If you ever want to take a walk on the wild side, Rodney Irwin, a native of Homestead, is the man you need to find. He can tell you exactly why tegus are a threat to South Florida.
The lizard species is eating native species at a rate we've never seen before; their favorite food, bar none, is eggs, says Irwin.
He says the problem began over a decade ago when someone dumped hundreds of them around Florida City and Homestead. Now the Argentinean lizard is out of control and destroying the ecosystem.
They target nests as diverse as crocodiles and flamingos and they're reproducing so fast humans might have a hard time stopping them.
Rodney wants to change that. “There are no how-to books on capturing tegus and keeping them, I'm blazing a trail every day.”
Four years of hard work catching these reptiles has left his backyard filled to capacity. He has 200 and that number is growing but the day.
“If it’s a good day, I get one out of every 10 traps,” says Irwin.
50 traps are spread out within two miles of his home in thick, dense alligator and snake-infested land.
Irwin has a filthy Durango which serves as a machine in the rugged, dangerous terrain. Within minutes he’s at his first trap.
As he approaches, the trap shakes violently. Rodney opens it. The tegu quickly turns on its fight-or-flight mode. They're so powerful they can crush bones in your hand and if you get bitten they won't let go.
“The trauma in their bite is like putting your hand down hitting it with a hammer,” says Irwin.
One after another, traps baited with eggs are checked. Most are empty, others are occupied. This is ground zero and the exact number of tegus on the loose is staggering.
“We could be easily talking 60 to 80,000 tegus and they're not spread out all over Florida, they're spread out over a 10 square mile area right here.”
To date, Rodney has only caught 2,000. On this day following him we caught four. A reminder that Tegus are in control around here and will be for quite some time. However, each one bagged brings Irwin a little satisfaction knowing he's one tegu closer to saving this fragile environment.
“If I'm not bleeding I'm not working hard enough,” he says.