Not one of the most common lizards, the black and white tegu is a curious pet that is easy to train. Tegus are prolific diggers and energetic climbers, making them an active, energetic reptile to own. If it has repeated positive experiences with its owner, it will learn that humans are non-threatening and will relax.
Size and Lifespan
Large male tegus can reach a length of five feet. Most tengus range from three to four feet and weigh eight to 15 pounds. Males are generally stockier than females and develop prominent jowl muscles, giving them a much larger appearing head. They have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.
The length of the tegu will determine the enclosure size; bigger is always better. Tegus are active and engaged in the daytime. They spend their time roaming and digging in the substrate looking for food or exploring. Provide an area for it to bask, eat and sleep.
The minimum enclosure length should be at least twice the length of the entire body, including the tail. The minimum width should be 18 to 24 inches, and the height should be enough to allow for deep substrate for digging. Most adult tegu enclosures are six feet by three feet wooden cages, and hatchlings can be kept in 20- to 60-gallon terrariums. They can be housed indoors if the temperatures are tolerable and the enclosure is secure.
Lighting and Temperature
Young tegus need a surface basking area of 115 degrees Fahrenheit while adults prefer 125 to 135 degrees. The temperature on the cool side of the enclosure can be in the mid-‘70s. Also, use UV lighting. During the winter months, many tegus enter brumation, or a hibernation-like state. Picking up on humidity, daylight and atmospheric pressure, the tegu will gradually slow down its activity level, eat less and remain in its hide area for most of the day.
Cypress mulch is the most recommended substrate. Soil and sand mixture are also popular. Sand can be mixed with 30 to 50 percent soil and/or coconut mulch to maintain a consistency that can hold a burrow. Do not use sand alone. One end of the enclosure should have about eight to 12 inches of bedding so the tegu can dig. Commercial potting soils can contain fertilizer that is harmful to reptiles, so only use organic soil. Keep the substrate slightly moist so the dust does not get stirred up and irritate and tegu.
Tegus have a healthy appetite, which makes feeding them easy. They are omnivores, though juvenile tegus will require more protein. Wild tegu diet can consist of 30 to 60 percent plant material, 15 to 40 percent invertebrates and 20 to 30 percent vertebrates. Some tegus are prone to obesity, which can occur when they are overfed rodents and high-fat ground meats.
Tegus will do well on a whole prey diet with additional plant matter. “Whole” foods will contain all necessary elements and vitamins that are stored in various places of the body, such as calcium from bones and vitamin A from the liver. This type of feeding can ensure all elements are provided.
Supplementation is necessary. Provide a multivitamin at least twice a week to prevent health issues. Many pet reptiles can suffer from low calcium in the diet, which can lead to calcium-related deficiencies. Calcium and phosphorus should be present in the diet at a ratio of 2:1. Add the calcium to any food items without bones. Adding vitamin D is not necessary if you are feeding whole prey items instead of only muscle meats and if the tegu has access to high-quality UVB.
Water and Humidity
Although they are adaptable to changing humidity, tegus do best when kept in a 60 to 80% range. Increase humidity by adding moist sphagnum moss to the hide box or burrow. Many tegus will soak in a pool that is large enough for the entire body and tail to fit. Since they sometimes defecate in the water, it should be cleaned daily.
Handling and Temperament
Baby tegus are naturally flighty and will often run when approached. To them, the world is vast and dangerous, but this will fade once they realize you are not going to harm them. Older, untamed tegus can be defensive or aggressive if scared. Wild tegus are hunters that actively search during the day for small prey or fruit. Consistency and frequent short handling sessions will get them used to your presence; be patient with them.
Don’t pick up the tegu every time you are near the cage. Let it observe you and figure out if you are dangerous or not. Spend some time touching its back or sitting close to the enclosure. It the tegu has a favorite food, such as blueberries, pinkies or hornworms, use those for treats. If you make every association with the tegu a positive one, it will become tame quite fast.
Feed the tegu before handling to take the edge off the hungry lizard and make it mellower. Keep a freshly worn shirt or socks in the hide area to associate your scent with safety and familiarize it with your scent. However, be careful to not let the tegu associate your hand with food, or it may become excited and lunge at you. Use tongs to feed and prevent accidental bites.
Once the tegu is fully accustomed to you and tolerates handling, it can be exposed to new situations and socialized. You will have a reptile companion that is intelligent, entertaining and enjoyable to be around.