Colombian/Argentine Tegu Care

Argentine Tegu (Salvator spp.) & Colombian Tegu (Tupinambis spp.)

Difficulty: High

Published: January 4, 2018

Last Updated: January 18, 2024

tegu natural distribution map

Tegus are diurnal, terrestrial lizards found throughout eastern and southeastern South America. They have also established themselves as invasive species on Fernando de Noronha Island and parts of the state of Florida in the United States.

They are characterized by their large size, triangular heads, muscular limbs, and spotted pattern arranged in horizontal stripes along the length of their body.

Argentine tegus are omnivorous, meaning that they eat both plants and animals. Colombian tegus are carnivorous, meaning that they eat primarily animals. Tegus are very active opportunistic hunters, hunting their own prey as well as scavenging carrion where it is available.

Depending on the species, tegus grow to be between 24”-60” (61-152 cm) long, weighing 8-15 lbs (3.6-6.8 kg). They are considered “large” lizards, and have special care considerations owing to that size.

Tegus are sexually mature at 3 years old and go on to have an average lifespan of 15-20 years.

The lizards we recognize as tegus were classified under the same genus (Tupinambis) until 2012, when three of the species were reclassified under the genus Salvator. Because of their similar care requirements and the frequency with which these species get confused, this care guide addresses tegus of both the Salvator and Tupinambis genera.

  • Salvator (Argentine) Tegus
    • merianae*
    • rufescens*
    • duseni
  • Tupinambis (Colombian) Tegus
    • teguixin*
    • cryptus
    • cuzcoensis
    • longilineus
    • matipu
    • palustris
    • quadrilineatus
    • zuliensis

Those marked with asterisks (*) are most common in the pet trade, and will be directly addressed in this guide.

Fun Facts About Tegus

  • Tegus are extremely intelligent; in fact, some argue that tegus are the most intelligent species of lizard. They possess learning abilities, and can be trained (to an extent).
  • Tegus can run on two legs.
  • Tegus can jump almost 3’ (1 meter) straight up!
  • Unlike most other reptile species, tegus can make themselves up to 18°F (10°C) warmer than their surroundings — making them not 100% cold-blooded. However, they only use this ability during mating season. (This study was only conducted with merianae. It is not yet confirmed whether other Salvator or Tupinambis species have this ability.

Please note that although pet tegus are becoming increasingly popular, tegus are NOT “scaly puppies” — they are still reptiles with the unique needs that having an exotic animal presents. Tegus are expensive to feed and house, and they go through a “puberty”-like adolescent phase where they become thoroughly unpleasant to deal with. They can become “dog tame” with time and persistent effort, but even dogs and cats occasionally bite and scratch, and even a tame adult tegu will bite/scratch/tail whip if it feels scared or threatened.

Argentine Tegu Care Guide

2” by Ariosvaldo Gonzáfoles is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Argentine/Colombian Tegu Care Guide — Table of Contents

  1. Shopping List
  2. List of Tegu Species
  3. Terrarium Sizing for Hatchlings, Juveniles & Adults
  4. Temperature & Humidity Requirements
  5. Substrate Options
  6. Decorating Your Tegu’s Enclosure
  7. Feeding Your Tegu
  8. Handling Tips
  9. Benefits of Free-Roaming
  10. Common Problems & Questions About Tegu Health
  11. Additional Resources