Argentine/Colombian Tegu Care Page

Prepared by ReptiFiles

Tegus are diurnal (day active), terrestrial lizards found throughout South America. Depending on the species, tegus grow to be between 24”-60” long, weighing 8-15 lbs. They are considered “large” lizards and are extremely intelligent, so they have special care considerations due to their size and greater need for mental stimulation. Tegus have an average lifespan of 15-20 years, but are capable of living longer.

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This Care Guide been curated by ReptiFiles.

ReptiFiles is an online database of comprehensive, science-based reptile care guides created by reptile husbandry specialist Mariah Healey. ReptiFiles’ primary goal is to promote a higher standard of animal welfare within the reptile industry.

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Tegus at a Glance

Here are some core facts about tegu care:

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Tegu
Photo by Rose City Reptiles

Quick Facts

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Size

24”-60”

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Active During

Daytime

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Lifespan

15-20+ years

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Nutritrion

Carnivorous/ Omnivorous

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Humidity

High

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Habitat

Terrestrial

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Basking Temp

125-135°F

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UVB

Required

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Availability

Common

Natural Habitat

Jungle

Jungle

Tegus are naturally found throughout South America.

Handleability Score

4 out of 5: Good Handleability

Tegus are incredibly bright and curious lizards that can make wonderful pets, but first you need to tame them properly.

Note that Colombian tegus are often significantly less tame than their Argentine counterparts, and some are essentially un-handleable.

Care Difficulty

Hard

Expected Weekly Dedication: 10 hours minimum

A big part of daily maintenance for tegus is regular, supervised free-roam time outside of their enclosure for exercise and enrichment. Also expect to spend a significant amount of time replacing water, scrubbing out the water tub, and misting the enclosure. Other regular chores include preparing food and spot-cleaning.

The amount and frequency of spot-cleaning required will depend on whether your enclosure is bioactive or not. We'll cover these respective chores in the Enclosure Enrichment section.

What’s great:

  • Readily available
  • Fairly tolerant of husbandry mistakes
  • Personable disposition when tamed well
  • Very intelligent
  • Active during the day

Things to be aware of:

  • High-maintenance
  • Very large enclosure
  • High humidity
  • High basking temperature
  • Require UVB
  • Long taming period
  • Can get into mischief during free-roaming
  • Capable of inflicting significant injury

Enclosure

Argentine tegus need a minimum 8’ x 4’ x 4’ enclosure while Colombian tegus need a minimum 6’ x 3’ x 3’ enclosure. Larger is always preferred for both species.

Pattern
Tegu Enclosure
Photo by Rose City Reptiles

Reptiles aren’t like dogs and cats that can simply roam around your house all day. They are very sensitive to their environment, and need their own enclosure set up according to their specific needs. This guide covers everything you will need to care for your pet tegu properly.

Enclosure Size Requirements

Argentine tegus (genus Salvator) need at least a 8’W x 4’L x 4’H enclosure. Colombian tegus (genus Tupinambis) need at least a 6’W x 3’L x 3’H enclosure. These are the bare minimums for each species, calculated according to the reptiles’ average lengths and activity patterns.

However, if you can provide an enclosure with more floor space and height, do it! Housing your tegu in a larger enclosure will encourage it to be more active and demonstrate more natural behaviors, which in turn encourages better mental and physical health.

Regardless of your tegu's age, we strongly recommend starting off with the full-sized enclosure. If absolutely necessary, a hatchling could be housed in a bare minimum of 4’x2’x2’ for the first 2-3 months, but will need to be upgraded quickly as they grow. Juvenile tegus are perfectly safe and content living in an adult-sized enclosure.

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Can multiple tegus be housed in the same enclosure?

Yes, but only if you take the right precautions. However, tegus do not need a ”friend,” and are perfectly content living alone. Cohabitating tegus can be done safely with some work, but offers few, if any, additional benefits for the animals.

