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Evidence for an established population of tegu lizards Salvator merianae in southeastern Georgia, USA

November 4, 2020

Documenting emergence of invasive species in new areas is vital to understanding spatiotemporal patterns of invasions, propagule pressure, and the risk of establishment. Salvator merianae (Argentine Giant Tegu) has established multiple unconnected populations in southern and Central Florida, and additional sightings have been reported elsewhere in the state. In 2018, land managers in Georgia received >20 reports of this species in the wild. To evaluate the probability of establishment, we assembled verified records of the non-native Argentine Giant Tegu in Georgia over the past nine years. We report on 47 tegu observations throughout Georgia, with a concentration of sightings (n = 38) in Toombs and Tattnall counties. In 2019, we used modified Havahart traps and captured adult male and female tegus at one of our three locations during 3085 corrected trap nights. While we did not find evidence of a well-established population (i.e., varied size structure of tegus captured) with our limited trapping effort, we suspect tegus are breeding in Toombs and Tattnall counties due to the concentration of captures and reports of adult males and females, the consistent reports of adults across years, the confirmed presence of tegus in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and the reproductive capacity (i.e., turgid testes and secondary follicles) of tegus captured. Ongoing tegu introductions from captivity are likely to maintain high propagule pressure in the southeastern United States. Effective early detection, funded rapid response networks, and public outreach to solicit reports of tegu sightings are critical to prevent establishment and associated ecological impacts of this invasive species elsewhere in the southeastern US.