"No one really knows why we have this population here," says John Paner, owner of the Croc Encounters Reptile Park. "Certainly some got released at some point and established a breeding population."
Now the non-native invader is becoming a menace much like Burmese pythons are plaguing the Everglades down south.
"This is an animal that eats eggs, small mammals, snakes, lizards, birds, maybe even a house cat," says Lewis Single, who works in the herpetology department at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. "That's a species I would be more concerned with in Hillsborough County than the Burmese python."
Tegus especially prey on the eggs of the endangered gopher tortoise -- one native species that could be severely threatened by the lizards -- but they can be aggressive with anyone...and that includes humans.
"A big lizard can be a very exciting animal for a young kid to run across, they want to catch it," says Single. "If they want to grab a large tegu, they could get sent to the hospital."
"What they're going to find they're going to eat," says Croc Encounters' Paner. "He's got lots of sharp teeth and a pretty good strong bite so they will defend themselves."
The Fish & Wildlife Commission said they have "concern" about the tegu, but as of right now, there is no eradication plan in place a la the Burmese pythons.
What happens if we don't get the tegu population under control? In 10 years, will we be overrun by these surly lizards? Says Paner: "Right now, no one knows the answer to that."