To keep a pair of tegus, several considerations must be taken into account:

Gender compatibility:
Female + female = OK
Male + male = OK
Male + female = NO

Age compatibility:
Adult + adult = OK
Juvenile + juvenile = OK
Adult + juvenile = NO

Enclosure size:
An enclosure for 2 tegus must be twice as large as you would need for 1 tegu, allowing each to have his/her own space and prevent resource competition. This means a bare minimum of 16’x8’x4’ for 2 Argentines and 12’x6’x3’ for 2 Colombians. You will also need to double the sizes of the basking area, the water tub, and the hides (or provide at least 4 hides).

Individual personalities:
Tegus are highly intelligent and complex animals with unique personalities. There is no guarantee that tegu cohabitation will always work. Behaviors and interactions must be closely monitored for signs of stress or competition. You should have preparations in place to separate the tegus if needed, being able to provide each with their own, fully-functional enclosures in cases of incompatibility.

Tegu Enclosure Examples

Rose City Reptiles

Photo contributed by Rose City Reptiles

Substrate Options

Substrate is the material used to cover the floor of the enclosure. This aspect of the enclosure is important for tegus because it contributes to overall humidity levels, promotes natural behavior, helps keep nails filed down, and may even support your pet’s joint health!
Tegus love to dig and burrow, which means that they should have 12-24” of loose substrate. However, deeper is definitely better whenever possible.

The best substrate for tegus is a DIY mix of roughly 40% untreated topsoil + 40% Zoo Med ReptiSoil or sustainably sourced peat moss + 20% play sand. Topsoil must not contain any fertilizers, manure, or perlite/vermiculite - read the ingredients! Mix well, soak until moist, then pack it firmly at the bottom of the enclosure.

You can also use a pre-packaged substrate, though this can be quite costly for such a large, deep enclosure. Depending on the brand, you may still need to add some topsoil (if too dusty) or sand (if too muddy) to reach desired consistency. Here are some recommended commercial substrates appropriate for tegus:

Whatever substrate you make or buy, scattering leaf litter on the surface will help hold moisture. Mixing in some sugarcane mulch and/or coconut fiber can also keep things nice and humid.

Bioactive
We strongly suggest considering a bioactive enclosure for your tegu. While traditional housing depends on the keeper for maintenance, bioactive setups are more or less self-sustaining, miniature ecosystems. Our DIY mix or BioDude Terra Firma can easily support bioactivity and live plants with the addition of a “cleanup crew” (CUC) of isopods and springtails that clean up uneaten food, plant matter, and fecal remains, making bioactive substrates incredibly low maintenance. The substrate doesn't require replacement, all you need to do is wipe off heavily soiled surfaces and remove large pieces of waste. Spot-cleaning an 8-foot enclosure with such a large, active lizard can be very laborious, so bioactivity is a great way to go for tegus!

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Unsafe Substrates for Tegus

These substrates should be avoided at all costs with tegus, as they greatly reduce quality of life or pose major health risks.

  • Potting soil - harmful fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals
  • Sand - dry, dusty, & doesn't hold burrows
  • Aspen - doesn't hold humidity or burrows, molds easily
  • Pine/fir/cedar - irritates eyes/lungs & can cause neurological damage
  • Solid substrates - don't allow for burrowing, a crucial natural behavior
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Quarantine Substrate

When you first bring your new tegu home, you will need to quarantine for at least 1 month. This means keeping the enclosure as sterile as possible and closely monitoring the animal's health.

Paper towels are the best substrate for quarantine, as they can be frequently replaced and make it easier to observe feces and other potential health issues. Paper towels should be fully replaced at least once a week and any soiled areas must be replaced daily. Once your tegu has shown a clean bill of health, you can introduce your long-term substrate to the enclosure and let the burrowing begin!

If you already have other reptiles in your home, you should extend the quarantine period to 3 months, keep the enclosure in a separate room if possible, and make sure not to share any tools or decor between your new tegu and other pets, unless fully sanitized between each use.

