The Argentine Tegu is a large 4 feet lizard. As such, most people find them intimidating when they meet one for the first time. However, first impressions aren’t always right.
Although they may be large and menacing, these gentle giants are amenable pets that are easy to tame. They have unusually high intelligence for reptiles, and may even respond to a given name. As large reptiles, they require large enclosures, preferably outdoors.
Facts and Information
- Experience Level: Advanced
- Family: Diplodactylidae
- Scientific Name: Salvator (Tupinambis) merianae
- Average Adult Size: 2.5 to 4.5 feet (120–140 cm)
- Lifespan: 12 -20 years
- Clutch Size: 12 to 30 eggs
- Egg Incubation Period: 90 – 120 days
- Food: Live insects, rodents, and fruits
- Enclosure Measurement: 72 cubic ft (3 x 3 x 8 (length) feet)
- Average Temperature: 100°H/75°L
- Humidity: 70 – 90%
- UVB Lighting: Optional
- Average Price Range: $130 to $500
- Conservation Status: Least Concern on the IUCN Red List
These lizards are endemic to Argentina (as apparent by their common name), Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. They have also been introduced to Miami where they have thrived as the climate is similar to that of their native location.
The binomial name of the species is Salvator merianae or Tupinambis merianae. They, therefore, belong to the genus Tupinambis. This genus contains other tegus such as the red tegu, the yellow tegu, and the white and black tegu (also known as the Argentinian tegu, which this article is about).
These powerful reptiles can grow up to 60 inches and weight between 8 and 15 pounds. The males are generally stockier and have more prominent jowls. The males are also generally bigger. While males are usually between 4 to 4.5 feet in length, females are generally 3 feet in length.
The species has a black and white coloration thus one of their common names – black and white tegu. They also have powerful jaws which they used to defend themselves. The jaws can exert a force of 1000N if necessary. This is more than enough to crush fingers. However, when tamed they don’t attack.
Argentine Tegu Care Sheet
Argentine Tegu Habitat
This terrestrial species can be found in the rainforests of South America as well as the savannas of South America. As highly adaptive species, the black and white tegu thrive anywhere there is food and water.
In their natural habitat, the climate is temperate and quite humid. Although they can swim and even climb, they are better adapted to being on the ground.
Adults require an enclosure with a length of 8 feet and a width of 3 feet. The smallest enclosure you can provide must be 6 feet long and 3 feet wide. The height of the enclosure should be about 3 feet.
You can house hatchlings and juveniles in a small enclosure such as a 40-gallon breeder tank or terrarium. However, it is important to note that tegus grow rather quickly. In no time, the hatching will outgrow the 40-gallon terrarium.
Create hiding spots with cork bark slabs or hollow half logs.
When it comes to this species, the substrate used is important. The enclosure needs a substrate that retains moisture very well in order to provide the species with the high humidity levels it craves. Recommended substrate choices include cypress mulch, coconut coir, and soil mixes (such as soil mixed with coco coir or peat moss).
For me, the best substrate is cypress mulch. It retains moisture very well and it’s easy to work with. For a more environmentally friendly substrate, soil mixes are the way to go.
I recommend a soil/coco coir mix. Use equal portions of soil & coco coir and ensure the substrate is one that the tegu can burrow into. As already mentioned, the substrate needs to be moist. Dust irritates the lizard.
When selecting topsoil for the enclosure, use one that doesn’t contain fertilizer or pesticides as these additives can be harmful to the lizard. Select an organic brand. Alternatively, you can dig up your own soil.
It is not necessary to sterilize the soil before mixing it with the coco coir as the tiny organisms help decompose fecal matter and other organic material such as bits of food. You can also introduce isopods such as Potato Bugs and Springtails into the soil mix. These isopods help create a self-cleaning enclosure by breaking down waste.
The ambient temperature of the enclosure has to be carefully maintained between the high 80s to the mid-70s. Because the species is a large lizard, a single basking light is usually not enough to properly warm the lizard up.
Provide a series of heat emitting lamps such as the Fluker’s Ceramic Heat Emitter for Reptiles. The basking area must have a temperature of about 110 F, the area around the basking area should be about 90 to 95 F. Finally, the cool end of the enclosure should have temperatures of about 75 F.
Measure the surface temperatures of the enclosure rather than the ambient temperatures. As far as the surface temperatures are right, the ambient temperature should also be right as well.
Remember that the tegu is a terrestrial reptile as such the surface temperatures directly contribute to the lizard’s body temperature. I recommended the use of a thermometer gun such as the Etekcity Lasergrip.
When the weather gets colder, this species may brumate. During brumation, they eat less and hide in burrows & hides provided.
As a species endemic to forests, they are best kept in a humid environment where humidity levels are 60 and 80 percent. To maintain the high humidity needed, use substrates that retain moisture such as peat moss, coco coir, and cypress mulch. Even if you use soil, mix it with a good moisture-retaining substrate.
Additionally, mist the enclosure regularly. Half-fill a couple of the hiding spots with damp sphagnum moss. The hide’s substrate needs to be slightly damper than the rest. You can check the humidity of the enclosure using a high-quality hydrometer. I recommend the ThermoPro TP50 Digital Hygrometer.
