Its name sounds exotic and cool. But the tegu lizard, with its forked tongue and fierce appetite for native species, is a growing pest that might be on the verge of rivaling the python as the state's menace of the moment.
A roundup of the invasive lizards, which can grow to just over 4 feet, is scheduled Wednesday in Hillsborough, where they arethriving in sparsely populated areas of Riverview, Lithia and Wimauma in southern Hillsborough County.
The trapping effort is a research project to find out more about this non-native species, what it is eating and its effects on native wildlife.
"Any non-native species that establishes its population in the environment is going to have an effect up and down the food chain," Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told the Times in April of this year.
Morse said the tegu poses a problem because it eats native plants and animals. He also warned that they could become a bigger nuisance because of their appetite.
"They are so voracious they could pose a problem," he said.
Todd Campbell, an associate professor in the University of Tampa biology department said it is unknown how many tegus are out there. But, he added, it's probably not in the hundreds and more likely in the thousands.
Campbell said the state definitely has to do something about the tegu, which he called a "top predator." He said it's a tough task because the lizards are spread out in rural areas.
In addition to Hillsborough, the commission said tegu populations have also popped in other Florida locales, such as neighboring Polk County and also Miami-Dade County.
Information from Times files was used in this report.