Argentine Black and White Tegu Care Sheet
The Argentine tegu is by many people’s account the ideal large sized pet lizard. Compared to many other lizards of similar size, the Argentine tegu is much easier to handle and care for. This does not, however, mean that caring for a tegu will be a walk in the park. Caring for any lizard and particularly one that gets as large as a tegu is not easy.
Argentine tegu care will require a large amount of space, frequent handling, a ton of food, and the proper equipment. So before you go out and purchase a tegu, read through this article and do plenty of other research to make sure they are the right pet for you.
Argentine Tegu Size And Appearance
The Argentine black and white tegu is one of the largest lizards that people keep as pets. Large male tegu lizards can reach up to 5 feet in length and weigh up to 20 lbs. Females typically are a bit smaller than males. The average female Argentine tegu will likely reach around 3-3.5 feet long. So as you can see these are not small lizards by any means.
The size of the Argentine tegu is often what both draws people to purchase them as well as what causes people to avoid purchasing them. Of all of the larger sized lizard species, tegus are probably my first pick. Of course, when I mean large I am talking about lizards such as tegus, iguanas, and monitor lizards. Medium-sized lizards such as water dragons would not make this cut.
The reason that the Argentine tegu is my number one pick for large lizards is their temperament. Typically when handled regularly from an early age tegus will likely bond with their owners and are not as aggressive as many other equally sized lizards.
That said, they are large lizards and do require the right owner. If an Argentine tegu wanted to inflict damage to a person they certainly could. Though they have a reputation for being docile, this is not always the case. Especially if you do not take the proper steps when caring for these lizards.
The last thing you would want in your house is an aggressive five-foot-long lizard with powerful jaws. With proper care this is unlikely, but you do need to be realistic with yourself on whether or not you are ready to take on such a large lizard. If you have never owned a lizard or reptile then it is probably a good idea to start with something easier. More on that later!
Argentine Tegu LifeSpan
The lifespan of an Argentine black and white tegu is roughly 15-20 years in captivity when properly cared for. With that in mind, you must consider the long-term commitment of caring for an Argentine black and white tegu. Not only are they large, but they also live pretty long lives as well.
Proper care and choosing a healthy tegu from the beginning is the best thing you can do if you hope to have a tegu that lives a long life. Of course, like with any pet, there is no guarantee that they will live long lives even if you take excellent care of them. This is probably even more true with reptiles than many other pets.
Following proper care procedures for your tegu is one of the best things you can do for long term health. That said, the very first thing you are going to want to do is to purchase a healthy Argentine tegu from the start.
Picking A Healthy ArgentineTegu
The first thing to consider when purchasing an Argentine tegu is finding the right breeder. Of course, you can also buy a tegu from your local pet shop as well. However, they should at least be able to tell you where they are sourcing their tegus from. In that case, make sure they are a well-respected breeder.
If you have found a good breeder or pet shop then it is time to examine their tegus. You are going to want to look for signs of both good and bad health. When an Argentine tegu is healthy they should be flicking their tounges and showing signs of alertness. They should also be noticeable active, especially if you are purchasing a baby tegu. Stick around and make sure that the tegu you have your eyes on is active in its enclosure.
Examine every inch of the tegu. Make sure they have clear eyes and there are no signs of runoff. Check their vent ( which is their private area ) to make sure that there is no build-up or other signs of bad health. After this, ask the breeder or store clerk if you can watch the tegu eat. Most of the time they will be pleased to do this.
As long as the tegu did not just have a big meal, they should be excited to get the opportunity to eat some grub. After all, tegus do love to eat. In fact, some of the few times people see their tegus show signs of aggression is when they are eating. So how they react to food could show signs of how healthy they are.
If the clerk says that they had just eaten, then ask them when a good time to come back would be. If they seem rushed to get you to purchase a tegu then it might be a good sign to look elsewhere. That said, picking a healthy tegu from the start is one of the most important steps in becoming a tegu owner.
A Healthy Diet Is Essential For Proper Argentine Tegu Care
Another very important thing to consider when it comes to Argentine tegu care is a healthy diet. Tegus are omnivores, meaning they eat both animals and plants. That said, the vast majority of thier diet should come from animal sources.
Tegus like a wide variety of foods including small animals, meats, vegetables, fruit, and even dog food in some cases. Though I would not typically recommend this too often unless you know what you are doing and can pick the most suitable option for tegus.
