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Georgia wildlife officials are trying to eradicate a giant, invasive lizard species with the potential to wreak havoc on the state's native wildlife.
The Argentine black and white tegu was first seen in Florida and has now established itself in Toombs and Tattnall counties in Georgia, with the potential to spread rapidly, according to the Orianne Society, a nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of reptiles and amphibians.
John Jensen, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Conservation section, explained in a YouTube video that the lizard can grow up to four feet long and "can have negative impacts on our native species."
"They eat just about anything they want — plant and animal matter. And one of their favorite foods eggs from ground-nesting animals, such as gopher tortoises, our protected state reptile," he shared, adding that the animal also eats the eggs of turkeys and quail.
The Orianne Society noted that this is the third year that the lizard has been found in Georgia, which strongly suggests that the species is able to survive Georgia's colder winter weather.
The lizards, which are native to South America, are sometimes mistaken for baby alligators, Jensen said. They are black or gray in color with spots of white and have a banded pattern across their bodies.
Georgia WIldlife/ Youtube
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is asking the public to help track the lizards with the hopes of eradicating the species completely.
"It is critical to remove invasive species early in the invasion process to have the best chance of success," the Orianne Society wrote.
Jensen is encouraging the public to report sightings of the animals, so they can better plan their trapping efforts.
"If you are able to safely and humanely dispatch of the animal, we encourage that and we want that information too," he added.
As the lizard has become a "common" pet, Jensen noted that owners can turn in their tegu to a reptile adoption group if they no longer want it.
"Releasing it into the wild is the absolute worst thing to do, it will affect our native species and we can't have that," Jensen said.