Residents in Panama City living in the area off East Avenue north of 15th Street are being asked to report any sightings of a tegu, a black-and-white lizard with banding on the tail.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff captured 33 Argentine tegus this past week in this Panama City neighborhood after a local resident called the exotic species hotline.
Most of the reptiles captured were adults measuring 3 to 4 feet in length and weighing up to 30 pounds.
“A previous resident in the area had a Class III license, which allowed him to sell tegus,” said FWC Investigator Jerry Shores. “That person left town and abandoned the tegus, which has prompted a criminal investigation. During the investigation, the current residents have been nothing but helpful.”
Tegus are nonnative to Florida, however, anyone who spots a tegu is asked to call the exotic species hotline at 888-IveGot1 (888-483-4681) or report it online at IveGot1.org. If possible, please take a photo and note the location when reporting.
Shores said most of the exotic lizards were captured within a fenced-in yard. However, some tegus have been reported by area residents a block or so away.
“We do not want anyone to try and capture these reptiles. Instead, we’re asking they report the sighting to 888-IveGot1 (888-483-4681) and if possible take a picture of the tegu,” Shores said.
The black-and-white tegu is native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. It can be purchased in the pet trade, but like many other nonnative species, it can become established in Florida’s sub-tropical climate if it escapes or is released into the wild.
The tegu’s diet includes fruit, vegetables, eggs, insects, lizards, rodents and potentially other small animals.
“We know tegus will compete with native wildlife. The FWC is asking for the public’s help if someone spots a tegu in this area of Panama City,” said Kristen Sommers, the FWC’s Exotic Species Coordination Section leader.
Sommers said FWC staff are making routine site visits to the neighborhood and will continue capture efforts this coming week.
Releasing exotic species into Florida’s ecosystem is illegal and can be harmful to native wildlife. If you have a tegu as a pet and no longer want to keep it, please call the FWC or participate in one of the FWC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Days, where you can turn it in, with no penalty, for adoption.
A fact sheet with photos and information about tegus is available at MyFWC.com/Nonnatives, where information about Exotic Pet Amnesty Days also is available.