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7 exotic pets wreaking havoc in the wild

By: Michael d'Estries on April 21, 2017, 10:47 a.m.
Argentine tegu

Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen/WikiMedia

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Argentine tegus

In 2009, as part of campaign to trap invasive species in South Florida, biologists captured 13 Argentine tegus. In 2015, they caught more than 700.

The black and white lizard, native to South America, is commonly found in pet stores throughout the United States. Because they can grow in excess of 5 feet, owners sometimes release them into Florida's copious swamps and waterways.

In the wild, they can survive for 15 to 20 years, gorging themselves on a diet of fruits, eggs and small mammals. What they find, they eat, and they may attack humans, too. In addition, they can survive temperatures as low as 35 degrees and have the ability to reproduce extremely quickly; a nest can contain around 35 eggs.

"There is no debate about tegus," biologist Frank Mazzotti told the Orlando Sentinel. "All of Florida is at risk." Tegus are hitting the Tampa Bay area especially hard, and the Fish & Wildlife Commission is concerned, but there is no organized effort to get rid of the creature (unlike the invasive Burmese pythons).