HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The invasive Burmese python seems to get all the attention, but there's another reptile in South Florida that scientists are even more worried about -- the Argentine black-and-white tegu.
"The Argentine black-and-white tegu is the biggest lizard in the Americas," said Dr. Bryan Falk, a reptile specialist at Everglades National Park.
The tegu was first spotted in the Homestead area about a decade ago, but how it arrived in South Florida is a source of debate.
Most scientists believe they were people's pets before being dumped in the wild.
They've now become one of Florida's most invasive species.
Rodney Irwin, a Homestead native who traps with permission on private land and has a license to sell reptiles, has a special love for the tegu.
"It's not their fault they’re here. They didn't ask to be here," Irwin said.
Irwin said South Florida is an ideal location for the reptiles.
"You couldn't make a better environment for tegus than the one we're in," he said. "They like an abundant food supply. And the abundant food supply is our native species."
Irwin showed Local 10 News where he puts out as many as 60 traps at a time to catch tegus, as well as the collection he’s amassed so far.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, the tegu has two established populations in Florida: the Homestead area and near Tampa.
"We worry about tegus because they eat just about everything," Falk said.
That includes fruit, plants and native and threatened animals like the American crocodile. Even more concerning is the tegu’s penchant for eggs.
"They find eggs. They can find nests in the ground, so any animal that might nest on the ground and have those eggs there is at risk for having their entire clutch be eaten by a tegu," Falk said.
This past spring, former Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that would allow people to capture or kill tegus on public lands. The office of Gov. Ron DeSantis has not yet responded to a request about whether the new administration has further plans.
"A lot of agencies have been working to trap and remove tegus and hundreds have been removed over the last several years," Falk said.
Most scientists believe the tegu population has not yet reached Everglades National Park.