FORT PIERCE, Fla. — With sharp claws and strong teeth, an invasive lizard species is growing in population in one part of the Treasure Coast, wildlife officials warned Wednesday.
The Argentine black and white tegu — which can grow up to 4 feet long — is starting to gain a foothold in Fort Pierce, west of Florida's Turnpike.
"They do have sharp claws and strong teeth and they have a pretty strong tail as well, all of which they'll defend themselves with if they feel threatened," said Daniel Quinn, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Quinn said the non-native lizard is a threat to Florida wildlife, and there have been reports of the animals eating baby gopher tortoises and alligator eggs.
FWC trappers have removed 118 tegus from the Fort Pierce area so far, and officials are urging anyone who sees one to take a picture, note the location, and call FWC's Exotic Species Hotline at 888-483-4681 so the creature can be removed.
"We really need more people to be reporting these animals out here to help us with our management and trapping efforts to remove this invasive lizard species," Quinn said.
Quinn added the tegu, which is native to South America, likely came to South Florida through the exotic pet trade and was then released or accidentally escaped into the wild.
"They were very popular as pets," Quinn said. "They are now listed as a prohibited species in Florida, which means you can no longer procure them for personal possession or for commercial use."
The FWC said the Argentine black and white tegu was first reported in Fort Pierce in 2016. There are also separate breeding populations of tegus in Charlotte, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties. It is believed that each of these breeding populations were likely founded by escaped or released animals from captivity. To date, more than12,000 tegus have been removed from the Sunshine State.
"That's why it's really important to report the sightings so that we not only know where they are, but where they should be setting those traps," Quinn said.
For more information about the Argentine black and white tegu, click here.