Tegu lizards, or tegus, are large reptiles that many people have come to love lately. They make great pets thanks to their intelligence and friendliness. Honestly, they’re sort of like dogs trapped in a giant reptile body.
But before bringing a tegu lizard into your home, you should understand their care requirements. What can tegus eat and drink? What enclosure do they need? How large will they grow? It’s a big lizard, so you don’t want to take these things lightly.
This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about how to care for a tegu.
Average Tegu Lizard Size & Weight
As mentioned above, tegus are large reptiles. You’ll be able to carry them in your hands, but, well, hands. The average weight and size for a tegu is:
- Males: 1.5m (5ft) in length & 9kg (20lb) in weight.
- Females: 1m (3.5ft) in length & 5kg (11lb) in weight.
While tegu lizards are definitely not small or light, you shouldn’t have any trouble handling yours. Once they’ve grown accustomed to being handled, you’ll be able to pick them up with no problem.
Despite being large lizards, tegus have a lifespan similar to that of bearded dragons and leopard geckos. As long as you take care of your tegu correctly, it can live for 15 to 20 years.
Tegu Lizard Care
While tegu lizards make excellent pets, they’re not suitable for all households. They need plenty of space, plenty of food, and plenty of care.
But as long as you commit to providing them the right habitat, optimal environmental conditions, and the proper diet. You’ll have a lot of fun raising an awesome animal. Here are some essential guidelines to help you with your journey.
Expert Tip: If you have small pets such as hamsters or gerbils, you may want to pass on a tegu lizard as they might try to hunt them.
Tegu lizards are large, and they grow rapidly. So you’ll need to work diligently to accommodate their size. If you’ve adopted an adult tegu, this is already prevalent. But even hatchlings grow about 2.5cm (1in) every month.
It is wise to start with the biggest enclosure necessary. This will help you avoid needing to upgrade and then go through introducing your tegu to a new environment.
So, how big of a cage is required for a tegu? Ultimately, it will depend on the specific type of tegu lizard you have. The minimum sizes are:
- Colombian Tegu: 180 x 90 x 90 cm / 6 x 3 x 3 ft.
- Argentine Tegu: 245 x 120 x 120 cm / 8 x 4 x 4 ft.
While it is best to start with a big cage even for baby tegus, you can choose to go with a cage half the size mentioned above and upgrade incrementally. But they’ll grow rapidly so you need to be ready to upgrade within a few months.
Can tegus be housed together? Yes, they can, but it’s not necessary. Tegus are perfectly happy solitary animals. However, if you choose to get your tegu a friend you need to follow these rules.
- Male & Male is OK.
- Female & Female is OK.
- Male & Female is NOT OK.
For the living conditions for your tegu, you’ll want to emulate their natural habitat.
So while they could live on the bare floor, paper towels, or newspapers. It’s best if you give them some sort of natural substrate.
The best substrate options for tegus are orchid bark and cypress mulch.
Newspaper might be a good starting point, especially for hatchlings, since it is inexpensive and easy to clean up. But you’ll want to replace it as they grow to keep them truly happy.
Next, while you’ll want to purchase habitat furniture, but you don’t want to go overboard here. Tegus don’t need as much furniture as other reptiles. A few rocks and tree pieces will do the trick.
Lastly, make sure that your tegu has plenty of places to hide. They somewhere that is dark and isolated to feel safe. While one hiding place will work, try to create at least 2 or 3.
Temperature & Lighting
Since tegus naturally live in areas with tropical and subtropical climates, you’ll need to have some heat lamps. You’ll also need to use thermometers to ensure that your enclosure doesn’t get too hot or too cold.
Tegus control their body temperatures by moving to different parts of their habitat. Therefore, you’ll need to establish a thermal gradient in your pet’s enclosure. In other words, one side of the cage should be warmer than the other.
- One side of the enclosure should be 35-40°C (95-105°F)
- The other side should be 21-25°C (70-77°F)
Do tegus need UVB? While some may claim that tegus don’t need it since they get their Vitamin D3 through food, it is best practice to provide your tegu a UVB light.
When using lights in your tegu’s enclosure, make sure you use the highest quality lights possible. Furthermore, use lamp reflectors to ensure that the light and heat are sent directly into the closure instead of being dispersed around the room.
Tegu lizards require a humidity level of between 75%-90%.
You can keep the enclosure humid by using a moist substrate as well as misting regularly while monitoring with a hygrometer.
Tegus also love soaking to hydrate, so don’t forget to provide clean water every day in a tip-proof water bowl.
Speaking of water, tegu lizards need freshwater, and they will drink from a dish with no issue. If you can find a large water reservoir that is also tip-proof, your tegu will swim in it and drink from it—two birds with one water bowl.
Just remember that this will likely create a mess, so you’ll need to be more diligent about cleaning the enclosure.
In terms of which water, don’t use distilled water because it could cause mineral imbalance issues. And only use tap water if you know your town’s water is safe for human consumption.
Food & Diet
When trying to assemble a suitable diet for your tegu, you’ll find that your options are plentiful. Tegu lizards can eat meat, fruits, vegetables, and insects.
You’ll need to give your tegu a balance of protein along with fruits and vegetables.
- For Argentine Tegu: 60% protein & 30% fruits and vegetables.
- For Colombian Tegu: 90% protein & 10% fruits and vegetables.
You can feed them the following items for protein:
- Feeder frogs
And the following items for fruits and vegetables:
- Bell peppers
- Butternut squash
- Yellow squash
Find out what else you can feed them here.
Just make sure to get the feeding schedule correct, baby tegus should be fed daily, while adult tegus should be fed 2-4 times a week.
Potential Health Issues
Tegu lizards tend to be healthy, but they may experience some problems. Some of the most common tegu lizard health problems include metabolic bone disease, calcium deficiency, and salmonella. They can also have internal or external parasites.
If you suspect that your tegu lizard is ill, maybe it’s suddenly lethargic, not eating, or even puking, get it to a professional as quickly as possible.
Behavior & Temperament
When it comes to tegus, you will find it depends on the variety you’re dealing with. Strangely, the temperament differs drastically from Argentine tegus and Colombian tegus.
- Colombian tegu temperament: aggressive & needs a lot of handling to warm up.
- Argentine tegu temperament: docile & naturally friendlier.
Learning to handle a tegu lizard can be challenging. However, the difficulty level will depend on how much the lizard has been handled in the past.
If a professional breeder raised it, you would likely be able to handle the lizard without any issues. Unless it’s a Colombian tegu.
But it’s still best practice to get a hatchling. This will give you plenty of time to train it to get comfortable with your hand specifically. Use the following tips when trying to handle your tegu, hatchling or adult:
- Be patient: put your hand in-front of them and let them come to you.
- Don’t force: if your tegu isn’t coming naturally, don’t encroach or try to grab them, simply try another time.
- Once they climb onto your hand: start lightly petting their heads, under their necks, etc. Aregentine tegus in particular love being pet.
- After this bonding period: you can start picking them up freely, although always approach from the front.
This concludes the how to care for tegu lizards guide. If I missed anything, leave a comment below and I’ll reply!
Tegus are great, especially Argentine tegus (sorry for the hate Colombian tegus), but they are not easy pets by any means. But, if you understand the commitment and are willing to take it, it will be highly rewarding. Good luck!