Environmental Enrichment

Reptiles are much more intelligent than we humans tend to give them credit for, and that means they need things to entertain them. Otherwise they exist in a state of perpetual boredom, which makes them dull, inactive, and overall less interesting as pets. When reptiles have objects to interact with in their enclosure, they become less stressed and more engaged with their environment. This practice is called environmental enrichment.

As a particularly intelligent and active pet reptile, enrichment is especially important for keeping tegus as pets. This is something you cannot skip! Here are some other objects that serve a vital function in a tegu’s terrarium:

Basking Platform

A large, elevated surface for basking beneath the heat source, ideally made out of stone or wood for optimal thermal performance. The basking platform should be flat and large enough to accommodate most, if not all, of the tegu's body.


Hides/Caves

At least 1 hide on the warm side, though we strongly recommend providing an additional humid hide on the cool side, stuffed with moist sphagnum moss. When your tegu is young and small, you can use commercially available “reptile caves.” However, as your tegu grows they will need something significantly larger. You can try using a large plastic storage bin with a cut-out “door,” a plastic dog kennel, a covered cat litter box, or a popular option is to build a hut out of cinderblocks with a slab of wood or stone strongly secured on top to double as both a hide and a basking platform. Bottomless hides can be slightly buried in the substrate, allowing the tegu to burrow out a cozy spot inside.


Water Tub

In addition to drinking water, tegus like to have the option to soak every once in a while, especially when they’re preparing to shed. This means that you need to be able to provide a water tub large and deep enough for your tegu to soak its entire body in, but shallow enough that your tegu isn't going to drown. Plastic under-bed storage totes work phenomenally for this purpose, as they’re both large and fairly shallow.


Deep Substrate

We’ve already covered the importance of a substantial substrate layer for tegus, but, like the water bowl, this aspect of your enclosure can pull a double duty of enrichment by giving your tegu an opportunity to satisfy its natural instinct to dig and burrow.


Large Logs/Branches

Large branches and hollow logs give tegus something to climb on, hide in, and rub against during shedding. You may be able to find appropriate logs and branches at your local pet store when your tegu is young, but this gets challenging once you’re trying to find decor appropriate for a 4′-5′ lizard. If you live near a wooded area, you can collect fallen branches and trees, just give it a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC &/or bake in the oven at 250°F for about an hour (if it fits!).


Plants

Both live and artificial foliage can be used to enhance your tegu's enclosure, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Fake plants never die and tend to withstand being climbed on better than their live counterparts, but they may off-gas chemicals. Live plants are less sturdy and higher maintenance, but safer for your lizard's health. Make sure that any live plants you use are nontoxic for reptiles and that artificial plants are thoroughly cleaned before adding to the enclosure.


Enrichment Activities

While undetermined whether tegus are capable of true “play,” they are extremely curious lizards that require a high level of mental stimulation. Providing objects that encourage your tegu to think, explore, and exercise is a great way to create more enrichment inside (and outside) their enclosure. Hiding food in puzzle balls, periodically rearranging their decor, building tunnels, and providing crunchy objects like leaf litter, snake shed, or crumpled paper balls are just a few ways to entertain a tegu.

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How do I keep my enclosure clean?

To control the growth of pathogens and keep your tegu’s enclosure hygienic and odor-free, it’s important to clean it regularly. We highly recommend a bioactive setup for tegus, as they create more waste than a smaller lizard and require a high humidity for such a large enclosure.

Non-Bioactive Enclosures:
Spot-cleaning should be performed daily. This is the routine removal of uneaten food, feces, urates, and contaminated substrate. Soiled surfaces, food dishes, and the water tub should be scrubbed with reptile-safe disinfectant and rinsed at least weekly. Substrate should be completely removed and replaced every 4-6 months, depending on how diligent you are about spot-cleaning. This is also a good time to completely disinfect the enclosure with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine.

