If you’re out for a walk in Georgia and happen to see a 4-foot-long black lizard with a white speckled pattern across its back, you shouldn’t panic. What you should do is try to take a photo—it might be an Argentine tegu, a non-native lizard species that could soon wreak havoc on Georgia’s wildlife.
As Travel + Leisure reports, the scaly creatures originally hail from South America, but they’ve recently been spotted in South Florida and Georgia, where they’re scarfing down a smorgasbord of eggs from many different species: ground-nesting birds like quail and turkeys, reptiles like alligators and gopher tortoises, or even regular chickens. They’re far from picky—they’ll also munch on pet food, fruit, vegetables, carrion, grasshoppers, baby gopher tortoises, and other small animals. The tegus pose an especially large threat to gopher tortoises, one of Georgia’s protected species. Not only do they eat them, but they’re also known to take up residence in their burrows, evicting the tortoises in the process.
Considering how disruptive they could be to Georgia’s existing ecosystem, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is asking people to report any tegu sighting, living or dead, so they can track the population spread and keep it contained. Because the lizards don’t have any natural predators in Georgia and reproduce rapidly—females can lay around 35 eggs each year—the area could be crawling with them before you can say “Look, a lizard!”
Tegus have been seen in Toombs and Tattnall counties, and they can range from 6 inches (for hatchlings, which are also distinguishable by their bright green heads) to 4 feet long. Though they don’t normally attack humans, one might turn its sharp claws and teeth on you if it feels threatened; in other words, snap the photo from a safe distance.
Then, attach the image to this form, fill out a few key details—including the tegu’s size and location—and hit “Submit.” The Georgia Invasive Species Task Force will take it from there.
[h/t Travel + Leisure]