The Argentine black and white tegu, also known as the Argentine giant tegu, is an omnivorous lizard native to semi-deserts, savannas, and the tropical rainforests of east and central South America. They are extremely intelligent and love receiving attention from humans, comparable to other domestic house pets like cats and dogs. Outside of their hibernation period, they are extremely active and make good pets for people looking for a lizard that can follow commands like other pets.
After Argentine black and white tegus hatch, they have a distinctive green coloring with interesting looking black markings. Their tails start out with black and yellow bands, and as they age, the yellow bands closest to the body become slightly speckled. The fewer bands a tegu has on its tail, the older it is.
Male tegus are larger than female tegus, reaching up to 4.5 feet in length. Female tegus generally do not exceed three feet in length.
As mentioned above, tegus are omnivorous. This means that they get sustenance from both plants and animals. While they are young, they generally stick to eating small insects, snails, and spiders in addition to seeds and fruit. When their nutritional needs increase as they grow, they begin eating reptile and bird eggs, in addition to small birds. As fully grown adults, they tend to return to eating fruit and insects.
Of course, when held in captivity, their diet is modified slightly. They may be fed various foods such as cooked or raw eggs, meat, rodents, and insects. It is recommended that they are also fed fruit, but some of them will refuse it when domesticated. Raw eggs are only fed to tegus in minimal amounts. Too many raw eggs can cause a biotin deficiency. This can be offset by supplementing the diet with cooked eggs.
Raising Tegus on Your Own
If the docile, loyal personality of a tegu has you yearning for one as a pet, there are a few things to take into consideration first. First, make sure that you know the difference between Colombian tegus and Argentine black and white tegus. Colombian tegus may be smaller than Argentine tegus, but they do not make very good pets. It is also important to remember that they have lives of around 15 years, and they can reach up to 4.5 feet in length, which means you need to be prepared to make this commitment.
You are going to need to start by getting an enclosure. While a glass aquarium will work fine for younger tegus, once it gets older you will need a custom built enclosure or large terrarium. Adult tegus need at least six feet in length, three feet in width, and two feet of height to remain healthy in captivity. A taller enclosure is not necessary, as they are not climbers or standers. It should be filled with cypress mulch or orchid bark, and topped with a log for them to hide in and some moist sphagnum moss. Their enclosure should be kept at a temperature between 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and up to ten degrees cooler at night. This can be accomplished with heat lamps, ceramic heat emitters, heat mats, and bulbs.
Feeding Captive Tegus
As mentioned above, tegus are omnivores. They can be fed crickets dusted with supplements (available at pet supply stores,) small mice, and, as they grow, larger, frozen, full-sized mice. Mice without fur are preferable, as a tegu that ingests too much fur can succumb to impactions. You can supplement these protein-rich items with fruits and vegetables. As a treat, you can offer your tegu dog food and eggs, but make sure not to feed it too much protein. Too much protein can cause kidney failure, just like in any other omnivore.
Tegus spend most of their time either burrowing or soaking. To enable your tegu to soak, provide them with a large, shallow bowl that their entire body will fit into. For this, you may want to use a disposable cat litter pan. Make sure to change the water frequently. Keep an eye out for feces in the water, as some tegus tend to defecate in their water. Make sure to maintain between 60-80% relative humidity in the tank. If the moist moss, in combination with the dish of water, does not accomplish this, you can help the humidity along by misting the enclosure with water.
Overall, these reptiles can make fabulous pets. Just be sure that you are prepared to take care of them in the best manner possible.