Bioactive Enclosures:
If you have a bioactive enclosure, “cleaning” will be more like periodic maintenance: watering the plants, adding biodegradables, and feeding the CUC as needed. Substrate does not need to be replaced. Some spot-cleaning will still be required for urates and soiled surfaces. Food dishes and the water tub should be disinfected weekly.

Lighting

Tegus need 3 types of lamps in their enclosure: A strong UVB lamp, a 6500K daylight lamp, and cluster heat lamps.

Pattern
Tegu Lighting
Photo by Rose City Reptiles

UVB is important for enabling vitamin D3 synthesis, strengthening the immune system, and encouraging proper organ function. It also stimulates the production of serotonin, a feel-good hormone. When tegus don’t get UVB, they can become D3 deficient, which leads to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). UVB can’t just be replaced with a vitamin D3 supplement for tegus!

UVA is important for allowing full-color vision, because tegus can see UVA wavelengths (humans can’t!). It is suspected to play a role in mental health and appetite, as the radiation is sensed by reptile pineal glands to regulate circadian rhythm.

The 6500K daylight lamp provides extra illumination at a color temperature that is similar to sunlight. As diurnal reptiles, tegus are highly stimulated by having a well-lit environment during the day. Bright daytime lighting is likely to encourage more activity, better appetite, and better mental health.

Infrared radiation (i.e. heat) is important for reptiles' thermoregulation. As ectotherms, they rely on the heat of the sun to warm their bodies and stimulate their metabolism, digest their food, and stay alert and active. The shorter the wavelength, the deeper it can penetrate their muscle tissue. In captivity, we can provide this with specific heat bulbs that emit the most beneficial infrared wavelengths (IR-A and IR-B).

All light and heat should be kept on a regular schedule using outlet timers or done manually. This allows for a predictable day/night cycle which the lizard can follow, allowing for natural hormonal rhythms and good mental health. We recommend the following schedule for tegus, based on their natural environment:

SEASONON/OFF SCHEDULE
Spring14hrs ON / 10hrs OFF
Summer16hrs ON / 8hrs OFF
Fall14hrs ON / 10hrs OFF
Winter12hrs ON / 12hrs OFF

UVB/UVA

Tegus need plenty of strong UVB in order to stay healthy and must be provided with a 10-14% UVB output T5 lamp. The best output for your setup is calculated by the distance between the lamp and the tegu’s head while standing on the basking surface (see our chart below). We recommend Arcadia or Zoo Med brand linear fluorescent tubes, as these brands produce the best and most reliable UV lamps on the market.

The bulb should be roughly half the length of the enclosure in order to create an appropriate UV gradient, and placed on the same side as the heat lamps. So if you have a 8′ long enclosure, you will need a 46” T5 HO lamp.

Best UV bulbs for tegus:


Distance and Mesh
The strength of the UVB lamp’s output varies according to distance from the bulb - stronger when closer, and weaker when further away. If you are using a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure your UVB lamp’s output, the UVI (UV Index) reading should be between 3.0-4.0 on the basking platform, and down to 0 on the cool side.

If you don't have a Solarmeter, here is an estimate of how far away your basking platform should be, based on which bulb you are using and whether the lamp is mounted above or below mesh:

BULB TYPEABOVE MESHBELOW MESH
Zoo Med T5 HO 10.010-11”17-18”
Arcadia Desert 12%10-11”17-18”
Arcadia Dragon 14%12-14”20-24”


Fixture
To optimize your UVB bulb’s performance, you will need a high-quality reflective T5 HO fixture. Some lamps come in kits that already include a fixture, such as the Arcadia ProT5 kit. Otherwise, Zoo Med and Vivarium Electronics make various fixtures for T5 bulbs.


T5 bulbs last 12 months before requiring replacement, as their UVB output decays over time. Off-brand UVB bulbs are likely to have shorter lifespans and unreliable output. Avoid “compact” and coil UVB bulbs, as these cannot properly distribute a UV gradient across the enclosure.

