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What Is a Tegu?

E.A. Sanker
E.A. Sanker

A tegu is a large lizard of the genus Tupinambis, which belongs to the family Teiidae. Like other teiid lizards, tegus are mostly carnivorous or insectivorous, meaning that they eat meat or insects, and they have large, well-developed limbs. Certain species can grow to over 4 feet (about 1.2 meters) long. Lizards of the genus Tupinambis are native to South America, but are kept in many places around the world as pets.

Common tegu species include Tupinambis merianae, Tupinambis teguixin, and Tupinambis rufescens. The first of these is known as the Argentine black and white tegu, and is found in the southeastern rain forests of South America and has scales patterned in black and white. Tupinambis teguixin, also known as the Colombian tegu or the gold tegu, lives in northern South America and is lighter in color, with black or gold patterns. Tupinambis rufescens is the red tegu, which has reddish patterned scales and is found in the western part of the South American continent.

Crickets are a diet staple for tegus.
Crickets are a diet staple for tegus.

All three species mentioned above are kept as pets. As pets, tegus may be challenging to care for due to their size and long life — a tegu in captivity can live as long as 10 or 15 years. Establishing docility can also be difficult for owners. It is recommended that habits be established while the lizard is still young, in the first year of ownership.

Several types of tegu are native to South America.
Several types of tegu are native to South America.

Since tegus, like other reptiles, are ectotherms and require external heat to maintain body temperature, it is necessary for them to bask in temperatures of about 100°F (about 37.8°C) for a portion of the day. These lizards prefer warm temperatures in general, thriving at around 80°F (about 26.7°C). For about five months out of the year, tegus go into a period of hibernation. This period is thought to be necessary for successful reproduction.

It is possible to breed tegus in captivity, although often difficult due to the artificial conditions under which they must be kept. After the period of hibernation, certain varieties can be successfully bred. Typically, these lizards lay anywhere between five and 20 eggs in a single clutch.

The diet of the tegu consists mainly of small animals, such as mice, and insects such as crickets or mealworms. In domesticity, the Argentinian variety may also eat vegetable matter or fruits. Wild lizards feed opportunistically, meaning that they will eat whatever food is readily available in their environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a tegu?

A tegu is a large species of lizard native to South America, belonging to the family Teiidae. These reptiles are known for their robust build, powerful limbs, and distinctive forked tongues. They can grow up to 4.5 feet in length and have a varied diet, including fruits, vegetables, and small animals.

How many species of tegus are there?

There are several species of tegus, but the most commonly known are the Argentine black and white tegu, the red tegu, and the gold tegu. Each species has unique color patterns and sizes, with the Argentine black and white tegu being the largest and most popular as pets.

Can tegus be kept as pets?

Yes, tegus can be kept as pets, and they are often praised for their intelligence and potential to form bonds with their owners. However, they require a significant commitment in terms of space, diet, and environmental needs. Prospective owners should thoroughly research and prepare for the responsibility of caring for these large reptiles.

What do tegus eat?

Tegus are omnivores with a diet that includes a wide range of foods. In the wild, they eat fruits, vegetables, eggs, insects, and small animals. Pet tegus require a balanced diet that mimics this variety to maintain their health, often supplemented with vitamins and minerals.

How long do tegus live?

Tegus have a relatively long lifespan, especially in captivity where they can live for 15 to 20 years with proper care. Their longevity is dependent on a suitable environment, a nutritious diet, and regular veterinary check-ups to prevent common health issues.

Are tegus dangerous?

Tegus are not inherently dangerous, but they have strong jaws and sharp claws that can inflict injury if they feel threatened. It's important for tegu owners to handle their pets regularly and gently to build trust. Wild or untamed tegus may be more prone to defensive behavior, so caution is advised when interacting with them.

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    • Crickets are a diet staple for tegus.
      By: viter
      Crickets are a diet staple for tegus.
    • Several types of tegu are native to South America.
      By: Iryna Volina
      Several types of tegu are native to South America.