LEE COUNTY, Fla.- An aggressive lizard with a "bacterial bite" has re-emerged in Southwest Florida. Cape Coral biologists recently trapped a golden tegu, which is an omnivorous reptile known for eating eggs.
The tegu trapped in December is one of only three caught in the Cape in 2012. Two breeding populations are established in the Miami-Dade area and Hillsborough County, and some worry the same could happen in Cape Coral. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has active management programs in place there in which a spokesman says they are "actively working to gather information and control the populations."
The population on the east coast is believed to have been established when storms wiped out several exotic pet stores. The central Florida population likely started when a whole saler lost some of the lizards.
Jennifer Ketterlin Eckles, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the tegu trapped recently doesn't confirm a local population. She says it was likely a pet that was released or escaped. Eckles says multiple tegus ranging in size or the discovery of a nest would be needed to confirm breeding.
Unlike the menacing nile monitor that's made the canals of Cape Coral home, Steve Masek with the Calusa Nature Center doesn't believe the tegu will establish itself here, much in part because it commands $250-$350 in the pet-trade.
"Most of the time what I find on average is if someone pays a good 50 dollars plus for any animal, they're more apt to stick it on Craig's List and to sell it than to let it go," Masek said.
Cape Coral established a management program in 2002 as part of a three year grant. Since the grant expired, biologists have trapped tegus on an as-needed basis, according to Kraig Hankins, a biologist with the Cape Coral Environmental Resources Division. A total 360 tegus have been trapped or found dead by professionals or residents over the last decade according to Hankins.
While it is legal to keep tegus as pets, it is against the law to release any exotic animal into the wild.
Instead, if you have one or think you may have spotted one, call the Calusa Nature Center at (239) 275-3435 or the FWC Hotline at 1-888-483-4681.