Daylight Lamp

It takes a lot to light a large enclosure, and a cluster of heat bulbs plus a UVB bulb or two isn’t going to be enough to provide the bright light that a diurnal reptile needs for simulating natural sunlight. The brightest reptile light fixture currently on the market is the Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar, which emits 6500K color temperature, filling out the light spectrum and supporting plant growth. They’re expensive, but the sheer output of bright, beautifully white light makes them worth the investment. We highly recommend installing one or even two ~6500K lamps in your tegu’s enclosure.

Heating

Like other reptiles, tegus are cold-blooded. Tegus require variety of temperatures within a certain range in order to properly regulate their body temperature:

  • Basking surface: 125-135°F
  • Warm side ambient: 90-100°F
  • Cool side ambient: 75-85°F
  • Nighttime: 65-80°F (Night temps can drop as low as 55°F, but shouldn’t be higher than 80°F)

All heat lamps should be turned off at night and kept on a regular day/night cycle that matches the same schedule as the UVB and daylight lamps, allowing for a natural temperature drop and a healthy circadian rhythm.

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Heating Equipment

The best way to create a nice hot basking area for your tegu is with a cluster of halogen flood heat bulbs, such as:

You will need to use enough heat bulbs to create a basking area at least the size of your tegu when curled up. However, extending the platform beyond the basking zone can allow for a micro basking gradient, which means even more thermoregulatory options for your tegu.

The exact wattage that will work best for you varies based on the distance between the bulb and the basking platform, as well as local room temperature. Using a dimming thermostat or an on/off thermostat with a plug-in dimmer allows you to adjust it to the right temperature and keep your tegu safe. Keep in mind that all heat sources should be regulated by a thermostat, so for a cluster of lamps, you will either need separate thermostats+dimmers for each fixture or a multi-outlet thermostat like the Herpstat 2, 4, or 6. Place the thermostat probe directly on the basking surface below the heat source.

You will also need a fixture to put your bulbs in. Due to the enclosure height and amount of bulbs required, ceiling mounted dome lamps or bulb sockets are highly recommended for tegus. Just make sure your fixtures have ceramic sockets to make sure that the bulb doesn’t get too hot for the lamp (risking electrical fire).

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Unsafe Heat Sources

These heat sources are particularly dangerous to tegus because they can pose major health risks and cause stress. Avoid the following heat sources at all costs and stick to the bulbs we recommend above.

❌ Colored bulbs
Red, blue, purple, and other colored light bulbs are inappropriate for almost all reptiles. They can wash out your lizard’s vision and make it harder to hunt and move freely. In fact, blue lights are known to potentially damage reptiles’ eyes!

❌ “Nighttime” bulbs
The idea that reptiles can't see red, purple, or “black” light is a myth! They may not be able to see the color, but they can still see the light. Using any lights at night can interfere with your lizard’s day/night cycle, causing stress and poor health.

❌ Heat rocks
Heat rocks (also known as hot rocks/rock heaters/etc.) are notoriously unreliable and many reptiles have lost their lives due to severe burns caused by these devices. They’re also not a good choice for heating your enclosure, as it only warms the rock’s surface, not the surrounding air.

❓ Mercury vapor bulbs
MVB's and other heat+UVB combination bulbs (Zoo Med PowerSun, Exo Terra Solar Glo) are very powerful, but can be difficult to control for new keepers. These bulbs cannot be used with thermostats or a dimmer, so the amount of heat and UVB must be regulated by adjusting the height of the lamp. We only recommend using MVB if you have a tall enough enclosure to accommodate vertical adjustment and a Solarmeter to test UVI at the basking area. It's safer and easier to provide and control your heat and UVB separately with a thermostat and our UV lamp distance chart.

