Invasion of Giant Hungry Lizards?

Image result for images of tegu lizards

This one is tame–I think.

Those scary stories about alligators living in our city sewers turned out to be an urban legend. But here’s something almost as bad that’s definitely not a legend.

Wild colonies of South American tegu lizards have established themselves in Florida and are doing well enough to threaten to “march across the South” as far as the Carolinas and Texas, wildlife experts say (

How did that happen? People acquire the tegus as pets, get tired of them, and let them go.

Tegus are heavy, muscular lizards with big heads and strong jaws, and they can grow to be four feet long. In Florida they’re eating alligator and bird eggs, any small animals they can catch, and fruit. As tegu owners already know, tegus are not picky eaters. They’ll scarf down practically anything; and getting bitten by a large tegu would feet like getting your hand caught in a car door. Trust me, I know. My savannah monitor (you could easily mistake it for a tegu) nailed me once, and you should’ve heard me howl. And that was just a warning bite, as in “No more medicine, you putz!” If she’d meant business, it would’ve gone hard with me.

There’s nothing wrong, I’d say, with having a tegu for a pet; but it’s very wrong to release one into the wild. Can’t we be decent to our animals? Acquiring a pet of any kind ought to be a loving commitment for as long as the animal lives.

I had to part with my monitor. I had to medicate her, the treatment was successful, but she hated it and it left her with a deep grudge against me. Eventually I found a man, affiliated with the Staten Island Zoo, who had remodeled his home to house his collection of really cool reptiles, and he was happy to adopt Spot. If a monitor lizard could purr, she would have purred when I handed her over to her new owner. Made me feel about two inches tall, but I’m sure I did the right thing.

If you’re not going to keep and love your pet, you shouldn’t have it in the first place.

Meanwhile, the tegus are coming, the tegus are coming…

9 comments on “Invasion of Giant Hungry Lizards?

  1. That is something I wouldn’t care to run into in a dark alleyway. At four feet, even if half of it is tail, that is still formidable and potentially dangerous. If it were 4’ long alligators, people would be up in arms. Frankly, I wouldn’t care to be bitten by either; a Tegu or a ‘Gator. I’ve handled a Caiman which was less than 2’ long and studiously avoided the end which had teeth. (It was cool to be holding a crocodilian.)

    That’s quite the story, with regard to your monitor.

    1. The tegu’s tail is heavy and strong, and it would hurt to get smacked with it.
      That’s another thing I know from experience. Iguanas can whack you pretty good.

    2. I’ve heard that a ‘Gator’s tail is nothing to mess with. Heck, it hurts to be slapped in the face by the tail of a half-grown kitten, so I can imagine that a reptile can pack quite a wallop with their tale.

    3. I once baby-sat for someone’s iguanas while she went on vacation. The biggest was almost 5 feet long, too big for a cage. She had a perch in one of those old cage-things we used for burning leaves. She was very tame and could obey a few simple verbal commands. She also liked to follow the sun around the house.

      One afternoon, this landed her on the spare bed in my sister’s room, with only my mother at home. She found the lizard there, sort of lost her cool, and summoned the next-door neighbor to do something about it.

      Poor Mr. Mascola! All he could think to do was to try to shoo the iguana with a broom–and all he got for that was a big red welt across his arm (through a sweatshirt!).

      So the iguana was still there when I came in, and my mother insisted I carry the critter back to my room. When she told me what had happened, I said, “Gee, Ma, you didn’t have to do that.” I turned to the iguana and said, “Back to your perch.” And she climbed down from the bed and back to her perch.

      My mother was greatly relieved–but also a little dumbfounded.

      After that episode, she discovered that she really liked iguanas quite a bit.

    4. That’s an amazing story. Lizards are not so dumb as people think they are. The ones living around here are canny survivors with a nose for trouble. If they weren’t they’d have long since been food for a hawk, roadrunner or other predator.

      I can only imagine that trying to chase a 5′ iguana with a broom would be an exercise in futility and quite risky. I wouldn’t want to be bitten by one even half that size.

      I didn’t realize that they would respond to voice commands. I wish I could get my cat to listen as well.

    5. All of God’s creatures, it would seem, have a personality and a unique identity. A sense of self and a sense of their place in the world. My cat, for instance, realizes that she is royalty and that the rest of us are here to serve her. 🙂

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