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8 more invasive tegu lizards confirmed in SC, 2 in Berkeley County near Bonneau

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The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has confirmed eight black and white tegu lizard sightings in South Carolina since August. The lizards, such as this one at the University of Florida, have not been documented as dangerous to people or pets. File/AP

An invader reptile species from South America is now slithering in three regions of South Carolina, including around Charleston.    

Since last month, eight more sightings of the black and white tegu lizard have been confirmed in the state.

Five were reported in Lexington and Richland counties, two in Berkeley County and one in Greenville County.

The two in Berkeley County were in the Bonneau area.

All the animals were deceased when the Department of Natural Resources received them from members of the public.

Although sightings have increased in South Carolina, state Herpetologist Andrew Grosse said he does not believe the lizards are reproducing here. The animals are popular among reptile collectors and could have escaped or been released.

"I would say they’re not moving long distances,” Grosse said. “They’re probably staying in the general vicinity of where they were released or escaped from, but it’s hard to say.”

The ground-dwelling lizards can weigh more than 10 pounds and reach up to 4 feet in length.

They have been established in Georgia and Florida, but Grosse said the species is not wanted in South Carolina.

“They are a large predator that essentially dropped into our ecosystem, and on top of being a large predator, they’re omnivorous, so they are open to eating pretty much anything they come across,” he said.

Tests on the carcasses show the lizards have been scavenging native plants and animals including toads, insects and muscadines. This leaves DNR officials believing they are wild, free-roaming and searching widely for food.

Tegus have been seen in Florida opening alligator nests and eating the eggs. Ground-nesting birds could also be easy prey for them.

Grosse said the lizards are likely to run away from people and haven’t been documented as dangerous to human or pets.

The animals are not protected by the state and may be eliminated in the wild by members of the public as long as local laws are adhered to, DNR said.

People who believe they have spotted a black and white tegu lizard are encouraged to take a picture and report it to Grosse at grossea@dnr.sc.gov.

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