Erica Mede, CVT
Tegus are potentially the most intelligent reptile and
exhibit this intelligence by attempting clever escape routes.
When handled regularly, these large bodied, stocky lizards
can become quite docile and even enjoy physical interaction.
Although tegus appear similar to monitor lizards there are
a few key differences. The
necks of tegus are generally shorter and much thicker.
Tegus have a tapering snout with forked tongues that
aren’t as deeply grooved as a monitor.
Unlike monitors, tegus are capable of tail autonomy
(“tail dropping”)! This
should be taken into consideration when dealing with flighty
sub-adults and any new wild caught individual.
Males are generally larger than females and exhibit large
jowls, although, some females have smaller versions of jowls if
they are on the slightly obese side.
Most tegus reach a size of 4-5 feet from snout to tail tip
and live around 10-15 years (some have reached 20!) with maturity
around 3 years old.
Tegus are found throughout
(depending on the species). These
large lizards inhabit the rainforests, savannahs, and grasslands
(flat lands) and can be found near human residents as well.
Frequently, tegus can be found in clearings in forests.
Feeding and Diet
In the wild, adult tegus are omnivores consuming animal
protein, insects, and fruits.
Vegetables can always be offered but tegus typically prefer
to avoid greens and some even have trouble digesting them.
In captivity, there have been many discussions on what
works best as a diet for these lizards and historically, many have
been kept on pure whole prey diets.
These aggressive eaters will consume nearly anything placed
in front of them and truly are primarily meat eaters.
However, variety and balance are key to keeping a healthy
tegu. Hatchlings and
juveniles are primarily insectivores in the wild but in captivity
can be taught to eat other foods as well.
Hatchlings should be fed every day with a strong focus on
gut loaded insects. Crickets,
dubia roaches, giant meal worms, and earth worms should make up
the bulk of the diet. Pinkie
mice can be offered once a week but it is recommended to wait
until the hatchling tegus are a bit larger and older.
Small amounts of boiled or cooked eggs and small amounts of
fish can be offered as well to round out the meal and offer
variety. Fruits can be
offered along with the insects or pinkies and are encouraged for
Tegus under 3 years old should still be fed every other day
until they reach sexual maturity and roughly adult size.
Whole prey such as mice “hoppers” and “fuzzies”
make excellent feeders for smaller tegus whereas the larger ones
can be fed various adult mice sizes.
Cooked or boiled eggs, fish pieces, earth worms, roaches,
giant or super meal worms, and other insects should be added to
the diet. Again, fresh
fruits should be offered.
Adults should be fed every 2-3 days depending on their body
condition (obese tegus will eat less often than under weight tegus).
The bulk of an adult tegu’s diet should consist of
rodents, small rats, and the occasional baby chick.
Insects, eggs, and fish should all be offered as well.
Pieces of cooked chicken can be offered as a treat for
enrichment as well as training in some individuals.
Fresh fruits should be offered in moderation to prevent
excessive weight gain from high sugar concentrations.
There are various methods and recipes for feeding tegus and
commercial diets are an easy option for most keepers.
A primary diet of Mazuri Carnivore is recommended with the
addition of Mazuri Tortoise diet. Some
have had great success with the addition of moistened Purina Trout
Chow. Lean ground
turkey is a welcome addition to any tegu diet as long as it is not
the bulk of the diet. Tomatoes
and bananas should be fed in moderation or avoided in general as
these tend to cause gastrointestinal upset in captive tegus.
All tegus should have their meals dusted with a calcium
supplement and a multi-vitamin supplement used once to twice a
week. An interesting
note is the Red tegus have been known to eat a larger amount of
fruit than their other counterparts.
These lizards are typically ground dwellers although they
can climb low level branches.
Tegus are burrowers by nature and are excellent swimmers as
well! A soak in a
large bin or tub twice a week will give your tegu plenty of
exercise and naturalistic enrichment.
Hatchlings can be easily housed in a 20 gallon aquarium or
enclosure of a similar size although they will quickly require
larger accommodations. As
tegus grow they will need a 40 gallon tank or larger (keeping in
mind floor space is important) or a custom enclosure.
