PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Almost three dozen exotic lizards have been captured in a Florida Panhandle neighborhood where state wildlife officials say a licensed seller abandoned them.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff captured 33 black-and-white tegu lizards this week in a Panama City neighborhood.
The lizards appeared after a previous resident licensed to sell tegus left town and abandoned them, said Jerry Shores, an investigator with the wildlife commission.
Releasing exotic species into the wild in Florida is illegal. A criminal investigation is pending, Shores said.
Most of the lizards were found in a fenced-in yard, though some residents about a block away also have reported seeing tegus, Shores said. Most measured up to 4 feet in length and weighed up to 30 pounds.
Wildlife officials are asking residents to report tegu sightings but to leave capturing them to professionals, who will continue patroling the neighborhood next week.
Tegus are native to South America and can be purchased as pets. However, they will compete with Florida’s native wildlife if they become established in the wild, said Kristen Sommers, head of the wildlife commission’s exotic species coordination section.
The lizards are known to gorge on eggs and invade the burrows of the endangered gopher tortoise. They also eat fruit, vegetables, insects, rodents and other lizards.
Anyone who spots a tegu in the wild is encouraged to report it to Florida’s exotic species hotline, www.IveGot1.org . Pet owners who no longer want to keep tegus or other exotic animals can turn them in for adoption during one of the wildlife commission’s exotic pet amnesty events.