This month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is meeting with federal officials, landowners and university researchers to discuss curtailing the St. Lucie population and getting ahead of the tegu problem overall.
But it’s a race they may already be losing.
In 2019, 1,425 tegus were removed from the wild — more than double the number trapped in 2015.
“It doesn’t seem like we’ve learned a lesson from our experience with pythons,” said University of Florida wildlife professor Frank Mazzotti, who leads the Croc Docs research team. “If you wait until you see the impact an animal is having, it’s too late.”
UF circulated an updated fact sheet on the tegu invasion in Florida this month, raising another red flag that “additional resources are critical to address the tegu problem on a larger scale.”
Released and escaped pets as well as unscrupulous dealers are responsible for seeding the tegu spread, Mazzotti said. One of his key concerns is the tegu’s appetite for eggs, whether it be sea turtle, crocodile, alligator, gopher tortoise or bird.
An analysis of the stomach content of 124 tegus included frogs, toads, lizards, snakes, turtles and small mammals. Threatened gopher tortoise hatchlings were found in the gut of five tegus from Central Florida.
TEGUS WILL EAT ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING
“This is the first critter I’ve ever worked with that eats everything, truly everything,” Mazzotti said. “Because they can live in many more places and eat everything, there is not going to be a whole lot to stop them.”
Mazzotti said his research team was stunned in 2019 when it asked for community help identifying Nile monitor lizards in Palm Beach County and half of the photos that were sent in were of tegus.
“Palm Beach County surprised the hell out of us,” he said.
The invasive species tracking website EDDMaps lists 43 tegu sightings in Palm Beach County back to 2009. The most recent report was made in May when a city of West Palm Beach employee found a tegu in the parking lot of Grassy Waters Preserve.
That’s compared to 6,008 reports in Miami-Dade County and 245 in Charlotte County. Both counties have known breeding populations.
Tegus have also been reported in four Georgia counties.aside">