Once your tegu hits 1-2 years old it is recommended to
create a custom enclosure that is 6-8 feet long, 3-4 feet deep,
and 3 feet high at least. Tegus
require space to roam and sprawl out!
Make sure that all enclosures are sturdy and escape proof.
A locking door is recommended especially for wild caught or
aggressive adults especially.
There are numerous substrates to offer tegus in their
enclosure ranging from complicated naturalistic set-ups to
simplistic newspaper. Newspaper,
although unattractive to look at, is easily cleaned out and tegus
genuinely seem to appreciate hiding under the layers of paper.
Butcher paper can be used as a uniform color alternative.
Since tegus enjoy burrowing and will spend most of their
time hidden under the substrate if allowed, seem to benefit from
the addition of dig boxes. Dig
boxes are designated areas or enclosed sections of top soil that
can go as much as 2 feet deep!
These boxes allow the tegu to fulfill natural desires to
dig as well as offer another form of enrichment.
Entire enclosures can be covered in top soil but it is hard
to clean out effectively and tends to accumulate missed feces as
well as offer feeder insects escapes from hungry tegus.
If particulate substrate is desired, aspen is a safe
alternative. In this
author’s humble opinion, the most enrichment can be achieved by
covering the bottom of an enclosure with indoor/outdoor carpet and
offering a top soil covered section of the cage (preferably with a
lip to keep the soil from covering the rest of the cage).
This not only offers multiple substrates to walk on but
also offers the keeper ease of cleaning especially if a cement
mixing tub or similar is used for the dig spot.
All substrates should be changed at least every 2 weeks
completely and spot cleaned daily.
Tegus housed on particulate bedding or soil should be fed
in a dish or a separate bin especially if live feeder insects are
UVB lighting is typically not required for the care of
tegus especially those fed whole prey diets.
However, improper diet can lead to calcium deficiencies and
the addition of an ultraviolet B radiation bulb such as a ReptiSun
5.0 is recommended. It
is recommended to offer tegus exposure to ReptiSun 2.0 or 5.0
during day light hours.
Tegus can happily be housed in ambient temperatures ranging
the cooler end of the enclosure and 85°F on the warmer end of the
temperatures can easily be maintained utilizing under tank
heaters, heat cable (only on the outside of the enclosure), heat
tape, heat bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, and heat emitting panels.
The basking site should be maintained between 95°F and 100°F
ideally. At night, the
enclosure should never fall below 72°F.
Be warned, hibernation can occur below 65°F.
All heat sources should ideally be kept on a thermostat
that allows for proper gradients while offering piece of mind to
owners as well. A
thermometer should be placed ideally one inch above the substrate
on the cooler end of the enclosure.
Another thermometer should be placed once inch above the
substrate on the warmer end of the enclosure and the one last
thermometer at the basking site.
Coming from the rainforests of
, these lizards should be maintained at 70-80% relative humidity.
This can easily be monitored using a hygrometer.
Humidity can be maintained with large water bowls or bins,
misting systems, foggers, humidifiers in large enclosures, and
spraying the enclosure 2-3 times a day.
Moist topsoil, if offered, will also help preserve the
Finding ways to keep tegus entertained and active is as
simple as wrapping earthworms or a piece of fish in a lettuce leaf
or as complicated as modifying wiffle balls to hold roaches or
fruit for them to move around.
Creativity is essential for excellent tegu keeping.
Tree trunks, tree branches, and root stocks make excellent
obstacles, hides, and climbing surfaces for tegus.
Make sure that all climbing surfaces are more horizontally
angled as they are not necessarily agile climbers especially as
they get older. Dig
boxes are essential for working out extra energy and allowing for
natural behaviors. Large
soaking basins or twice weekly soaks in a kid pool or large rubber
maid offers enrichment and another way to exercise tegus.
Hide boxes are also a requirement for tegus, especially
those that do not have anything to burrow into or hide under.
Although it is offering a place to retreat, this is a form
of enrichment as well. The
addition of straw and hay in the enclosure allows the tegus to
experience new smells and sensations as they walk and dig through
Sources and Recommended
Lizards Volume 2
General Care and Maintenance of Popular
Reptile Medicine and Surgery 2nd Edition
Monitors, Tegus, and Related Lizards
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