While pythons have received a majority of public attention, invasive lizards also pose a significant threat to southern Florida's native wildlife and ecosystems. The Argentine black and white tegu (Salvator merianae, previously Tupinambis merianae) has been introduced through the pet trade and has established breeding populations in Hillsborough County (central Florida) and Miami-Dade County (southern Florida). Argentine black and white tegus are omnivores, eating a variety of plants and small animals, but are especially known for eating buried eggs of reptiles. We have documented tegus eating American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and turtle eggs in Florida (See video below). The growth and spread of tegu populations has the potential to impact populations of threatened and endangered native species, such as American crocodiles, sea turtles, ground nesting birds, etc.
The University of Florida research team is collaborating with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the South Florida Water Management District to contain and reduce the tegu population. This includes:
- Maximizing detection and removal of tegus in occupied areas
- Preventing expansion to new areas (including both public and private lands)
- Evaluating effectiveness of integrated outreach and current trapping programs
- Using radio telemetry to understand how tegus move through the landscape and apply results to enhance removal
Trapping efforts for Argentine black and white tegus produced evidence for an established population of another South American species in Florida, the gold tegu (Tupinambis teguixin). Similar to Argentine black and white tegus, gold tegus are a potential threat to nesting indigenous wildlife because their diet in their native range includes eggs
Edwards, J.R., Ketterlin, J.K., Rochford, M.R., Irwin, R., Krysko, K.L., Duduesnel, J.G., Mazzotti, F.J., & Reed, R.N. 2017. The Gold Tegu, Tupinambis teguixin (Linnaeus 1758)(Squamata: Teiidae): evidence for an established population in Florida. Bioinvasions Records 6(4): 407-410. Full PDF
Johnson, F.A., B.J. Smith, M. Bonneau, J. Martin, C. Romagosa, F. Mazzotti, H. Waddle, R.N. Reed, J. Ketterlin Eckles, L.J. Vitt. 2017. Expert elicitation, uncertainty, and the value of information in controlling invasive species. Ecological Economics 137: 83-90. Full PDF
Mazzotti, F.J., McEachern, M., Rochford, M.R., Reed, R.N., Ketterlin Eckles, J., Vinci, J., Edwards, J., Wasilewski, J. 2014. Tupinambis merianae as nest predators of crocodilians and turtles in Florida, USA. Biological Invasions DOI 10.1007/s10530-014-0730-1. Full PDF
Pernas, T., Giardina, D.J., McKinley, A., Parns, A., Mazzotti, F.J. 2012. First observations of nesting by the Argentine black and white tegu, Tupinambis merianae in south Florida. Southeastern Naturalist 11(4):765-770. Full PDF
This story is from UF's Croc Docs.