They can grow up to 4 feet long, weigh up to 10 pounds, live up to 20 years, and eat "just about anything they want." Now, Georgia is trying to rid itself of the Argentine black-and-white tegu lizard, an invasive species so far spotted in Toombs and Tattnall counties, CNN reports. The lizards, which have few predators and multiply quickly (females can lay 35 eggs or so per year), cause concern because they chow down on native species like alligator eggs and baby gopher tortoises, as well as possibly spread parasites and contaminate crops, per the state's Department of Natural Resources. Besides devouring the eggs of ground-nesting birds and other reptiles, the lizards also eat pet food, fruits, veggies, plants, carrion, and small live animals like grasshoppers. Georgia officials believe the proliferation of tegus in Georgia likely started after captive ones escaped their owners and bred in the wild.
It had previously been believed that invasive lizards wouldn't be able to survive the state's winter months, but that seems to not be the case, per the Hill. "Three years of captures strongly suggests that tegus are able to survive the colder winter in southern Georgia," the Orianne Society conservation group says on Facebook, calling the tegus "voracious predators." The group says tegus "should be shot on sight," and it is legal to capture or kill them, as they're not a native species protected by state wildlife laws. Still, the DNR notes "animal cruelty and local ordinances apply." Anyone who owns a tegu and doesn't want it anymore shouldn't simply open the back door and watch it scurry into the woods. Instead, DNR biologist John Jensen tells CNN, contact a local reptile adoption group. "Releasing it into the wild is the absolute worst thing to do," he says. (Read more lizards stories.)