University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #WEC295

Florida Invader: Tegu Lizard1

Steve A. Johnson and Monica McGarrity2

Figure 1. 

Black-and-white tegu (Tupinambis merianae), also known as the giant Argentine tegu.


Mauro Teixeiro, Jr., Universidade de São Paolo, Brazil

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Report tegu lizard sightings immediately:

1-888-IveGot1 (1-888-483-4681; live animals only) (provide photos if possible)

The black-and-white or giant Argentine tegu (Salvator merianae), native to South America, has become established in the Balm-Wimauma (southeast of Tampa) and Homestead (south of Miami) areas due to releases or escapes of pets. Individual lizards belonging to several tegu species have also been captured in other areas in Florida. These large lizards grow to 4–5 feet long. Like Nile monitor lizards, tegus are likely to eat the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and turtles and could impact threatened and endangered species, including gopher tortoises. They have been observed eating alligator eggs, and could be a problem for threatened American crocodiles in southern Florida. They are opportunistic predators and consume a variety of small prey as well as plant matter and carrion (dead animals). Black-and-white tegus inhabit dry, upland areas with sandy soils, including natural, urbanized, and agricultural areas. Tegus could potentially become an agricultural pest or a source of bacterial contamination of food crops. These lizards may dig burrows, but also frequently invade the burrows of native gopher tortoises. They remain underground during late fall and winter months. Females lay approximately 5 eggs per clutch up to twice per year. Lifespan is 15–20 years.

Figure 2. 

The head and neck of a tegu are much thicker than those of a Nile monitor. The fleshy, forked tongue is red. In young animals, the head is greenish (as shown here).


Dustin Smith, Zoo Miami

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 3. 

The body of black-and-white tegus is grayish and marked with dark bands with abundant light spots in between. Other tegu species are similarly marked, but base coloration may vary (as shown in Figure 4).


Mario Sacramento, Universidade de Alfenas, Brazil

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 4. 

Several tegu species have been found in Florida, including the red tegu (shown here) and the gold tegu, which has a yellow-tan base color.


Patrick Lynch, South Florida Water Management District (2009)

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Learn to identify and report tegus


This project was made possible in part by a grant from the South Florida National Parks Trust and the Ferris Greeney Family Foundation, and by the USDA-RREA. This document was created as additional reference material for the Introduced Reptile Early Detection and Documentation training program, also known as REDDy. For more information, visit



This document is WEC295, one of a series of the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 2010. Revised February 2014 and June 2017. Visit the EDIS website at


Steve A. Johnson, associate professor and Extension specialist; and Monica McGarrity, Extension program assistant; Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.