Large South American lizard has Georgia on its mind

Reptile Rescue Coordinator Tom Bunsell handles an Argentine black and white tegu at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animalsreptile rescue centre on May 29, 2015 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

A South American lizard could be establishing a breeding population in south Georgia, state wildlife officials say.

The lizards - known as tegus - can grow up to 4 feet long.

Talk of large, odd-looking lizards has been circulating in eastern Toombs and western Tattnall counties, The Savannah Morning News reported.

People have reported seeing the reptiles crossing dirt roads, and they've shown up on trail cameras.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has documented at least four adult Argentine black and white tegus in the state. Also, there have been 20 sightings in the stretch of forest, farmland and streams from the south Georgia town of Lyons to Reidsville.

The agency is encouraging residents to report sightings as biologists investigate their possible expansion into Georgia.

"We think there's something going on. But we need to know more," said John Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

Argentine black and white tegus are an invasive species that grows large, reproduces fast and eats lots of things, from fruit to eggs, birds and small mammals, the Savannah newspaper reported.

Tegus would pose a threat to native wildlife, including gopher tortoises, a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing. Tegus have been documented using gopher tortoise burrows and eating tortoise eggs and the young. Tegus will also eat vegetables, pet food and chicken eggs.

If tegus are reproducing in the wild in south Georgia, catching them early is crucial.

Once the lizards are established - as they are in Florida's two known populations - the only effective response is to try and stem their numbers and spread, officials said.

In Georgia, Jensen hopes the public can shed light on the population so more is known.

"If you've seen something, let us know," he said.