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Best Pet Tegu

The best pet tegu is arguably the Argentine black and white tegu. This lizard is easy to care for and can be housebroken.

Tegus in general are highly intelligent and are sometimes even comparable to dogs. While they can also be trained, like our canine companions, to respond to a given name, keeping one is not exactly a similar experience.

Lizards need to bask and require the right exposure to specific temperatures, humidity levels, and UV light. That being said, these creatures will definitely require a more specialized enclosure.

Other tegus that make wonderful pets are the red tegu, gold tegu, and water tegu, also known as the Caiman lizard.

Best Pet Tegu

1. Argentine black and white tegu

Argentine black and white tegu (Salvator merianae)
Argentine black and white tegu (Salvator merianae)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Teiidae
  • Scientific Name: Salvator merianae
  • Other Common Names: Lagarto overo, Huge tegu, black and white tegu, Argentine giant tegu
  • Adult Size: 3 feet to 4.5 feet (91 cm to 140 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Average Price Range: $200 to $500

The Argentine black and white tegu is among the more well-known tegus kept as pets, they are also relatively easy to find as compared to other tegus.  They are also the largest of the tegu lizard.

These lizards are well known for their high intelligence and friendly nature, they can even be housebroken. It is important to know that these liards will brumate when given the opportunity (that is when temperatures are low enough).

S. merianae is a large lizard capable of reaching lengths of 5 ft and weights of 15.4 lb or 7 kg.  One average expects male individuals to reach a length of 4 to 4.5 ft. females are generally smaller and grow to 3 ft. These lizards have black and white patterns all over their skin thus the name – black and white tegu.

S. merianae is endemic to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and brazil. Due to the pet trade, they have become an invasive species in Florida, south carolina, and Georgia. It is essential that you do not release these lizards into the wild.

There are morphs of S. merianae available. The first one is the Chacoan tegu, this variant is native to  Chaco in Argentina. The Chaocoan variant has more white in its coloration. They are also relatively larger. The blue tegu is another morph. This variant is popular because of its more docile nature.

They are also much easier to tame. The species can be easily distinguished by a single mark on the tip of their nose. They also have a blue coloration which is most vivid and intense in mature males. Other morphs include albino and even a high white color morph.

2. Argentine red tegu

Red Tegu (Salvator rufescens) on some dry soil with twigs at Parque Nacional Lihue Calel, Lihuel Calel, La Pampa, Argentina
A Red Tegu (Salvator rufescens) on some dry soil with twigs at Parque Nacional Lihue Calel, Lihuel Calel, La Pampa, Argentina. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Teiidae
  • Scientific Name: Salvator rufescens
  • Other Common Names: Red tegu
  • Adult Size: 3.3 to 4 ft (102 to 127 cm)
  • Lifespan: 12 to 20 years
  • Average Price Range: 

As you can tell by the common name, thee lizards show off red coloration. This coloration is barely noticeable among hatchlings. The red coloration intensifies and becomes more vivid as the lizards grow and are most visible in male adults.

Apart from the red coloration, expect to see black as well. Females exhibit duller coloration as it is with lizards in general. Similar to the black and white tegu, the red tegu grows to lengths of 4 to 5 ft. However, the average length here is 3 to 4.5 ft. Females are noticeably smaller than males are.

This species is endemic to western Argentina and Paraguay. The Paraguauam specimens have white patterns on the red coloration. This is an easy way to tell the two apart.

S. rufescens is a diurnal reptile that lives in the temperate zones of western Argentina and as such the species brumate. This happens in winter. When kept in other temperate parts of the world they would brumate if temperatures drop low enough.

The argentine reds have grown in popularity because of their coloration and also because they are easier to tame and easier to keep. Just like other tegus, this species is highly intelligent and docile.

They can be housebroken as well. However, don’t expect canine levels of intelligence from these majestic reptiles. However, compared to other reptiles, S. rufescens may just be the most intelligent out there.

3. Gold tegu

Gold Tegu (Tupinambis teguixin) on a large rock in Montabo, Cayenne, French Guiana
A Gold Tegu (Tupinambis teguixin) on a large rock in Montabo, Cayenne, French Guiana. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Teiidae
  • Scientific Name: Tupinambis teguixin
  • Other Common Names: Colombian black and white tegu, black tegu, tiger lizard, common tegu, golden tegu
  • Adult Size: 2 to 3 ft (60 to 100 cm)
  • Lifespan: 12 to 20 years
  • Average Price Range: $100

T. teguixin has several names which have been already listed. This tegu is endemic to northern and central South America. Their geographic range includes Peru, Bolivia,  Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, and even Panama.

The gold tegu can reach a length of 3 ft and a weight of 4 kg. It is called the gold tegu because of the gold stripes on its body. There are also black stripes on the tegu’s body.

There is also a black and white variant known as the Colombian black and white. The skin of the gold tegu is smoother than that of its argentine cousins.

These lizards are terrestrial and inhabit the tropical forests of their geographic range. The gold tegu is predominantly carnivorous. They feed mostly on fish, birds, smaller reptiles, small mammals, invertebrates, and insects. They are also known to eat fruits.

Just like the argentine black and white tegu as well as the red tegu, these lizards can be tamed. However, this is more difficult and they usually don’t make as good a pet as the more popular black and white tegu & red tegu.

