"They are voracious, omnivorous, predatory lizards that can live in a variety of habitats, but we can't know what is going to happen or how intense this invasion is going to become until the effects are upon us," professor Lee Fitzgerald, at Texas A&M University, said in an interview with Reuters.
The lizards in Florida are armed with strong jaws and heavy tails used to attack predators, researchers said. They eat the eggs of American alligators, along with ground-nesting birds, insects and birds and pet food.
Tegu lizard owners describe their pets as big, calm and occasionally affectionate, Reuters reported. They can adapt easily to indoor environments, aren't picky eaters and get along with other pets, but they can become difficult to manage as they grow, according to Reptile Magazine.
Fitzgerald said it can take years for tegu lizards to reach their full size, but new hot spots of tegu populations are emerging as more pet lizards escape or are dumped in the wild by owners.
"The most important thing that the public can do to stop the spread of nonnative species like tegus is to never release nonnative animals into the wild," Jamie Rager, from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told Reuters. "Don't let it loose."