Lizard invasion spreads to Polk County

Lizard invasion spreads to Polk County

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WINTER HAVEN, FL (WFLA) -

A couple in Winter Haven saw what they thought was a crocodile near their home. It turned out to be a tegu lizard.

Jim and Barbara Walter said the reptile was in their backyard porch. Jim Walters says, "He's about three foot long because the picture I got has got him sticking out of the hole and his back feet are sticking out of the hole and his tail is sticking out past that yet."

Walter says when he first saw the creature he thought it was a crocodile.

After he took the picture, he went to experts to confirm what it is.

"I took the pictures and went to Florida Fish and Wildlife and talked to those people down there. The first thing they told me is it's a Tegu and he's from Argentina and he must have been somebody's pet and they let him go.

Tegus usually grow to be about four feet and weigh 15 pounds. This invasive species exists in small populations in Florida. It originally comes from South America.

Walter is worried about the impact the giant lizard is having on the gopher tortoise population behind his home.

About 439 black and white tegus have been spotted in the state, according to Early Detection and Distribution Mapping system website. Most of the sightings were around Tampa and Miami.

People buy tegu lizards as pets in Florida. If the lizards run away and adapt in the wilderness, they threaten the local ecosystems because they will eat virtually anything.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission urges everybody to report the sightings of the tegus. You can do it by calling 1-888-IVE-GOT1 or loggin in www.ivegot1.org

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