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Argentine Black and White Tegu

Salvator merianae

Regulatory Status

A tegu is held by a biologist in front of an FWC logo

Argentine black and white tegus are not native to Florida and are considered an invasive species due to their impacts to native wildlife.  Like all nonnative reptile species, tegus are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty law and can be humanely killed on private property with landowner permission. They can also be humanely killed year-round and without a permit on 25 public lands in south Florida.

Description

Argentine Black and White Tegu

Argentine black and white tegus are large lizards that can reach nearly five feet in length. They have a mottled black and white coloration that often is arranged into a banding pattern across the back and tail. Hatchlings display similar markings, but typically have bright green heads. The green coloration fades after they reach about one month of age.

In both its native and introduced range, the Argentine black and white tegu is found in savannas and disturbed habitats such as forest clearings, roadsides and fence rows. They are terrestrial lizards that rarely climb more than a few feet off the ground, but they are strong swimmers. Tegus can tolerate marine and freshwater habitats, such as flooded marshes.

During winter months, tegus retreat into burrows while they undergo a hibernation-like period known as brumation. In south Florida, they typically begin to emerge from their burrows in February.

Tegu breeding in Florida begins in early spring. Female tegus reach reproductive maturity after their second year of brumation or when they are about 12 inches long from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. They lay an average of 35 eggs per year. Females construct nests of dried vegetation, often at the base of trees, in clumps of tall grass or in burrows. Eggs incubate for approximately 60 days and require stable temperatures for successful hatching. After hatching, juvenile tegus grow quickly. Tegus may live up to 20 years.

Diet

Tegus have an omnivorous diet and consume fruits, eggs, insects, and small animals including reptiles and rodents. They are efficient egg predators that will consume the eggs of ground-nesting birds and reptiles. They may also consume pet food that has been left outdoors.

Tegus are known egg-eaters and in Florida, they have been documented consuming American alligator eggs. They may also impact other ground-nesting native wildlife such as the gopher tortoise, American crocodile, sea turtles and ground-nesting birds. Tegus have also consumed gopher tortoise hatchlings in Florida.

Native Range

The Argentine black and white tegu is native to South America where it can be found in Brazil, Paraguay, eastern Uruguay and northern Argentina.

Florida Distribution

Reproducing populations of Argentine black and white tegus are established in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade and Charlotte Counties. An emerging population was recently discovered in St. Lucie County after several confirmed reports were received through the FWC's Exotic Species Hotline. Managers and researchers believe these populations occurred through escapes or intentional captive animal or pet releases. Argentine black and white tegus have also been reported from other Florida counties, though these observations are most likely isolated occasions of escaped or released pets and not related to successful breeding populations. Some limited observations of red tegus and gold tegus have also been recorded in Florida.

See where this species has been reported in Florida.

Potential Impacts

Potential impacts of tegus include competition with and preying upon Florida’s native wildlife, including some imperiled and protected species. Tegus prey upon the nests of other animals, and researchers have documented tegus eating American alligator eggs and disturbing American crocodile nests in Florida. Recent gut content analysis of tegus by the FWC revealed that they consume Threatened juvenile gopher tortoises and agriculturally valuable foods, highlighting the impact this species may have on sensitive wildlife and agricultural lands.

Though current population estimates are not available for this species, evidence suggests possible expansion of their populations in Florida. Adults have few predators and can give birth to large numbers of offspring per year, increasing the risk of populations spreading beyond their established ranges and impacting surrounding areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is the FWC managing this species?

The FWC works collaboratively with external agencies and partners to assess the threat of this species and further develop management strategies. The FWC removes tegus from the environment with targeted trapping and works to capture and remove this species from the wild. The FWC and partners have removed thousands of tegus from Florida.

What if I own a tegu I can no longer care for?

Released pets remain a primary source of introduced species in Florida. Through the FWC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program, pet owners who are either unable to care for their exotic pets, such as tegus, or who no longer wish to keep them can surrender them with no questions asked and without penalties regardless of whether those pets are kept legally or illegally. The EPAP helps reduce the number of nonnative species being released into the wild by pet owners and fosters responsible pet ownership.

How can I be part of the solution?

  • Keep attractants such as pet food inside and be sure to cover outdoor openings and clear your yard of debris to minimize hiding and burrowing areas for tegus.
  • Don’t Let It Loose! Never release exotic animals such as tegus.
  • Surrender unwanted pet tegus to the FWC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program.
  • Report observations of tegus to FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline (888-Ive-Got1).

What should I do if I see a tegu?

The FWC encourages reports of Argentine black and white tegu sightings. You can help by taking a picture, noting the location, and reporting this information using the free IveGot1 mobile app, calling 1-888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681), or by reporting online at IveGot1.org.