Measuring Temperature

To track the temperatures in your tegu's enclosure, you will need a good thermometer. Temp gun-style infrared thermometers are useful for measuring surface temperatures anywhere in the enclosure. However, digital probe thermometers are useful for being able to track local air temperatures at a glance. It's best to have at least 2 thermometers to measure temps on each end of the heat gradient. Here are some devices we recommend for measuring temperatures:

Humidity

The average humidity in your tegu’s enclosure should stay between 70-80%. Occasional, short-lived spikes above or dips below this range are unlikely to be harmful, as these happen seasonally in nature as well. You can reach and stabilize a tegu's required humidity with the following methods:

  • Daily: Mist the enclosure 1-2x a day, depending on local humidity levels.
  • Weekly: Mix water into the substrate until it is uniformly moist (not muddy).
  • Permanently: Provide a humid hide on the cool side, moistened regularly.

For such a large enclosure, we recommend a pressure sprayer like the Exo Terra 2L Hand Mister. In addition to the above methods, a proper loose substrate, adequately sized water tub, good cross-ventilation, and overhead heating will all help to stabilize the enclosure's humidity levels.

You can measure humidity with a hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Combo Gauge linked in the Measuring Temperature section. Hygrometers should be placed within 12” above the substrate near the middle of the enclosure to give you an accurate idea of average humidity levels (or one on either side if using a thermo/hygro combo meter).

Brumation

Brumation is the reptile equivalent of mammalian hibernation; a time of year when they sleep nonstop. In the wild, this is a way to survive the winter. Brumation lasts for as long as 6-7 months and can affect tegus as young as 1 year of age.

Colombian tegus are from a warmer climate, and do not typically brumate. Argentine tegus do brumate, but brumation is not required for pet (non-breeding) tegus. Captive tegus that do brumate typically require a shorter brumation period than they would experience in the wild.

A tegu that is ready to brumate will become less active, eat less, and seem to “sleep in,” preferring to stay in his/her hide. It is at this point you will have the option to brumate your tegu. If you decide to go this route, a more detailed brumation guide can be found here.

Feeding Guide

Argentine tegus are omnivorous, while Colombian tegus are carnivorous.

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Tegu Feeding
Photo by Rose City Reptiles

Here is a basic feeding schedule for a pet tegu:

AGEFEEDINGS
Hatchlings (0-6 months)5x a week
Juveniles (7-12 months)4x a week
Sub-Adults (1-2 years)3x a week
Adults (>2 years)2x a week


Argentine tegus require 60% protein, 30% vegetables, 10% fruit.
Colombian tegus require 90% protein, 10% vegetables.

Portions should be about the same size as the tegu’s skull. This is especially important with whole prey items since tegus don’t really chew their food. Obesity can easily occur if tegus are fed too often or receive too many rodents, fatty meats, or fruits. Sticking to a schedule and encouraging exercise is a good way to keep your tegu at a healthy weight.

Variety is the key to good nutrition, so make sure to offer as many different types of foods as possible. Here is a list of appropriate foods to choose from in each nutritional category:

Protein:

Insect Options:

  • Black soldier fly larvae
  • Crickets
  • Cave roaches
  • Death’s head roaches
  • Discoid roaches
  • Dubia roaches
  • Earthworms/Nightcrawlers
  • Grasshoppers
  • Hissing roaches
  • Hornworms
  • Locusts
  • Mealworms
  • Silkworms
  • Snails (preferably with the shell)

Meat/Fish Options:

  • Beef heart supplemented with calcium
  • Chicks (chicken and quail)
  • Ground chicken/turkey mixed with calcium
  • Eggs, with shell* (boiled or raw)
  • Whole fish** (in bite-sized chunks)
  • Crayfish/crawdads
  • Shrimp
  • Frogs (human-grade)
  • Mice
  • Rabbit meat, parts, or kits (babies)
  • Rats
  • Hamsters
  • Gerbils
  • Snakes (nonvenomous, F/T)

All live feeder insects should be gutloaded with fresh veggies for at least 24 hours before feeding. Feeders should be captive bred, don’t feed bugs from your backyard — these can make your pet sick! Some sites we recommend to buy safe, captive bred feeders are DubiaRoaches.com, PremiumCrickets, Luna Roaches, and Beastmode Silks.