In the wild tegus will eat pretty much whatever they can find. Things such as insects and small rodents as well as fallen fruit like mangos and papayas.
Though sometimes they will hunt for prey when they are desperate for protein, they are typically more opportunistic eaters instead. When you are caring for an Argentine tegu in captivity, however, thier diets will be completely up to you. With that in mind, you are going to want to feed them the healthiest food choices possible.
The majority of their diet should come from live prey and insects. This should constitute roughly 55-65 percent of thier total food intake and perhaps even a little bit more when they are babies. The remaining 40 percent or so of thier diet should consist of vegetables and fruits.
The majority of that should consist of vegetables with only about 10 percent of thier total diet coming from fruits. Like humans and all other animals, tegus can become obese and suffer negative health consequences. This is why we do not want to overfeed a tegu with fatty meats or too much fruit.
Best Sources of Protein For an Argentine Tegu
When tegus are babies the majority of their live prey should come from insects. As they get older, however, they can start to eat larger prey such as mice and baby chicks as well. Whole prey is the best source of protein for tegus because it typically includes more vitamins and minerals such as calcium than just meat.
This is because of the bones and everything else included in the live prey. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the better live prey choices to feed your Argentine tegu. That said, you will first want to make sure you are feeding your tegu appropriate sized food. Look for prey that is slightly smaller than the size of their skull.
Best Live Prey
- Dubia Roaches
- Meal Worms
- Earth Worms
- Super Worms
- Wax Worms
- Silk Worms
- Soldier Fly Larva
- Mice of all ages depending on tegu size ( this would include pinkies)
- Baby Chicks
- Quail Chicks
- Baby Rabbits ( Kits)
* Note: Tegus should only be fed captive-raised prey and should never ever be fed wild prey.
Meats and Other Sources Of Protein For Tegus
Though whole prey is best, you can also supplement in some other forms of protein as well. Just make sure that you source from good sources and only feed you tegu fresh foods. In addition, you will want to cut the meats down to appropriate sizes. Here are some good sources of protein besides live prey.
- Rabbit Meat
- Ground Chicken Or Turkey
- Beef In Small Amounts
- Beef Heart
- Soft Boiled Or Scrambled Egg ( Don’t cook in oil )
- Fresh Fish That Is Low In Mercury
Best Vegetable Sources for Tegus
The next most important food group after whole prey and protein is vegetables. This should constitute roughly 25-30 percent of the diet of an Argentine tegu. Vegetables are good for tegus for the same reasons they are good for humans. That is they are loaded with vitamins and minerals while also being low in calories. Here are my go-to veggie options for tegus.
- Squash Including Acorn, Butternut, Spaghetti, and yellow squash Ect
- Bell Peppers
- Green Beans
- Snap Peas
- Mustard Greens
- Dandelion Greens
- Collard Greens
- Bok Choy ( In Moderate Amounts )
- Asparagus ( In Moderate Amounts )
- Yams And Sweet Potato ( In Moderate Amounts )
Vegetables That You Should NOT Feed Your Tegu
Some vegetables can be either not beneficial or even harmful to your Argentine black and white tegu. Though this is not a complete list, here are some veggies you want to avoid feeding your tegu at all costs.
- Swiss Chard
Best Fruit Choices
Last on the list for the tegu diet is fruit. Though it should only consist of roughly 10 percent of their diet, it is still important to make the right fruit choices. Like veggies, not all fruit is equally nutritious and in some cases can even be harmful. Here are my go-to choices of fruit for tegus.
- Blue Berries
- Melons such as cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon
- Strawberries ( In Moderate Amounts )
* Note: You should always avoid feeding your tegu fruit with the seeds still in it.
Fruits To Avoid
- All Citrus Fruit
Tegu Feeding Schedule
Baby tegus can be feed on a daily basis. When they are babies tegus will eat even more protein-based foods than adults will. It is likely that the vast majority of their diet will consist of insects such as crickets, mealworms, and other appropriate sized prey. After about a year or so you can start to feed your tegu every other day.
It is good to offer veggies and fruits to baby tegus but it is not until they get a bit older when they will start to eat more vegetation. Once they reach adulthood, tegus only need to eat every two to four days. Once they are adults they can start to eat larger prey such as baby chicks.
