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How to Care for Your Argentine Tegu

How to Care for Your Argentine Tegu

Argentine tegus (Salvator spp.) are large, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to the southern half of South America. They can be found in a variety of habitats, but are very much terrestrial lizards, as they spend little time in trees or water. 

Argentine tegus are either black and white or red and white, depending on species. They have a blunt triangular head, thick neck, robust body, thick, tapered tail, strong limbs, and a long, forked pink tongue. Adults average 3-5’ long. Males have much more prominent jowls than females, and are generally larger.

With good care, a captive Argentine tegu can be expected to live at least 15-20 years. They can be charming, personable pets when tamed appropriately, but their large size and active nature makes them demanding to keep. This is a pet worth seriously considering before buying on a whim!

How much space do Argentine tegus need?

Because of their large size, a single Argentine tegu should be housed in no smaller than a 8’L x 4’W x 4’H enclosure. If at all possible, larger is strongly recommended, in addition to regular opportunities to free-roam (supervised) for exercise. This size of enclosure is not typically available for purchase, so you will need to order one custom-made or build your own.

Cohabitation (keeping multiple tegus in the same enclosure) is not recommended.

Do Argentine tegus need UVB?

UVB is required for tegus to thrive in captivity. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle and providing an infinite supply of vitamin D, UVB is also good for the lizard’s overall health. Here are the best UVB bulbs for Argentine tegus housed in a 8’L x 4’W x 4’H enclosure:

If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking platform so your tegu’s back will be 13-15” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking branch so your tegu’s back will be 17-18” below the lamp. The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 and placed on the basking side along with the heat lamp. Make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is housed in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.

Tegus are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. It’s best to provide 13 hours of light during summer and 11 hours during winter. This simulates natural seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms.

Since tegus are active during the day, it’s beneficial to provide an additional daylight-spectrum lamp to make sure the enclosure is brightly illuminated. This is extra important since you will be using such a large enclosure. Use 6’ of strong 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent plant grow lights for best results.

What basking temperatures do Argentine tegus need?

Argentine tegus need a basking surface temperature of 125-135°F. Air temperature on the cool side of the enclosure can be as low as 75°F, but should be no higher than 85°F. Measure surface temperature with an infrared thermometer (“temp gun”), and air temperature with a digital thermometer placed near the basking site.

Provide heat for your lizard by imitating the sun with a cluster of halogen heat lamps placed on one side of the enclosure. You will need enough lamps to evenly heat an area at least the size of the tegu’s body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

Heating should be turned off at night.

What humidity levels do Argentine tegus need?

Argentine tegus need a humid environment to stay healthy. Average humidity levels should be between 70-80%. Humidity should be measured with a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. Daily misting with a pressure sprayer and/or using a humidifier connected to a humidistat is helpful for maintaining high humidity. It also helps to mix water directly into the substrate.

Reptile humidifiers and foggers should only be used with distilled water and require frequent disinfecting to keep your reptile from getting sick.

What substrate is good for Argentine tegus?

Using substrate in your tegu’s enclosure covers the floor, cushions your tegu’s body, helps maintain humidity, and gives the lizard something to dig around in. We recommend the following substrates for tegus:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can help with humidity as well as add enrichment value.

Substrate should be at least 6” deep (preferably deeper) and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with any contaminated substrate.

What décor can you use in an Argentine tegu enclosure?

Argentine tegus are highly intelligent and curious animals, so it’s terribly boring for them to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except a water bowl and hideout. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with. 

Here are some ideas:

  • climbing branches
  • hollow logs
  • tree stumps
  • additional hiding places (dog/cat kennels can work well)
  • live or artificial foliage

What do Argentine tegus eat?

Argentine tegus are omnivores, which means that they need to eat a variety of both plant- and animal-based foods in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. How often and how much they need to eat depends on age:

  • Hatchlings (0-6 months) — 5x/week (70-80% protein, 20-30% vegetables and fruit)
  • Juveniles (7-12 months) — 4x/week (70-80% protein, 20-30% vegetables and fruit)
  • Subadults (1-2 years) — 3x/week (70-80% protein, 20-30% vegetables and fruit)
  • Adults (>2 years) — 2x/week (60% protein, 30% vegetables, 10% fruit)

Feeder insects for Argentine tegus: crickets, dubia roaches, red runner roaches, black soldier fly larvae, mealworms, superworms, darkling beetles, hornworms, silkworms, snails, grasshoppers, chicks, quail chicks, egg (with shell), mice, rats, gerbils, small rabbits, shrimp, salmon, high-quality canned dog food

Safe vegetables for Argentine tegus: collard greens, cactus pads, spring mix, arugula, kale, pea shoots, alfalfa, bok choy, carrot greens and roots, spinach, dandelion greens/flowers, hibiscus leaves/flowers

Fruit is high in sugar and should only be offered as an occasional, vitamin-rich treat. Options include berries, figs, apples, prickly pear, papaya, and mango.

Remember — the key to providing a healthy diet for your Argentine tegu is VARIETY!

Supplements

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your lizard from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all foods (excluding whole prey and dog food).

Water

You will also need a water bowl. Since tegus are big and like to soak, you will need a shallow tub large enough for your tegu to fit in. Change the water at least twice a week and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

Do Argentine tegus like to be handled?

As adults, Argentine tegus are too large to be held, and as juveniles, they may be too skittish for handling. The key, instead, is to build a trusting relationship with your tegu so it will let you pet it and pick it up when needed. Offering food from feeding tweezers works well as an initial bribe, and it’s best to get the lizard to come to you rather than simply grabbing it — a bite from a startled or defensive adult tegu is no small thing!

When you start handling your tegu, be gentle. Don’t grab the lizard from above — instead, approach from the side and scoop from below. Support as much of its body as possible, especially its feet. When possible, let it climb onto your arm rather than picking it up. Start with very short handling sessions in the beginning, then gradually make them longer as your pet becomes more accustomed to you.



*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. We recommend the following sources:

  • The ReptiFiles Tegu Care Guide
  • Tegus From Around the World
  • The Tegu-Phile
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