Non-native Tegu lizards a growing problem in Hillsborough County - WFLA News Channel 8

Non-native Tegu lizards a growing problem in Hillsborough County

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ORLANDO, FL (WFLA) -

On a horse rescue farm in Riverview, a wildlife biologist from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission works to corner a dangerous critter. The Tegu lizard has nothing to do with horses, but for some reason a number of them have taken up residence in the area around RVR Horse rescue.

Tessie Offner is a non-native species biologist with the FWC and on a hot day in July of 2013 she was called to capture a Tegu lizard at the farm.

With a cage, gloves, and a grabbing claw she is able to round up the lizard from a horse stall. Offner knows there may be dozens, if not hundreds, of them in the area. The Tegu lizard can grow larger than four feet.

"They are stocky. They have a stocky head and a stocky thick body," said Offner, who’s been working for the FWC to track down Tegu Lizards.

"We know that they occupy a region that's south of Riverview and north of Gibsonton, but that's part of our investigation right now. We're not sure exactly how wide spread they are,” said Offner.

Other reports have been made about Tegus in the area, but most come from this region. The first reports were made in 2005 but the number of reports has been growing since then.

Offner says the lizards are still sold legally in pet stores, but most people soon learn they grow too big to handle and are too expensive to feed, so they are released into the wild.

"Now they have reproduced naturally, they're spreading on their own and they use a lot of different habitats, so they're not really restricted by Florida habitat, they will go out into wherever they can find food," said Ofner.

She uses a live animal trap baited with a raw chicken egg to capture the animals. She's caught 40 of the lizards in the past year.

"One of our major concerns right now is finding out how big of an impact they are having in this area,” said Offner. “We don't know how many are out there. We don't know how dense the population is."

She says they are too dangerous for most people to catch. She asks that people take photos if they see one and make a report to the website ivegot1.org


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