rather aggressive demeanor. They are certainly not for beginners. To quote a book:
"There are few of these lizards less suited to life in captivity than the Nile monitor. Buffrenil (1992) considered that, when fighting for its life, a Nile Monitor was a more dangerous adversary than a crocodile of a similar size. Their care presents particular problems on account of the lizards' enormous size and lively dispositions. Very few of the people who buy brightly-coloured baby Nile Monitors can be aware that, within a couple of years, their purchase will have turned into an enormous, ferocious carnivore, quite capable of breaking the family cat's neck with a single snap and swallowing it whole."
-Bennett, D. 1995. Little Book of Monitor Lizards, Viper Press, Aberdeen, UK
As if their attitude wasn't enough, these lizards have huge appetites, require large space for housing (hello- they can grow to be 8 feet long...a tank over 16 feet in length would be required to comfortably house a lizard of that size!), and a very secure space at that. These animals also really enjoy swimming, climb, and dig - so pet owners should be ready to build an outdoor enclosure or dedicate a whole bedroom to their animal. This, of course, is why monitors are now a problem in Florida. The requirements the need to be kept, as well as the rude personalities, lead to owners becoming fed up, tired of, or just plain scared of their pet Nile Monitor. That is how they became to live in Florida - released pets.
To learn more about Nile Monitors as pets:
To learn more about Nile Monitors as threats:
All photos belong to Nick Scobel: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michiganherper/
Veiled Chameleon (above) found in Florida. Photograph by Nick Scobel.
Chameleons were first detected in Florida in 2002. Chameleons are arboreal (tree swelling) lizards which are native to Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe, and southeast Asia. They have prehensile tails which they use to hold onto tree branches, and cone-shapped eyes that can swivel in different directions allowing them to look two ways at once. There have been several species of Chameleon’s found loose in Florida including the Senegal Chameleon, White-lined Chameleon, Oustalet’s Chameleon, Panther Chameleon, Jackson’s Chameleon, and Meller’s Chameleon. While many have been seen, only two species are known to have isolated populations in Florida – the Oustalet’s and Veiled Chameleons.
Oustalet’s Chameleons are Madagascar natives and are one of the largest species of chameleons in the world. Male individuals can grow to be over 24 inches long, and females stay quite a bit smaller.
A very detailed fact sheet on the Oustalet’s Chameleon’s is provided by the Maryland Zoo and can be found here: http://www.marylandzoo.org/assets/Oustalets-Chamelon-Fact-Sheet-2014.pdf
Veiled Chameleon’s are native to the Arabian Peninsula. This very pretty species have large domes on their heads, and can reac 12-24 inches in length. Hatchlings are pastel green, but as they grow these animals become a beautiful array of yellow, blue, orange, and black with white mottling seen in females.
More information on these animals can be found here: http://www.animalspot.net/veiled-chameleon.html
Oustalet's Chameleon found in Florida. Photographed by Christopher Gillette.
While Chameleon’s are still nonnative to Florida’s ecosystems, their threat to native animals has not thoroughly been explored yet. They are known to eat insects, small frogs, lizards, and small birds, which indicates they are competing with native lizards for food and a potential threat to smaller birds. Studies so far have shown the Oustalet’s Chameleons to eat agricultural pests and nonnative animals, however that could change depending on the location of the population. In Hawaii, the Veiled chameleon is a threat to native birds, insects, and plants – which leaves room for concern for the Florida ecosystem.
An issue associated with the removal of these animals from Florida’s wild is that people tend to move them to different locations (causing spread to new areas). People also are responsible for the introduction of more species, which makes eradication of these animals in the wild a constant effort. Right now Chameleons have been found in Florida City, Fort Meyers, and other species have been found in Lee, Collier, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties.
Although Chameleons have not made a huge hit to the ecosystem in Florida yet, they easily could be the next "Burmese Python" and wipe out prey species for other natives, and in doing so drive the native animals to dwindling numbers. These nonnative animals do not belong here- and even without a proven impact, in 20 or 30 years they may be the next "Florida Invader". It is a very sad thought that humans are causing the decline in native animals here in Florida - as a pet owner, please remember to not release your pets! Re-home them, donate them, or bring them back to pet store facilities where they were purchased. Please be a responsible pet owner and don't let them loose!
About the Author:
Jenna is a Wildlife Ecology and Conservation student at the University of Florida. Her primary work is research, control, and removal of nonnative and invasive animals found throughout south Florida.
Argentine black and white Tegu’s are large lizards native to South America – specifically Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. These reptiles 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.
Many people buy these animals when they are tiny hatchlings, and do not do their research. As they grow and become more work than their owners care to give, many owners become irresponsible and release their Tegu into the wild. This terrible practice has given Florida yet another ecosystem disaster.
Wild Tegus are a huge threat to the ecosystems in Florida. Tegus have breeding populations in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties, and the main concern is that these animals will compete with and prey upon Florida’s native wildlife including threatened species. Tegu’s reproduce quickly, and females can lay up to 35 eggs a year. They eat a wide variety of items including small animals and eggs, which raises the concern that they will eat the eggs of many bird species. So far it has been documented that these animals have eaten Alligator eggs, which raises concern for Crocodile conservationists – what if these invasive animals prey upon the eggs of American Crocodiles? FYI American Crocodiles are a threatened species.
To prevent the spread of these animals Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working with other Florida agencies and organizations to assess the threat of this species and develop management strategies. I am part of the wildlife ecology and conservation lab in the University of Florida, and part of my job is to trap and remove wild Tegus. We have over 150 live traps set to capture these lizards, and bring in anywhere from 5-13 Tegus a day. We have removed over 2100 Tegus to date. It certainly is not a glamorous job – wild Tegus are very aggressive when trapped, and have strong jaws that will rip open your flesh (yes, it hurts, A LOT), but someone has to do it.
As I urged in my last post regarding Burmese pythons: Please, do not release your pets into the wild. Be a responsible pet owner – Don’t let it loose.
You can read more about the UF efforts to rid Florida of Tegus here:
About the Author:
Jenna is a Wildlife Ecology and Conservation student at the University of Florida. She primarily works with research, removal, and general management of nonnative and invasive species in south Florida.
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!