Frozen whole prey items must be prepared correctly before feeding. Thaw it out in the fridge the night before feeding day, then about 15-30 minutes before feeding, stick the prey in a BPA-free plastic bag like a Ziploc and submerge in warm, almost hot, water to thaw completely. Reptilinks is a great source to order whole prey food for your tegu.

*Raw eggs should be limited as they contain avidin, an enzyme that can cause vitamin B7 deficiency over time, impacting scale and skin health. Cooking eggs neutralizes this enzyme.

**Some fish contain thiaminase, an enzyme that can cause thiamin deficiency over time, leading to neurological damage and even death. Cooking these types of fish neutralizes this enzyme. This includes bass, catfish, goldfish, herring, mackerel smelt, tuna, and whitefish. Full list here

Produce/Plants:

Vegetable Options:

  • Alfalfa
  • Bell pepper
  • Cactus pads
  • Carnation flowers
  • Carrot (root and greens)
  • Cilantro
  • Dandelion (flowers and greens)
  • Leafy greens (collard, kale, mustard, turnip)
  • Hibiscus flowers
  • Parnsip
  • Pumpkin (note: laxative)
  • Rose flowers
  • Squash
  • Yam

Fruit Options:

  • Apples
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cactus fruit (without seeds)
  • Cherries (without pits)
  • Dates (without pit)
  • Grapes (green or red)
  • Figs
  • Mango (without pit)
  • Melon (without seeds)
  • Papaya (without seeds)
  • Strawberries

Fruits should comprise no more than 10% of a pet tegu's diet as the high sugar content can lead to obesity in captivity. Large fruits and vegetables should be cut into bite-sized chunks.

Do not feed tegus avocado, onion, eggplant, broccoli, citrus fruits, lettuce of any kind, buttercup flowers, azalea flowers/leaves, daffodil flowers, lily of the valley, marijuana/hemp leaves, rosemary, sage, tulips, rhubarb, seeds, or pits. These foods can make your tegu sick or even die!

Prepared Diets:

Prepared (commercial) reptile diets, dog foods, and cat foods aren’t a replacement for fresh produce/whole prey, but they can make a good addition to a varied diet for tegus.

Here are some brands known to be reliable:

Dog/Cat Food Options:

  • BARF*
  • Carnivora*
  • Castor & Pollux
  • Darwin’s
  • Eukanub
  • Evolution Naturally
  • Halo
  • Hills Science Diet
  • Instinct
  • Forthglade
  • Merrick
  • Nature’s Variety
  • Nature’s Menu (Country Hunter)
  • Primal*
  • Purina
  • Raw Bistro*
  • Royal Canin
  • TruDog*
  • Wellness CORE
  • Whole Earth Farms
  • Zignature

Brands marked with an asterisk (*) are raw diets complete with bone and organ meat for whole prey nutrition.

Reptile Diet Options:

  • Arcadia OmniGold
  • Mazuri Tortoise Diet
  • Repashy Grassland Grazer
  • Repashy Grub Pie
  • Repashy Grasshopper Pie
  • Repashy Mealworm Pie
  • Repashy Superworm Pie
  • Repashy Meat Pie
  • Repashy Veggie Burger
  • Reptilinks

Make sure to use canned dog/cat food rather than kibble (although kibble is alright occasionally if water is added), and avoid formulas containing artificial colors/flavors or fish. Cat food is best used with Colombian tegus and young Argentine tegus due to its high protein content, but dog food is better for adult Argentine tegus, as it contains more vegetables and is less likely to cause obesity.

