The Argentine Black & White Tegu (Tupinambis merianae) is one of a group of large terrestrial lizards in the genera Tupinambis. They are native to Eastern Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Southern Brazil, and typically inhabit forest-edge savannah and grassland habitat feeding on anything from flowers and leaves to small rodents and chicks. Argentine Tegus are among the most intelligent and highly adapted of all living lizards and enjoy one of the best reputations as a larger pet lizard than most other species including iguanas and monitors. They are avid burrowers and spend copious amounts of time in deep burrows which afford protection from dehydration and extreme temperatures.
Although they fill the same ecological niche, they are not to be confused with monitor lizards (Varanus s.p.), which demonstrate an example of convergent evolution. Monitor Lizards are typically larger than Tegus and some even secrete a slow acting venom into their saliva.
|Pet Reptile (Tupinambis merianae) Care Information|
|Regions Found:||Southeastern Brazil, eastern Paraguay, Uruguay, eastern Argentina|
|Natural habitat:||Terrestrial living in savannah and grassland habitats|
|Years to Maturity:||18-36 months|
|Adult Size:||From 15cm as hatchlings to 90-130cm as adults (nose to tail end).|
|Temperament:||Generally very docile as adults|
|Housing, Feeding and Climate of Tupinambis merianae|
|Housing Size:||Hatchlings from 60x30x30cm and adults from 240x120x90cm|
|Reptile Foods:||Various meats, fruits and vegetables.|
|Temperature:||Air temperature of 28-30°C (82-86°F) with a basking spot of 38-46°C (100-115°F)|
|Humidity:||50% - 80%|
|Reptile Lighting:||Are there any special reptile lighting requirements?|
|Breeding Tupinambis merianae|
|1 clutch with 10-70 eggs (average of 30)|
|Gestation Period:||2-3 weeks|
|Incubation Period:||60 days|
|What are the reptile health concerns? Is pet insurance recommended? Is reptile health a common problem?|
|Recommended Pet Supplies for Tupinambis merianae|
nb. All of these can be purchased from an online pet store
Tegus are one of the most rewarding of the large lizards to keep in captivity. Often called The Argentine Tegu, or Giant Tegu, they are a fast growing species reaching maturity and lengths of over 1m in just 36 months. If close attention is paid to diet and basic husbandry considerations, Tegus have a lifespan of 15-20 years in captivity.
The Giant Tegu has beaded skin with two linear arrays of yellow freckles on either side of its back, running from neck to tail. They are a stocky species with long tails and relatively shorter necks when compared to monitor lizards. Their tails span about 65% of the total length of the tegu, are rounded and can be broken or “dropped” at what is known as a fracture point. Much like snakes, Tegus have forked tongues that they use to sense smell and take the scent into the Jacobson’s Organ for the processing of the scent. An arsenal of sharp teeth and claws, attached to unbelievably powerful limbs makes this species a lethal predator.
There are distinct differences between males and females of T. merianae. The most pronounced of these is their size; an adult male may reach a total length of up to 1.5m whereas a female is significantly shorter, and reaches a maximum of 1m in total length. He has a bulkier, more muscular build throughout his body including his tail, a greater number of pre-anal pores and two buttons of enlarged post-anal scales.
Hatchlings average 20cm (8in) in total length and are green in colour with black patterns throughout. This green begins to fade with the first shed, and eventually becomes a dirty white. As juveniles they will be largely skittish, even with frequent handling, but as adults they are rather docile and calm. They are quite agile while young, distinctly adept at climbing and even have ability to run on their hind legs not unlike the basilisk.
Creating a Suitable Habitat
A hatchling can comfortably be reared in a terrarium that is around 75x30cm in size (20 gallon long aquarium) until around 6 months old. From then on increase the size of the enclosure as your tegu outgrows it. An adult tegu should be kept in an enclosure no smaller than 1m², such as a 180x60x60cm enclosure; although more, if not double is recommended.
As with other species of reptile there are a couple of things to consider when choosing a substrate. Among aesthetic reasons; does it hold moisture well? Is it good for burrowing? Will it mould easily? Does it contain toxins? Is it cheap to replace?
Bark or mulch type beddings are recommended for tegus. Cypress mulch is a very popular substrate as it holds humidity, is inexpensive and easy for the tegu to burrow in. Keep the substrate moist to maintain humidity and also to keep the mulch from releasing dust. Others such as orchid bark, Lizard litter, repti-bark, eucalyptus mulch, and coconut husk products are all acceptable.
Temperature, Humidity and Environment
Although tegus are extremely tolerant of cool temperatures is it important to remember that they are a tropical species and so require high temperatures and humidity throughout most of the year. In the wild they regularly emerge from their burrows to bask in the Sun, acquiring heat and UV-rays. It is important to provide a basking spot, as well as an ambient temperature throughout the enclosure. An ambient temperature of 28-30°C (82-86°F) is advised with a basking spot of 38-46°C (100-115°F) to aid with digestion. The basking temperature should be moderated for your tegu by reducing it if it’s too hot or increasing it if food remains undigested.
Heat can be provided through a variety of different methods. Heat mats or under tank heaters (UTH) are a great way to raise the substrate temperature, whereas light bulbs, lamps and ceramic heat emitters are a means to increase air and surface temperatures. A good quality thermostat should be used with each piece of heating equipment to prevent overheating or burns.
