Georgia Officials Warn About Harmful, Invasive Lizards That Can Grow up to 4 Feet Long

Officials in Georgia are warning residents about another ongoing threat: lizards. The species of lizard, the Argentine black and white tegu, are not only invasive, they're particularly harmful to local wildlife and can grow to lengths of up to 4 feet. The state is working on ways to eradicate the species, according to PEOPLE.

John Jensen, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Conservation, posted a video to YouTube where he explained the species potential for harm. "They eat just about anything they want — plant and animal matter," Jensen said. "And one of their favorite foods eggs from ground-nesting animals, such as gopher tortoises, our protected state reptile." They were first spotted in Florida before moving into Toombs and Tattnall counties in Georgia, where they could continue to spread.

Jensen also encouraged everyone to report sightings of the lizards so they trap them more effectively. "If you are able to safely and humanely dispatch of the animal, we encourage that and we want that information, too." He also noted that the lizard has become a more commonplace pet, which sometimes ends with humans no longer wanting to care for them. "Releasing it into the wild is the absolute worst thing to do, it will affect our native species and we can't have that."

Additionally, the Orianne Society, a nonprofit the focuses on the conservation of reptiles and amphibians, noted that this is the third year that the lizard has been found in Georgia. This indicates that the tegu are capable of surviving the state's winters. "It is critical to remove invasive species early in the invasion process to have the best chance of success," they wrote in a press release.

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The tegu lizards are yet another issue for the state to contend with, who had more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 in just 24 hours at the end of April after they'd begun to loosen their Stay-at-Home restrictions. Despite the lifted restrictions, Gov. Brian Kemp was still urging high-risk residents to stay at home whenever possible.

"While the current shelter in place order will expire tonight at 11:59 PM for most Georgians, the elderly and medically fragile will still be required to shelter in place through June 12," he tweeted on April 30. "I encourage all Georgians to continue to maintain social distancing, limit their travel, and use best practices. Gatherings of more than 10 people will not be allowed unless it is possible to maintain 6 feet of distance.