Tyrannosaurus Pets

Tegu Care Sheet

Tupinambis spp.

Tegus are large lizards from South America.  Depending on species they are full size at between 30” and 4’6”.  They are intelligent animals that can quickly become tame if treated correctly, however some species are easier to work with than others.  It is generally accepted that the Argentine tegu although one of the larger species reaching between 36” and 52” is the quickest to tame.


These large lizards need plenty of room so housing needs to be spacious.  A young tegu can be comfortably housed in a 48” vivarium for about a year.  Using a smaller tank to start with will help the lizard to feel secure and it will be calmer and tame quicker.  Adult Tegus will need a vivarium 6’ x 2’ x 2’ for a small Columbian gold tegu, to 8’ x 4’ x 4’ for a large male Argentine tegu.


Smaller tegu tanks can be simply heated using a ceramic heating system coupled to an accurate thermostat.  Mount the heater about 8” in from one end of the tank. Plug this into the thermostat.  Bring the sensor from the thermostat in through the back of the tank in the corner behind the heater.  Set the thermostat to about 29’c. Leave this running for a couple of hours and then check the basking spot, and the cool end.  The basking spot is the highest point in the tank under the heater.  This needs to be 36’c – 40’c.  The cool end needs to be about 24’c to 28’c.  If these are correct leave the tank another hour and recheck.  If the tank is stable at the desired temperature for two consecutive checks then the temperature is set.  If the temperatures are incorrect then adjust the thermostat slightly leave for an hour and then check again.  Keep adjusting and checking until the tank has stabilised at the desired temperature.

Larger tanks are heated and calibrated in a similar way.  The main difference is that the larger tanks may require two, three, or even four heaters placed in a group to provide sufficient heat to warm the whole tank.


Tegus need access to a quality UV lighting system.  In the small tanks a 12% UVB strip light mounted in the roof of the tank will be sufficient.  In the larger enclosures you may find that you will need one of the new mercury vapour or metal halide UV’s to provide enough coverage.

When using a UV strip light, you may also want to use a 2% UVB light.  These are brighter and make the tank more attractive.  They also appear to stimulate more natural behaviour in the animals; they are also more active and colourful.


Tegus are omnivorous.  In the wild they eat a wide and varied diet consisting of fruits, leafy plants, invertebrates, and the occasional high protein meal of vertebrate prey.In captivity they are prone to obesity.  To combat this they need to be fed a low protein diet of fruit, vegetables, and invertebrate prey items.  Occasional fattier treats may be offered.

Vegetables to be offered to Tegus should be made up of the following

20 -30% Fruit 

Soft berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries etc) these can be fresh or frozen (defrosted)

Tropical fruits (mango, papaya etc)Sweet citrus fruits (oranges, Clementine’s, Satsuma’s)

20 – 30% Non leafy vegetables

Squash - Courgette - Carrot - Sweet potato - Peas - Sweet corn - Green Beans

40 – 60%   Leafy vegetables

Romaine - Endive - Radicchio - Lollo Rosso - Escarole - Frisee - Bok Choi

Avoid using overly watery foods such as tomatoes, celery, cucumber, iceberg lettuce.  The cabbage family (including kale and spinach) contain compounds that bind with calcium making it indigestible so it is best to feed these occasionally.

Live insects should also be offered to a tegu.  This consists of crickets, locusts, mealworms, morio worms, wax worms, beetle larvae, earth worms, lob worms, snails, and cockroaches.

Other foods can be offered as a treat.  This includes defrosted frozen mice, freshwater fish, shellfish (prawns and mussels etc), lean steak, cooked chicken, hard boiled or scrambled eggs.

Treat foods should be offered no more than once per week.  Too much high protein foods will cause obesity in older animals, and can also cause a range of other health issues.  Rodents in particular should be fed sparingly.  Although the tegu will benefit from the nutrients available from the mouse they are unable to digest the fur properly.  This can clog up and cause a blockage in the intestines.  Feeding a varied diet and using small mice rather than rats stops this from happening.

The fruit and vegetable portion of the diet should always be offered every day.  The insect side of the diet should be offered every day for young tegus (up to about 12 months of age) after this drop one day off of feeding.  Every six months drop another day off until it is getting the protein food 3 times per week.


Tegus like to dig, so a nice deep substrate allows them to do this.  A range of products can be used. A mixture of sand and soil is a good choice, but orchid bark or cypress mulch works well.  To help hold the humidity coconut humus or eco earth can be mixed through the substrate.  Another product that works well is Lucky reptile jungle bedding.


Spot clean the tank daily by removing any obvious waste and uneaten food.  If you do this you only need to give the tank a full clean out once every four weeks.  When you do a full clean put the animal somewhere safe and secure. Remove the hides, dishes and other décor. This can be cleaned as needed.  Remove the old substrate and wipe down the tank.  Dry the tank and then put in clean substrate.  Don’t use household detergents or disinfectants as these can be toxic to reptiles.  If the tank needs to be properly cleaned then any good pet shop will carry a range of reptile specific cleaners.

Handling and taming

Tegus are large powerful animals so care should be taken when handling an animal of unknown temperament.  

To tame a tegu the easiest thing to do is simply allow the animal to become accustomed to you.  For the first week or so spend time near the tank reading or watching TV.  When the lizard has started to get used to your presence sit with your arm in the tank.  Keep your fist clenched and flat onto the top of the substrate.  These naturally curious animals will come over to investigate. Allow the lizard to climb onto your arm if it wants to.  Simply building on this is how to tame the animal.

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Tyrannosaurus Pets