Calcium and Vitamin Supplements

Whole prey items don’t need to be dredged in calcium or multivitamin powders, as the bones and organs provide enough nutritional content.

However, any insects or non-whole food (eggs without the shell, ground meat, butcher cuts of meat/fish, etc.) should be supplemented to compensate for the missing nutrition. All insects must be dusted with supplements before feeding. For meat, just add a dash of calcium powder.

Here are the supplements or supplement combos that we recommend for tegus:

Our supplement recommendations are based on correct UVB provision for tegus. Tegus without access to necessary levels of UVB would require specialized high-D3 supplements, though we strongly advise against this method of keeping. Use each supplement as directed by the label.

Keeping Your Tegu Hydrated

A large water tub should be provided, preferably big enough for your tegu to be able to soak its entire body comfortably. The water depth should be about shoulder height to prevent drowning risk.

Water should always be kept clean (fully replaced every 2-3 days) and the tub should be disinfected with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC, Rescue, or chlorhexidine once a week to inhibit pathogen growth.

Do not use distilled or softened water! Tap, spring, and even filtered water (assuming that it’s safe for humans to drink) contains minerals vital to your tegu's health. You can dechlorinate tap water with a conditioner like ReptiSafe.

Taming & Handling

Tegus are highly intelligent. When you take the time to fully tame your tegu and develop a positive, trusting relationship, they become rewarding pets.

Pattern
Tegu Handling
Photo by Rose City Reptiles

DO:

  • Use slow movements
  • Place a recently-worn shirt in the enclosure
  • Give them their space
  • Accustom them to your presence
  • Let them smell/lick you
  • Slowly start petting them and offering treats with tongs
  • Wash hands before and after handling

DO NOT:

  • Don’t start handling your tegu as soon as you bring it home
  • Never grip, pull, or aggressively handle your tegu
  • Don’t let children handle the lizard without supervision
  • Don’t approach them from above
  • Never disturb your tegu while it is in its hide

The key to success is repeated positive interactions that teach the tegu that humans are not a threat. This can be accomplished with patience, consistency, and frequent (but short) handling sessions. When the time comes to handle your tegu for the first time, start by placing one hand under the base of tail, then slide your hand up to the chest to secure the front legs. For added security, tuck the tail under the nearest arm and hold the tegu close to your body.

Tegu Body Language

Tegus have a variety of body language cues. When you learn to understand these cues, you can understand your pet’s mood and needs better, and react accordingly.

Frequent, fast tongue flicking — Means that the tegu smells something potentially tasty. Your hand likely smells like something they want to taste — wash your hands immediately. The bite that follows, however, is usually a slow, gentle "test bite" rather than an aggressive bite.

Arched back, head down, heavy breathing — Aggressive posture that means “don’t mess with me!” If you approach a tegu that looks like this, back away slowly. Coming closer will likely result in either a hasty retreat (if you’re lucky) or tail whipping and/or biting.

“Snake tail” — Tail twitches erratically or waves like a snake. Means that the tegu is about to charge, so your best bet is to get away ASAP.

Health Conditions

Here are some common health problems to look out for.

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Tegu Health
Photo by Rose City Reptiles

The most common illnesses and health problems in tegus are metabolic bone disease, intestinal parasites, and respiratory infections. They can also suffer from health issues such as mites and obesity. If your tegu is displaying potential symptoms of illness, it’s important to take them to an experienced reptile veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment. Do not try to treat them at home, as you could make the problem worse!

Signs of a healthy tegu:

  • Clear eyes
  • Robust, muscular body
  • Straight spine and limbs
  • Firm, dark poo with a small white urate
  • Eats regularly
  • Moves freely and easily
  • Alert, confident attitude
  • Breathes with mouth closed

Signs of an unhealthy tegu:

  • Visible wounds
  • Curved limbs
  • Kinked spine
  • Discolored, stiff tail
  • Appetite loss
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Breathing with mouth open
  • Runny and/or very smelly stool