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What Is a Tegu?

By E.A. Sanker
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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