People have used tegu lizards for as long as there are historical records. South American Indians hunt and eat tegu, and tegu lizards are exploited commercially for their skins. In the areas where skins are traded, hunters sell the skins and consume the meat. Tegu fat is prized throughout Argentina and Paraguay for medicinal purposes. The trade in tegu lizards is economically important to local people and to the tanning industry. Thousands of hunters contribute to the total harvest of one million skins annually, and the export value of tegu skins is several millions of dollars.
The significance of the smaller teiids to people is less apparent, but these animals may still be important. Teiids are prey to myriad predators and themselves consume a variety of invertebrate prey and disperse seeds of the fruit they eat. Whiptails and their allies can occur at relatively high population densities and probably play an ecological role in their habitats. Cnemidophorus tigris has been studied in the Mojave desert, for example, and its populations have been shown to track its key habitat resources remarkably closely.
1. Giant ameiva (Ameiva ameiva); 2. Six-lined racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus); 3. Desert grassland whiptail (Cnemidophorus uniparens); 4. Crocodile tegu (Crocodilurus lacertinus); 5. Caiman lizard (Dracaena paraguayensis). (Illustration by Jacqueline Mahannah)
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