Vitamins And Mineral Supplements For Tegus
Adequate vitamins and minerals are essential for proper Argentine black and white tegu care. Of course, if you are feeding your tegu a healthy diet, they are getting a lot of nutrition from the live prey, veggies, and fruit. That said, you will still want to include a few basic vitamin and mineral supplements.
Probably the most important supplement you will want to use is a high-quality calcium supplement that is made for reptiles. Tegus can easily become deficient in calcium. Since much of the food they enjoy contains high levels of phosphorus, tegus need extra calcium. An unhealthy balance of calcium to phosphorus could cause potential health risks to your tegu.
When tegus are young, say less than one year of age they will require extra calcium. Dust their prey with calcium roughly 3-4 times per week. As they get older and start to eat more whole prey such as mice and baby chicks, then you can cut this down to once or twice per week.
The next supplement you will want to purchase is a multivitamin designed for reptiles. Additional carotene supplementation is important for tegus. So make sure to find a multivitamin with these specifications. Supplement this with their food about once per week when they are juveniles and once per month as adults.
Tegus will need fresh de-chlorinated water on a daily basis. Their water bowl will need to be big enough for them to soak in if they desire to. Some people will actually do one dish for soaking and a smaller dish for drinking. The soaking dish needs to be large enough for them to soak in but not so large that they will have a difficult time getting in and out of.
Being able to soak is essential for helping your tegu shed. It will also help with the humidity levels which is a very important factor of Argentine tegu care. But more on that later.
Argentine Tegu Enclosure
Creating the right enclosure is essential for proper Argentine tegu care. That said, these large lizards will require some room. At a minimum tegus will require an enclosure that is 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet tall. But keep in mind this is the smallest amount of space I could recommend for a full-grown tegu.
That said, if you can not accommodate this then an Argentine tegu is probably not for you. Argentine tegu care is not easy simply because these lizards are so large. Most likely you will either need to build this enclosure yourself or get one custom made for your tegu.
Like humans, tegus need exercise both inside and outside of thier enclosure. Keeping a tegu in a small cage without much exercise will likely lead to obesity and other health issues. For proper Argentine tegu care selecting an appropriately sized enclosure is not an option, it is a must. For more on this check out my article: What is the ideal enclosure size for an Argentine tegu?
Another key factor for proper Argentine tegu care is choosing the right substrate. Argentine tegus like to dig so you will need to provide a good amount of substrate. I would recommend going at least 8 inches deep for adults and about 4 inches for juveniles.
Since humidity is so important for tegus you will want to pick the right substrate. I would suggest a blend of cypress mulch and soil. Of course, make sure you are using soil that is safe for reptiles. You can also simply use cypress mulch by itself.
Ideal Temperature and Humidity Are Essential For Proper Argentine Tegu Care
Getting the proper temperatures and humidity levels right is an essential part of Argentine tegu care. Tegus like the heat and need a basking spot that reaches temperatures 100-110 as juveniles and up to 115-130 degrees Fahrenheit when fully grown.
Of course, this should only be in one part of the enclosure. Many people will build a basking spot in the enclosure that gets them closer to the basking light. They would simply need something to climb up on to get closer to the heat lamp.
It is very important to note that tegus will need an area of their enclosure that stays a bit cooler. Pretty much you are looking to build an enclosure that has a warmer side, cooler side, and a basking spot ( placed somewhere on the warmer side of the cage. The cooler side of the cage should stay around 75-85 degrees and the warmer side should stay around 90-95 degrees.
Because reptiles can not regulate their own body temperature, it is crucial for their care that they have a place to warm up and a place to cool down. The next thing to consider is the humidity of the tegu enclosure.
Humidity is a crucial part of tegu care. In fact, many common health problems people face when caring for tegus are due to improper humidity levels. The enclosure should be between 70-85% humidity. You can do this by providing a large shallow water dish, misting the enclosure, and providing a humidity hide box.
UVB light helps with calcium and vitamin D3 absorption, so supply your tegu with UVB rays from a UVB light bulb designed for reptile habitats. This is essential if you are looking to ensure your tegu lives a long healthy life. A good choice would be the Zoomed Reptisun T5 high output UVB Lamp.