In captivity, humidity levels of 50% through to 80% are recommended. Humidity is difficult to maintain in a large enclosure, and it is completely feasible to employ humid hides, where the humidity may be higher and thus always available to the tegu. It is always best to vary the humidity throughout the enclosure, just like temperature, so that the tegu has a choice of environments. Use of different substrates, water basins and misting techniques will ensure adequate humidity.
Lighting needs to be considered in part with the tegus heating requirements. It is essential to provide a day/night cycle as well as a full UV spectrum for most basking species and this is no exception. UV-B is extremely important because it helps in formation of Vitamin D3, which is key in absorption of calcium.
There are generally two types of bulb that provide UV; the standard fluorescent UV bulbs (7.5 and 10.0%) and self-ballasted mercury vapour bulbs which can also provide massive amounts of heat. Days out in the Sun can also be a great benefit to reptiles, but don’t leave them alone too long!
Hides and Decor
Because tegus stay in their burrows throughout the night and for a good portion of the day, it is necessary to provide adequate hiding places for your tegus. As discussed, a humid hide is required but should also be used in conjunction with another hide in a dryer environment. For smaller tegus a large piece of cork bark will provide a starting point, and for larger ones a compartment underneath the enclosure may be required.
There should be a suitable perch underneath the basking spot such as a tree stump or a large rock. Placing a few larger rocks around the enclosure will also help keep the claws filled down.
Drinking and Cleaning Water
Provide a large shallow pool of clean water for the tegu to drink from and submerge in. Keeping reptile well hydrated plays a key role in general health and shedding of old skin.
Tegus are typically considered omnivores in the wild, however in captivity they rarely take to eating much vegetation. As with any animal it is important to provide a balanced diet, to improve health and prevent obesity. Rodents and day old chicks are relatively high in fat, so should be offered sparingly, once or twice per week. It may be necessary to dust food supplements with added vitamins and calcium for younger tegus; adults should be well nourished with a varied balanced diet.
It is essential to take precautions when feeding to prevent cage aggression which is where your tegu begins to associate you with food, and becomes aggressive towards you. Never hand-feed your tegu or encourage such behaviour; Instead designate a feeding dish that can be placed into a separate enclosure and transfer your tegu there. Another method is to place the food dish in your tegus enclosure after dark. In the morning when the tegu wakes up the food will be there waiting.
Raw meat meals can be made, frozen and stored. There are three popular recipes, each comprising of raw ground turkey:
- Ground turkey (400g), 3 medium eggs with shell
- Ground turkey (500g) and cod liver oil (18ml, 1tbsp)
- Ground turkey (300g) and beef liver (100g)
Grind or blend the ingredients together and separate into freezer bags for freezing. Other supplements can be added such as calcium and vitamins.
Tegus are carnivorous as hatchling, so fruit and vegetables are unnecessary and since they are still growing at such a fast rate, it is okay to feed hatchlings as much as they will eat. Insects and small rodents such as crickets, cockroaches, meal worms, wax worms, silk worms, butter worms, and pink mice are all recommended. Chicken or turkey meat, fish and cooked poultry eggs can also be offered if small enough to be swallowed.
At this stage, tegus are pretty large and although they can still be fed on insects, it becomes quite expensive. Fruits and vegetables are now on offer and since they are still growing at such a fast rate, it is okay to feed yearlings as much as they will eat. Chicken or turkey meat, fish, cooked poultry eggs, small rats and mice, strawberries, cantaloupe, apples, and dark leafy greens are all recommended.
As adults there is not much room for growth and so the tegus diet needs to be regulated more in order to prevent obesity. One meal per day should be enough. Chicken or turkey meat, cooked poultry eggs, medium rats, adult mice, fresh fish, day old chicks, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, melons, apples, and dark leafy greens are all recommended.
Handling and Taming
I currently own an adult Columbian Gold Tegu(Tupinmbis teguixin)They have a reputation for being nasty and won't hesitate to bite or defend itself if it feels threatend or even when its not for that matter. Even though the main article is on Tupinambis merianae i feel duscussing taming methods for this species will give any tegu owner the propper tools needed to handle most larg aggressive lizard species.
First off If it's possible you will want to start off with a small specimen for two main reasons since they are all imported, a young tegu will be have a better chance adapting to life in captivity versus an adult whos set in its ways. Secondly small aggressive lizards dont pose any real threat as they are to small to inflict any real damage. I on the other hand recieved mine as an adult and it has proven to be quite a challenge. After aquiring your tegu and once its been acclimated you should abserve your lizard,learn its habits and always watch it as you enter and leave the room or when you generally are near it.Look for sighns of stress or guitiness snd judge by its reaction to you.After you both have had adequite time getting to know eachother its time to move onto the next phase, the handeling. You should start by putting on gloves and slowly approach the enclosure and remember no sudden movements or jerks as this will no doubt make your lizard "excitable". Than you will want to gently pet your lizard starting on its back and increase your strokes as you feelthe lizard loosen up.
Growing lizards shed their skin every couple of months as it is replaced by new, larger and unspoilt skin underneath. It is important to check regularly if a lizard has successfully shed and that there are no regions of trapped shed still attached to the body. Trapped skin usually occurs on fingers and tail ends, and can be the result of poor health, or simply low humidity.
If shed skin is not removed by the tegu it may be necessary to gently massage the area with a cotton bud or tissue. Try to push the skin off without damaging any limbs, and if that is not possible it may be time to visit your vet.