How to Care for Your Tegu
Tegus (genus Salvator since 2012, previously genus Tupinambis) are very large (2.5 - 5 feet), diurnal, terrestrial reptiles native to South America. There are a variety of species of Tegu available in the pet trade whose common names reflect their predominant coloration: red Tegu, blue Tegu, black and white Tegu, gold Tegu. Tegus are among the more intelligent reptiles and require appropriate stimulation in their environment to ensure interest and engagement due to their size and wide range of habitat needs; they should be considered to be advanced level pets.
Adult Tegus require large enclosures. The enclosure should be minimally twice as long as the tegu (nose to tail) and twice as wide as its snout to vent length. This usually translates to an enclosure that’s 8’ long, 4’ wide, and about 3’ high. The enclosure should include 24” of a substrate, which can be composed of mulch, sand/soil mixture, organic potting soil, or coir to allow the Tegu to construct underground burrows. Additional cage items include a large, stable water bowl, large enough for the Tegu to soak or swim in, stable hiding spots, and some pieces of wood or branches that can hold a Tegu’s weight below the basking area. The humidity should be about 60-80%.
Heating and Lighting
Tegus require a basking area whose temperatures can reach about 125 degrees F or higher on the floor. Since the Tegu is a large reptile, a single light is often not enough to heat its whole body. Frequently a cluster of 3 floodlights will be used, one of which can be a full spectrum light to provide the Tegu with UV. Alternatively, the UVB light can be a full-spectrum 10.0 fluorescent bulb that runs most of the length of the enclosure. The fixture can be placed inside the cage underneath the cover or on top of a mesh cover. If the fixture is placed on top of the cage, a glass cage cover should not be used, since the UVB will not penetrate through the glass. Fluorescent bulbs decrease in the amount of UVB emitted with time. It’s safest to replace the bulb every 6 months, though a more accurate schedule can be determined if a UV meter is purchased and used to check UV levels. The air temperature in the remainder of the enclosure should range from the mid 70’s to the high 80’s. Many Tegus will brumate during the winter.
Food and Supplementation
Tegus are carnivorous, opportunistic feeders who may consume some plant matter, primarily fruit, in addition to whole prey. When they are young, they should be fed daily on crickets, Dubia, and other roaches. Insects should be dusted with calcium and vitamin D3. Adult Tegus require larger prey items and are primarily fed frozen and thawed mice, rats, and other mid-sized mammals or birds. They are also often fed cooked chicken, eggs, or other cooked meat as treats. Some keepers feed a limited amount of fruit as well. Adult Tegus may enjoy the largest Dubia roaches in addition to the bigger prey items.
As with most reptiles, young tegus are flighty and suspicious of the world around them; you should spend time with them but try not to pick up and handle them every time you are with them. Constant positive association will help a tegu come to see their human handler as non-threatening and become an enjoyable pet to keep. There are several ways to achieve this; quietly sitting near them and spending time with them, putting a worn piece of clothing inside their enclosure so they become used to your smell. Offering their favorites during feeding time also helps in the way that it is positive reinforcement. Still, it also helps to feed a hungry tegu before any attempted handling as they can become moody when hungry and may act out. However, you should not let your tegu associate your hands with being fed as this can lead them to go after your hand when being fed, leading to a painful bite.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. If you are new to Tegus, please do additional research to obtain additional information from more detailed care sheets.