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Tegu - Tupinambis spp.

Tegus are a large, omnivorous group of lizards that make an excellent choice for the experienced reptile keeper who desires to own an impressive lizard. Unlike some of the monitor species, the Tegus are known for their ability to tame down acceptably and be handled. However, caution should be taken in purchasing a Tegu- they have the capability to do some serious damage to the careless keeper. Their large size makes them both an imposing pet and a possible danger. Young Tegus should be handled frequently and gently from day one to ensure a docile adult. A second aspect of Tegu ownership to consider before purchasing one is that adults require quite large enclosures and deserve a lifelong commitment. There are several species of Tegu, including Red, Blue, Black and White and Golden. The Blue is commonly thought to be the easiest to tame.


|Average Size: Over 40 inches and 5 pounds

Life Span: About 15 years.

Diet: In the wild Tegus eat an omnivorous diet of invertebrates, vertebrates and vegetation. The precise composition of the diet varies by species.

Feeding: In captivity your Tegu will enjoy eating a variety of foods. Meat, canned tegu food, eggs, mice, fruits and vegetables can all be offered. Make sure not to give in to a picky Tegu- it is important that they eat a variety of foods for a balanced diet. When young your Tegu will also eagerly take crickets, mealworms, waxworms, superworms and roaches. Offer your Tegu all it will eat while it is young, several times a week. As your Tegu reaches adult size, give it adequate small meals several times a week. It is important not to overfeed your Tegu as they are prone to obesity in captivity.

Housing: As a juvenile your Tegu will do fine in either a sturdy screen cage or a glass/ plexi aquarium. Either way, the enclosure should be escape proof and safe.

Size: Juvenile Tegus can be housed in a series of increasingly large aquariums, or enclosures. Very young ones will do fine in a 20 gallon long tank, older juveniles in 40 gallon tanks. Adults should be housed in custom enclosures that are at least 4 feet long X 2 feet wide X 3 feet high, or have small rooms to themselves.

Substrate: A nice, deep (enough to greatly cover your Tegu) layer of mulch or vermiculite- free soil will make your Tegu very happy. Tegus greatly enjoy burrowing, and a deep layer of bark mulch or soil will allow your pet to exercise this natural behavior.

Habitat: Fake and live plants can be used to add some interest to your Tegu cage, just make sure that they are not poisonous. Hides, shelves and climbing branches may also be appreciated by your Tegu. Adequate space and a safe enclosure with a nice deep substrate are the main needs of your Tegu in terms of housing.

Grooming and Hygiene: Handling is important and should be started as soon as possible to ensure a stable and handlable adult Tegu. Beyond consistant, gentle handling, you should clip your Tegu’s nails carefully (avoid the quick) when they look overgrown. Also, be on the lookout for retained shed, which you can indicate that you need to raise the humidity in your Tegu’s enclosure. Always wash your hands before and after touching your gecko or habitat contents to help prevent Salmonella and other infectious diseases

Temperature: A temperature gradient with a hot spot of 120 degrees F plus should be provided to your Tegu. Make sure that the gradient allows for your animal to get out from under the hottest area. Use an accurate reptile thermometer to ensure that an adequate temperature is being raised. Also, make sure that your pet cannot come in contact with the heat bulbs. HEAT ROCKS SHOULD NEVER BE USED. They are well documented as causing thermal burns in reptiles.

Lighting: In addition to providing a hot basking spot for your Tegu, you should place a high quality UVA/ UVB bulb on your Tegu’s enclosure. Without a UV bulb your Tegu cannot properly utilize calcium and may have serious health problems as a result.

Water: Provide clean, chlorine free water for your Tegu. A dish that is large enough for your Tegu to soak in is ideal, though it may not do so on a regular basis. It will also help provide humidity for your pet.

Habitat Maintenance: Change water daily. Remove feces daily. Clean cage weekly.

Recommended Supplies:

  • Secure glass, screen, wire mesh or plexi enclosure with top to prevent escape
  • Live or fake plants
  • Light housing and bulbs
  • Thermometer
  • Mulch
  • Canned Tegu diet
  • Live prey items
  • Rocks, driftwood for decoration 

Normal Behavior and Interaction: Expect your Tegu to be relatively inactive for the most part, though you may occasionally see your pet burrowing in the substrate. Feeding time is when your Tegu will be most active. Always handle your Tegu carefully so it does not feel threatened. In the winter your Tegu will likely want to brumate (a form of hibernation). When this occurs, lower the enclosure temperature several degrees and decrease feeding. During this time you should also avoid handling your pet.

Signs of a Healthy Pet:

  • Healthy skin
  • Clear eyes 
  • Eats regularly
  • Clear nose and vent  
Common Health Issues and Red Flags: 

  • Weight loss or decreased appetite
  • Mucus in mouth or nose
  • Swelling
  • Lethargy 
  • Bumps, sores, or abrasions on skin
  • Labored breathing
  • Paralysis of limbs
  • Abnormal feces
Mites - Although mostly uncommon in a private collection, mites are a possible complication. They will most likely be noticed first around the eyes or the corners of the mouth as little round, black/brown creepy creatures. They can be treated by many commercial products available at a local pet shop or by a veterinary strength solution available from your veterinarian. Be sure to follow the directions on the product. Treatment of mites usually takes close to a month of continuous care as eggs can hatch daily and must be 'taken care of' ASAP. These little bugs have an extraordinary reproductive rate. If you have more than the 1 infested reptile, take extra precautions not to transfer the mites from one to another.

Impaction - In small quantities substrate ingestion will not be overly harmful, but in large quantities your Tegu may become impacted with substrate in its intestine, a condition that is almost invariably fatal. Prompt treatment by an exotics vet may save your pets life.

Calcium Deficiency - Without adequate calcium in your Tegu’s diet, aside from a slow growth rate, you will more than likely encounter Metabolic Bone Disease. The first symptom usually noticed is uncontrolled twitching of the Tegu’s toes or legs, a floppy jaw, or a kinked tail. This can be a fatal disease if not treated promptly. If this problem occurs, we suggest raising the amount of calcium in the Tegu’s diet immediately. If there is no change in a few days, consider veterinary care as an option. This is most common in breeding females.

Internal Parasites – A fecal should be submitted to your veterinarian upon acquisition of any new animals.  If left untreated too long internal parasites can be fatal.

If you notice any of these signs, please contact your exotic animal veterinarian.

As with all pets in this category, it is important that you find a veterinarian that practices in EXOTICS – this is critical. The typical small animal practitioner may not have sufficient knowledge in this area. Even this guide is general in nature and should not be used to diagnose your pet.

Page Last Updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 21:27 EST
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