Tegus are very difficult to catch by hand and are much easier to trap using eggs as bait, according to Jake Edwards, a wildlife technician hired by FWC to capture the lizards in South Florida.
On a recent hike checking traps in the Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area, Edwards tried unsuccessfully to catch a couple of free-roaming tegus.
Youre going to want to listen; youll hear it going through the brush, he explained of his hunting methods. It might be basking on the road. You might have about 10 seconds before it runs away.
But neither Edwards, nor Jeff Fobb a trapper who also heads Miami-Dade Fire Rescues Venom One unit recommends grabbing a tegu by hand, due to its damaging teeth and claws.
Id rather get bit by a 10-foot snake than that guy right there, Fobb said, pointing to a two-footer he recently caught in someones garage.
South Floridas burgeoning tegu population has spawned something of a cottage industry: trappers who sell them as pets.
Rodney Irwin, 59, of Homestead a former yacht captain and demolition worker began trapping tegus on private land for fun and profit about two years ago.
He estimates hes taken between 800 and 1,000, selling most of them directly to customers on his website, tegusonly.com for about $100 apiece. He also sells to a wholesaler for between $35 and $50.
Irwin says hes working to benefit South Floridas ecosystem.
This is a chance for me to make a difference, he said. I cant do anything about the apes in Borneo, but I can do something about the natives in my hometown.
Asked whether he was concerned that the pets he sells may end up right back in the Everglades abandoned, Irwin responded that none of his customers are local and, in any case, they could buy a tegu in a pet store. He said he shares his capture data with the scientists working to contain the lizards spread.
So far, there are no plans to include tegus with Burmese pythons for restrictions on ownership, according to Kristen Sommers, who heads the FWCs exotic species section. Instead, more study is in order.
We need to figure out whats going on with this, Sommers said. Were still in an information-gathering mode, trying to figure out whats the potential for spread and expansion and what would be the impact if that did happen. I hope within the next year well have enough data to determine our next steps.