Tegus also enjoy submerging themselves in water. Provide a pool with is large enough for the lizard to soak in. Since it usually defecates in the water, the water needs to be changed daily. Both the water bowl and soaking container must also be cleaned every day.
As far as the lizard is fed a proper diet supplemented with fruits, it should acquire the needed vitamin D3. It is important that insects fed the lizard is dusted with vitamin D3 supplement. To maintain a day-night cycle, it is important to install a few florescent lights in the enclosure. Turn these lights off during the night so as not to stress the lizard.
Feeding the Argentine Tegu
Argentine tegus accept a wide variety of foods. The diets of juveniles and hatchlings should mostly be composed of live insects such as mealworms, crickets, and waxworms. These insects need to be gut-loaded and dusted with vitamin/calcium supplement.
Crickets gut load easily. There are even products on the market specifically manufactured for gut loading crickets such as the High-Calcium Cricket Diet and the Cricket Quencher. Dust insects with Repashy Calcium Plus before offering them to the reptile. This contains all the needed vitamins and calcium. They can also be fed mince turkey.
Feed adults a mix of fruits, vegetables and proteins. Proteins to feed the tegu include mice, lean meat, fish, and eggs. Feed them more fruits and vegetables. If they refuse vegetables, mix them with the meats. Adults can also be fed rodents such as pinkies, and mice. Animals with fur are not recommended as this can lead to fur impaction.
Feed adults every three days, sub-adult (a year old) every two days, and hatchlings daily. In between feedings, offer vegetables and fruits.
The drinking water provided needs to be de-chlorinated and changed daily. In addition to this, provide a much bigger water container (every three to four days) for the tegu to soak it. It allows the tegus to bath. This eases shedding. Keep an eye on the tegu as it soaks.
Argentine Tegu’s Temperament
As smart pets, handling the black and white tegu isn’t that difficult. They are generally docile and enjoy the company of their keepers. This is particularly true of tegus acquired as babies. Wild adults can be feisty as they aren’t used to humans.
However, even with these, they can be tamed through patience and consistency. It is important to feed them using tongs, so they don’t associate your hand with food. Additionally, you can place a freshly worn cloth item in their favorite hiding spot so they get used to your scent.
With all that being said, a captive-bred Argentine black and white tegu is usually the easiest to tame. They may be flighty when young but so are all reptiles. As they grow accustomed to you, they won’t mind your company and may even come to appreciate your presence.
Argentine Tegu Lifespan
Argentine tegus are long-lived animals that can reach the ages of 15 to 20 years. However, excellent care is required if they are to attain their maximum lifespan. It isn’t uncommon for a well-kept tegu to live to just 12 years. As long-lived pets, you need to be committed before obtaining one.
Common Health Concerns
As with any reptile, health concerns are inevitable. Luckily, the Argentine black and white tegu has few health issues you should be concerned with. Most go through life without suffering any serious health issues bar old age. Here are the most common health issues.
Metabolic Bone Disease
This is probably the commonest health problem faced by tegus and usually occurs when the lizard suffers from calcium deficiency. To prevent this supplement their meals with calcium. Since vitamin D3 is needed for calcium absorption, lack of vitamin d3 can also lead to MBD.
For this reason, you may want to expose the lizard to UVB light. Symptoms include twitching, bumps, and swellings on the joints, ribs, and backbone. In severe cases, the reptile appears to be heavily deformed.
Early onsets can be curbed by increasing calcium and vitamin D3 levels in their diets. Ensure the calcium/phosphorus ratio is right (2:1). Additionally, you should install some UVB lights in the enclosure. Most importantly, visit the vet.
Internal parasites cannot be seen but they affect the reptile just as negatively as MBD does. Symptoms include loss of weight and appetite, lethargy and loose stool. The best way to treat internal parasites is by contacting your herp vet for treatment.
These are the two commonest issues. Others health issues include dehydration (provide clean de-chlorinated water), obesity (the right weight of an adult Argentine tegu is 5 to 10 pounds), respiratory infection (most noticeable symptom of RI is audible exhalation. RI is treated with antibiotics), and scale rot (caused by overly wet substrate).
Pricing and Availability
As relatively expensive and large pets, they are quite difficult to come by. This is especially true of captive-bred tegus. Some wild-caught specimens can be found on the pet trade market. These may not be best as they may have been illegally smuggled into the country from South America.
Untamed Argentine tegus can also be found in Miami where the climate is suitable. These are usually offspring of released domesticated tegus. If you wish to acquire a tegu, ensure you properly inquire about its origin. Always acquire from a well-known breeder. Prices range from $130 to $500 on average.
The Argentine black and white tegu is classified as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Their wild populations are stable and the species is thriving in the wild. Threats include hunting for skin and for the commercial pet trade. However, these threats are minor. The Salvator (Tupinambis) merianae is also listed on the CITES Appendix II.
The Argentine tegu is a perfect pet if you want an intelligent reptile that is actually curious about your actions and interacts with you when in your company. However, if you want a small reptile that can be kept in a small terrarium under 100-gallon, then this tegu species may not be right for you. If you have any comments kindly leave them. Thanks.
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