Common Health Issues For Argentine Tegus
Even with proper tegu care, there is always the chance for your pet to get sick. If you are dealing with any noticeable health problems reach out to your veterinarian for help. That said, here are some of the common health issues you might face when caring for an Argentine tegu.
Calcium and phosphorus are the most common mineral deficiencies seen in tegus and most captive reptiles. This can be easily prevented by using a high-quality calcium supplement. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be a 2:1 ratio.
Metabolic Bone Disease
This is a disorder that no one wants to deal with. It is also known in some circles as “tegu rickets.”
MBD is usually preventable and is caused largely by D3 deficiency and lack of UV light. High temperatures and kidney failure can also bring on MBD.
Like humans, tegus can suffer negative health effects for being obese. This is common with tegus that are overfed and are not getting the proper amount of exercise. Make sure not to overfeed your tegu. This is why it is also important to have a large enough enclosure. That said, for optimal exercise tegus need to have the ability to get some exercise outside of their enclosure as well.
Obesity can affect the organs and overall health, so make sure to keep your tegu’s weight in the healthy range. Have him checked out by a veterinarian at least once a year to make sure his weight and overall health are good.
Some tegus are prone to intestinal blockage, especially if they eat whole mice with fur or too much protein.
Argentine tegus can develop intestinal parasites. Signs of parasites include lethargy and weight loss.
If your tegu is drooling, has swelling around the mouth and nose, or is having difficulty breathing, he may have a respiratory infection.
These are usually treated with antibiotics. But the person you should be asking about this is your veterinarian.
Dehydration Is Deadly For Tegus
Make sure your Argentine tegu has a constant supply of clean fresh water. Dehydration can kill tegus and can happen if you don’t offer enough water, if the water’s too dirty to drink, and if the enclosure’s temperature is too high.
Scale rot is a potentially deadly disease that is caused by a bacterial infection, often when a wound isn’t kept clean, or when bedding is kept too wet.
Browning scales are the first sign of scale rot, along with flaking skin. Quick discovery and vet intervention is key to making sure your tegu heals.
Argentine Tegu Temperament
For the most part, tegus typically have a good temperament when handled regularly from a young age. In fact, Argentine tegus are some of the few lizards that owners feel like they have personalities closer to that of mammals. With proper tegu care, these lizards can grow close bonds with their owners.
Now with that said, I must put it out there that purchasing a tegu is not something to take lightly. Without proper care, tegus can be aggressive when they feel threatened, just like any other animal would.
This would not be any different than if you left a dog in a small kennel and never interacted with it. You probably would not expect it to be the friendliest dog in the world would you? It is even possible that you could get a tegu with aggression even if you take good care of it.
That said, this is much less likely to happen with a tegu than most ( if not all ) of the other popular lizards of equal size. All in all, I believe tegus have the best temperament of all of the larger sized lizards. This would include mostly iguanas and monitor lizards.
For more on tegu, temperament check out my article: Are Argentine Black and White Tegus Friendly? That said, the overall point is that most tegus have great temperaments when they are cared for properly. However, they are large powerful lizards so make sure you are up to the challenge of owning a tegu.
Are Tegus Good For First-Time Reptile Owners?
Even though tegus are possibly even my favorite lizards and are typically friendly pets, I would not recommend them for first-time reptile owners. The reason essentially boils down to the sheer size of these beautiful lizards. Though they are my top pick if you are looking to get into the world of large lizard keeping, they are not my first pick for a newbie.
This is especially true if you are looking for something to get your child. The fact is that you do not know how well you or a child of yours will do caring for reptiles if you have never tried. That said if properly handled tegus can make the best pets in the world. However, if you do not properly care for them, then you might be stuck with a large 5-foot lizard that might not be too friendly.
A better option for a first-time owner would be a bearded dragon, a blue-tongued skink, or a leopard gecko. Of course, if you were looking into buying a tegu then a leopard gecko is probably too small for your taste. That said, the bearded dragon and skinks are nice-sized lizards that are much easier to care for if you are new to reptiles.
Hopefully, this Argentine black and white tegu care guide has answered some of your questions. Argentine tegu care is a skill that must be mastered if you want to have a long and great relationship with your pet tegu.
Tegus make great pets but are probably not my first pick for a newbie. These large lizards require a lot of space and a bit more care than some other species do. That said, when it comes to giant lizards like iguanas, monitors, and tegus, the tegu is my number one pick.