One of the primary differences between Argentine tegus and Colombian tegus is what they eat. For the first year of life, both require a high-protein diet of meat and insects to fuel rapid growth — about 90% protein and 10% vegetables, with occasional fruit. Due to the smaller size of a young tegu, insects can and should make up most of the protein offered.
According to a survey of tegu stomach contents, adult Argentine tegus were found to eat about 30-60% plant material (mostly fruit), 15-40% invertebrates, and 20-30% vertebrates. Juveniles (and we can assume that Colombian tegus are similar) ate approximately 50% invertebrates, 20% vegetation, and 20% vertebrates (small animals).
In captivity, use these proportions as your rule of thumb:
- Argentine tegus are omnivores (60% protein, 30% vegetables, 10% fruit)
- Colombian tegus are carnivores (90% protein, 10% vegetables)
In other words, Colombian tegus can continue to receive the same diet as when they were younger, but Argentine tegus should start to receive more vegetables as their bodies switch from rapid growth to maintenance mode.
You may have noticed that I recommend less fruit than tegus are reported to eat in the wild. This is because wild tegus are much more active than pet tegus, and they use the sugars in fruit for extra energy. Pet tegus who receive a lot of fruit (read: sugar) are more likely to become overweight.
How much should you feed your tegu?
- Hatchlings (0-6 months) — 5x/week
- Juveniles (7-12 months) — 4x/week
- Subadults (1-2 years) — 3x/week
- Adults (>2 years) — 2x/week
Portion size should be about the same size as the tegu’s skull. This is especially important with whole prey items; tegus don’t really chew their food, and can choke if given something too big. For safety’s sake, always offer whole prey slightly smaller than their skull.
Like other pet reptiles, tegus are prone to obesity, which usually happens when they are fed too often or receive too many rodents, fatty meats, fruit, or human food. Sticking to a schedule and encouraging exercise is a good way to keep your tegu at a healthy weight.
What can be used as tegu food?
In the wild, tegus enjoy an extremely varied diet dependent on what is seasonally and regionally available. Aside from providing a variety of flavors and textures, a varied diet more importantly supplies a greater spectrum of nutrients than can be accomplished with a diet of “staples.” Therefore, it is your job as a tegu owner to provide as many different kinds of tegu food as possible.
(These tend to work best with young and/or small individuals)
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Cave roaches
- Discoid roaches
- Dubia roaches
- Hissing roaches
- Hornworms (captive only; wild hornworms are toxic!)
- Snails (preferably with the shell)
- Beef heart supplemented with calcium
- Chicks (chicken and quail)
- Ground chicken/turkey mixed with calcium powder
- Eggs, with shell (raw or boiled)
- Fish (human-grade, whole)
- Frogs (human-grade)
- Rabbit meat, parts, or kits (babies)
- Snakes (nonvenomous, F/T)
Note that whole prey items will always be superior to meat products, as they contain more complete nutrition (especially calcium!).
Frozen whole prey items must be prepared correctly before feeding. Thaw it out in the fridge the night before feeding day, then about 15-30 minutes before feeding, stick the prey in a BPA-free plastic bag like a Ziploc and submerge in warm, almost hot, water. The body temperature of a mouse is similar to a human’s, so you’ll want the prey to be about 98-100°F before offering it to your tegu. You can check the temperature with your temp gun.
A quick note about eggs — Raw eggs contain an enzyme called avidin, which decreases a tegu’s ability to absorb biotin (vitamin B7). When a reptile can’t absorb biotin, it can cause skin, scale, and shedding issues. Fortunately, cooking neutralizes this enzyme.
A quick note about fish — some fish contain an enzyme called thiaminase. Thiaminase destroys a reptile’s stores of vitamin B1 (thiamin). Over time, this can cause thiamin deficiency. Thiamin deficiency causes neurological damage and even death if not caught in time. Cooking the fish neutralizes this enzyme.
Fish that contain thiaminase include: bass, catfish, goldfish, herring, mackerel smelt, tuna, and whitefish. For a more comprehensive list, go here.
Fruits & Vegetables
Always wash fruits and vegetables before giving them to your tegu in case they have been exposed to poisonous chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. Be sure to cut them into small, bite-sized pieces before offering.
For a full list of safe fruits and vegetables for reptiles, refer to this nutrition chart by Beautiful Dragons.
- Bell pepper
- Cactus pads
- Carnation flowers
- Carrot (root and greens)
- Dandelion (flowers and greens)
- Greens: collard, kale, mustard, turnip
- Hibiscus flowers
- Pumpkin (note: laxative)
- Rose flowers
Do not feed: Avocado, azalea flowers/leaves, broccoli, buttercup flowers, eggplant, lettuce of any kind, marijuana or hemp leaves, onion, rosemary, sage, or spinach. These foods can make your tegu sick or even die!
- Cactus fruit
- Grapes (green or red)
Do not feed: Citrus, rhubarb, seeds, or pits. These can make your tegu sick or even die!
Prepared (commercial) reptile diets aren’t a complete replacement for fresh food, but they do make a good addition to your rotation of tegu foods. If you want to offer a prepared reptile diet, make sure that it’s high quality: no grains, artificial flavors, or artificial colors.
