THE ACREAGE, Fla. - Covered in black and white spots, armed with sharp claws and spanning four feet in length, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officials are on the prowl for an emerging invasive species known as the Argentine tegu lizard.
The colonies of the dragon-like reptile have already been reported across Florida.
Rangers are now working to just contain the creature before it takes over more native wildlife and habitat.
Sightings of the tegu lizard have increased and reports have started to filter in from residential neighborhoods.
"It was scary at first when I saw it because I thought, 'What in the world is this doing over there.' It was the strangest thing," said Nadja Kranites, who spotted one of the lizards near her suburban Lake Worth home.
When Kranites was face-to-face with the lizard, she pulled out her camera phone and began to snap pictures to report it to wildlife officials.
"I didn't dare to get too close. Once it saw me, it ran off," said Kranites. "I didn't want to get too close because you never know what they'll do."
Wildlife experts say the reptiles are not only a threat to people and pets, but the creature could forever change the landscape of Florida if they are not stopped.
"They are praying on native species of animals and they're filling the niche where predators don't exist," said David Hitzig, director of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter.
Hitzig said tegu lizard numbers are growing. What started as a small colony in Homestead, has now spread all across the Sunshine State.
"The scary thing is, now we've got yet another animal that could potentially cause a problem," said Hitzig referring to the numerous species now considered invasive.
As Florida Fish and Wildlife crews struggle to contain the spread, residents like Kranites hope they find a solution before it is too late.
"You don't want to have them here. It's the same as with the python. They just don't belong here," said Kranites.
Wildlife experts are now working to capture as many tegu lizards before the end of October because that is when most of the creatures go into hibernation.
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