Invasive lizards in Florida can eat birds, house cats

A large lizard, known as the tegu, has started to take root in Tampa, Florida. But it's not supposed to be.

The reptile, native to South America, has become a popular exotic pet amongst Floridians in the Tampa area. But the 4-foot-long, hungry pet can be a headache when pet owners realize they're in for more than what they bargained for.

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Though the giant pet can appear harmless, it poses a serious threat to anyone, or thing, it crosses. With the tegu's sharp teeth and dangerous bite, the reptile can devour snakes, birds, lizards, and even a house cat, wildlife experts say.

"A big lizard can be a very exciting animal for a young kid to run across. They want to catch it. If they want to grab a large tegu, they could get sent to the hospital," Lewis Single, an herpetologist at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, told WFTS.

Pet owners who were once attracted to the exotic pet often release it back into the wild, or, in this case, local Florida. There are reports of more than 200 tegus loose in Hillsborough County alone, giving Tampa the highest population of these reptiles in the entire state.

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Locals are being urged to report sightings of the lizard to the Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (Everglades CISMA) -- an interagency partnership that manages invasive species across southern Florida.

However, though the foreign reptile is believed to pose as much of a threat to the Florida ecosystem as the notorious Burmese python, the Fish and Wildlife Commission say there is no plan set in place yet to regulate them.

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