By Michelle Caceres

The story of giant lizards wandering the streets of FishHawk Ranch sounds more like a science fiction tale than real life, but FishHawk Ridge resident Donna Hart confirms that this is no urban legend. She spotted a large lizard, approximately two to three feet in length, crossing the road near the four-way stop at the entrance to Heron Glen.

“I waited in my car while it crossed the road,” said Hart. “It was definitely bigger than the lizards I typically see in FishHawk.”

The lizard Hart saw, an Argentine black and white tegu native to South America (specifically Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina), is an invasive species that has established a colony in the Riverview area. It is believed that the population was founded by escaped or released pets.

Tegus, which can grow up to 4 ft. in length, are black and white in color with banding along the tail. They spend most of their time on land, but are excellent swimmers and can submerge themselves for extended periods of time. Their diet consists of fruit, vegetables, eggs, insects, cat or dog food and small animals such as lizards and rodents.

“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is currently working with the University of Florida to assess the threat of this species and develop a management project,” said FWC Regional Public Information Director Gary Morse.

It is unknown how many tegus have made the Riverview area home but a hotline has been set up for residents to report sightings. Trappers will come out and, if captured, the tegus will generally be euthanized after being weighed, measured and their stomach contents examined.

“There are a number of them out there,” said Morse.

Tegus reproduce quickly with a mature female tegu being able to lay approximately 35 eggs per year. In Florida, tegu eggs hatch in early summer.

Morse recommends anyone who sees a tegu to contact the hotline. Although they make great pets, if cornered they will defend themselves.

For more information about Tegus, visit www.MyFWC.com/Nonnatives or if you spot one, call the exotic species hotline at 1-888-IVE-GOT1 (1-888-483-4681) or online at www.IveGot1.org.