These are ReptiFiles’ favorite commercial reptile diets for omnivores, and work well mixed in with other foods as part of a balanced diet:
Believe it or not, dog and cat food is also good for tegus (as a part of the rotation in a varied diet, of course — whole prey will always reign supreme)! Cat food is best used with Colombian tegus and young Argentine tegus, and dog food is good for adult Argentine tegus.
Make sure to use canned food rather than kibble (although kibble is alright occasionally if water is added), and avoid formulas containing artificial colors/flavors. Grain is fine as long as the formula is high-quality and not too high in carbohydrates. The claim that grain-free dog food is best is largely unsubstantiated and may even be harmful, although that claim is still being investigated.
Here are some brands known to be reliable. Brands marked with an asterisk (*) are raw diets complete with bone and organ meat for whole prey nutrition.
- Castor & Pollux
- Evolution Naturally
- Hills Science Diet
- Nature’s Variety
- Nature’s Menu (Country Hunter)
- Raw Bistro*
- Royal Canin
- Wellness CORE
- Whole Earth Farms
If you can’t find these brands at your local pet store, many of them are available for purchase at Chewy.com!
Ideally the food should contain as much of the whole animal as possible (meat, bones, and organs), which is why I love raw dog food diets. If you have a question about the safety of a certain brand/formula, check DogFoodAdvisor.com.
- If you are in Canada, a full list of recommended raw dog food brands available in your area can be found here at PrimalPooch.com. You can also see a list of general brands approved by the Pet Food Association of Canada here.
Whole food items are ideal because they’re more than just muscle (protein) and fat like human-grade cuts of meat. Whole prey comes with muscles, bones, organs, hair, nails, etc. — and all of the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that a tegu needs. These foods don’t need to be dredged in calcium or multivitamin powders.
If you’re offering non-whole food (shelled eggs, ground meat, cuts of meat from the butcher, etc) or insects, then you will need to compensate for the missing nutrition. Specifically, you need to correct the food’s calcium to phosphorous ratio so your tegu can digest it. For meat, this means adding a dash of calcium powder. Insects need to be dusted before feeding.
The following are supplements and supplement combos that ReptiFiles recommends for use with tegus:
- Repashy Calcium Plus
- Arcadia EarthPro supplement system (instructions here)
- Miner-All Indoor + Herptivite
Use each supplement as directed by the label.
Note: All feeder insects should be gutloaded for at least 24 hours before feeding. Ideally, they should come pre-gutloaded from the breeder. If they weren’t, or you buy your feeder insects in bulk, the easiest way to gutload them prior to feeding is with reconstituted Arcadia EarthPro InsectFuel or Repashy Superload.
Live vs frozen prey
When feeding whole prey, you have a choice to offer the prey live or frozen-thawed (F/T). This poses an ethical dilemma for some, and in some parts of the world, live prey isn’t even an option. But if you have the choice, you must consider the issue from a perspective that places the tegu’s welfare as priority — not your human code of ethics.
Tegus are predators, which means that their brains are biologically designed to hunt on a regular basis. Providing live prey (at least on occasion) is a good way to provide mental stimulation, or environmental enrichment. Not convinced? I recommend reading this article by Legless Army: Environmental Enrichment for Reptiles: What? Why? And How…?
That being said, all live prey interactions should be supervised to prevent potential harm to your tegu. After all, a live prey item is likely to fight for its life. If your tegu gets bitten in the process, treat with an antibiotic ointment like Curad Silver.
Can I give my tegu “people food?”
Some people talk about occasionally giving their tegus “people food.” They claim that their tegus love an occasional slice of pizza or some french fries.
My take on the issue? Don’t do it. Even if your tegu gives you “puppy dog eyes” and seems interested in what you’re eating (more on eating when your tegu is around later). In fact, a friend of mine had his tegu steal his bratwurst while his back was turned. This won’t kill your tegu, but if you want to keep them healthy, stick to tegu food.
On the Subject of Water
The best water to use for your tegu is tap water (assuming that the water in your area is safe for humans), spring water, or filtered water. Not distilled or softened. Here’s why.
A large water bowl should be provided, preferably large enough for your tegu to be able to soak its entire body comfortably. Plastic tubs work great for this! Aside from being a source of hydration, this also helps maintain humidity and provides a place to soak while in shed.
Water should be changed every 2-3 days, or whenever it gets dirty. And since tegus have the endearing habit of also using their water bowl as a toilet, be sure to disinfect it weekly with a veterinary disinfectant like Chlorhexidine or F10SC. Use either chemical as directed by the label.
Keep reading about tegu care:
- Introduction to Tegus
- Shopping List
- List of Tegu Species
- Terrarium Sizing for Hatchlings, Juveniles & Adults
- Temperature & Humidity Requirements
- Substrate Options
- Decorating Your Tegu’s Enclosure
- Feeding Your Tegu
- Handling Tips
- Benefits of Free-Roaming
- Common Problems & Questions About Tegu Health
- Additional Resources