4. Water Tegu (Caiman Lizard)

Northern Caiman Lizard (Dracaena guianensis) in some dry leaf litter at Parque Nacional Yasuní, Orellana, Orellana, Ecuador
A Northern Caiman Lizard (Dracaena guianensis) in some dry leaf litter at Parque Nacional Yasuní, Orellana, Orellana, Ecuador. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Teiidae
  • Scientific Name: Dracaena guianensis
  • Other Common Names: Northern caiman lizard, caiman lizard
  • Adult Size: 4 ft (1.2 m)
  • Lifespan: 10 years
  • Average Price Range: $400 to $600

The caiman lizard is more commonly known as the northern caiman lizard or simply as a caiman lizard. This retile looks very much like the argentine black and white tegu although it is more colorful. D. guianensis is amphibious and as such you need to build an aquarium for the specimen you decide to keep as a pet. It is the only semi-aquatic tegu out there.

D. guianensis is endemic to South America in particular Guianas, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil. You can find them mostly in swampy habitats or flooded woodlands. Although they are semi-aquatic, they are also great climbers. They bask on overhanging tree branches and dive straight back into the water if they sense a predator nearby.

D. guianensis has a heavy set body and short limbs. The head is often red or orange in coloration. The male’s head is broader and more brightly colored. The body is bright green or olive in color. The caiman lizard also has some adaptations that help it to swim and live in an aquatic environment.

For one it has a long and flat tail which it uses to swim and dive. It has a transparent third eyelid that protects the eyes when underwater. Also, the body of this lizard is similar to that of a crocodile.

Wild-caught caiman lizards are difficult to keep as they mostly eat just snails. Hatchlings can however be thought to accept other food sources. Setting up their enclosure can only be difficult and expensive. Because of their large size, they require a huge enclosure.

The enclosure of the adult caiman lizard should be at least 6 ft x 3 ft x 4 ft. You also need to provide a land area where they can dig and burrow as well as logs for them to climb. Vertical climbing opportunities are appreciated by these reptiles.

You also need to provide shelter on the land area. A shelter like the Zoo Med Habba Hut is excellent. You also need to provide plants either real or fake. These provide hiding spots and cover for the reptile.

The humidity and temperatures levels need to be high. Temperatures need to be 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit while basking area temperature needs to be between 100 to 110 degrees. Even during the night temperatures need to be relatively warm.

Nighttime temperatures should be above 74 degrees. Since the enclosure needs to be very large, you may need several heat lamps to achieve the right temperature.

Humidity levels need to be between 60 to 80 percent.

As with other tegus, the caiman lizard is trainable and with time, they may even come to appreciate your presence. However, this will take a while. Not all individuals are trainable though.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best pet tegu?

This is down to the individual. Personally, my favorite tegu is the blue tegu. This is a morph of the Argentine black and white. They are however generally smaller than the normal argentine black and white. This tegu is very tame and easy to train. They are also easy to keep. All of these characteristics make them easy to keep. However, regardless of the tegu you choose, you’d have an excellent pet.

The red tegu is also quite easy to keep. They may be easiest to keep. Their red coloration also makes them desirable to many. 

Some prefer morphs such as albinos because of their unique colorations.

Regardless of the tegu you choose, these are personable and friendly reptiles.  

Are Tegus easy to keep?

Tegus are large reptiles and as such can be expensive to keep. They need a large enclosure, high temperatures, and humidity needs. These reptiles are also predominantly carnivorous and need to be fed large amounts of meat. In all this, 4 feet lizard requires specific care.

Apart from the cost, you also need to keep the enclosure clean and maintain a regular care schedule. 
This social lizard also requires attention. Housebreaking and training the lizard may take time but they are very personable once they get to know you.

I recommend the red tegu and the black and white tegu for beginners as these are the easiest to keep. The caiman lizard, also known as the water tegu, is even more difficult to care for than the ones just mentioned.

How big does a tegu get?

Tegus are large reptiles. But just how large can there get?

An argentine black and white tegu is capable of reaching lengths of 5 ft and weights of 8 kg. The size of the tegu in question depends on the species.  Red tegus can grow to be 5ft as well but most grow to be just over 3 ft. Gold tegus are much smaller and grow to 2 to 3 ft.

As you can see the size of the tegu depends on the species and even the morph. However, expect your pet to grow to be 3 to 5 ft.

Are pet tegus difficult to acquire?

These tegus are relatively easy to find. You may need to get in touch with a breeder though. Some excellent breeders you can find online include and They can also be quite pricey. Expect to pay between $300 and $700 for specimens.

Should I let my tegu free roam?

While this may seem like a good idea, it is not advisable unless the tegu is native to your locale. These lizards require high humidity levels and specific conditions that may only be provided in their enclosure. As such, the lizard news to be within the enclosure for most or even all of the time.


There are other tegus out there apart from the ones mentioned in this article. Examples of these are the crocodile tegu (Crocodilurus amazonicus) which is native to Peru, Brazil, French Guiana, Venezuela, and Colombia; and the Yellow tegu (Salvator duseni) that is native brazil, bolivia, and Paraguay. However, these aren’t kept as pets.

Tegus are among the most intelligent reptiles on earth and arguably the most intelligent. These personable and socially intelligent reptiles are friendly and docile. They can be trained and housebroken. Regardless of this, these are still reptiles and need specialized setups to thrive. They need large enclosures with exposure to UV light and high temperatures.

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