Owners of Argentine black and white tegus, a large lizard that can grow up to four feet long, have until Sept. 25 to register their animals with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The reptiles are native to South America and have been declared an invasive species since first being spotted in the wild in Lexington County in August 2020.
The animals are fast-moving, intelligent and seem adapted to most climates found in the Palmetto State. They have also been found in Richland, Florence and Greenville counties.
Fast-moving, intelligent animals
According to DNR state herpetologist Andrew Grosse, tegus are very popular in the exotic pet trade. The animals spotted in the wild were either escaped pets or were released by owners who discovered the pets were “more than they bargained for.”
Tegus are voracious, omnivorous reptiles that pose a threat to native wildlife. Grosse said necropsies of the animals reveal a diet of muscadines, toads, frogs, lizards, seeds and insects. The concern is that there are enough animals loose to develop a reproducing population in the wild.
“Tegus are one of the most popular exotic pets and we know a lot of people have them,” Grosse said. “It takes only a few animals to survive to sustain a population.”
According to regulations, owners must have their tegus microchipped by an authorized veterinarian, fill out an application through the DNR tegu website and submit photographs of the animal.
Grosse said that after the Sept. 25 deadline, tegu owners who fail to register their animals could face fines of up to $2,500 and up to one year in jail, per animal.
Grosse said SCDNR is working with natural resources agencies in Georgia and Florida — where reproducing populations of tegus exist in the wild — to determine what threats the animals pose to native species.
According to the Georgia DNR tegu webpage, the animals are suspected of carrying salmonella and potential parasites that could endanger native species.
For more information on tegus in South Carolina, visit dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/herps/tegu.
Spotting a tegu in the wild
- Note the time and location of the sighting
- If possible to do so safely from a distance, take a photo of the tegu
- Note any distinguishing characteristics or behaviors of the animal
- Report the sighting to SCDNR through the department’s tegu webpage at https://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/herps/tegu.html