An invasive species of lizard has been spotted in South Carolina as close as Berkeley County, and environmental experts fear the reptiles could pose a threat to local habitats.
The black and white tegu lizard is native to Argentina, but has been transported broadly through wildlife trade to those seeking to keep it as pets. Wild tegus have been a problem in Florida for decades, and recently have moved up to Georgia and now South Carolina.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is monitoring sightings of the species to ensure the population does not get out of control here, and local groups are extending aid.
“This is a problem that is going to be hard to control,” said Riley Egger, a Coastal Conservation League project manager. “It’s good that we are getting out fast on this issue because these reptiles populate extremely quickly. We don’t want to see impacts on our turtle, turkey and quail populations as a result of these lizards.”
As of Sept. 10, eight total sightings of the lizards were reported in Berkeley, Greenville, Lexington and Richland counties.
While the tegus don’t pose a particular threat to humans, they are omnivorous, and will eat just about anything they can get their claws on. They have a fondness for eggs, which endangers ground-nesting birds and sea turtle nests on beaches.
State officials and organizations can only do so much, and are asking communities to report sightings.
“This is going to be a combined effort from local residents to ensure that if you see one, you report it immediately to the DNR so they have a good idea of their scope and do everything we can to get this controlled now,” Egger said.
Black and white tegu lizards are non-native species in South Carolina, so they are not protected by state wildlife laws or regulations. Egger said these lizards should be removed from the wildlife.
A bill has been proposed in Columbia that could help prevent future events such as this by outlawing the release of non-native wildlife from captivity within state lines and allow the DNR to regulate certain species of non-native wildlife that pose a danger or nuisance to native environments.