Tegu Care

Tegu Care/Info Sheet

Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Tejidae
Genus: Tupinambis
Species: teguixin and rufescens

Common name of Tupinambis teguixin: Black and White Tegu
Common name of Tupinambis rufescens: Red Tegu

Distribution (Argentina): Northern provinces of Argentina (Central & South America)

Identification/History:

Its head is covered with large regular plates, an its sturdy body is supported by powerful legs. The rounded tail is considerably longer than the rest of the body and the latter half is banded. Its dorsal scales are granular, those ventrally are larger and rectangular. Typical specimens are dark brown or black with groups of small white or yellowish spots arranged in crossbands. The Red Tegu is smaller, these specimens are red with white spots. The tupinambis rufescens has more ventral scales.
The tegues are well known as the bigger lizards in Argentina and one of the largest in the world. Most tegues can grow up to 1,30 meters. Some scientists have found specimens of 1,50 meters long. (51 – 59 in)
They live in subtropical regions, building caves in high places, like hills, but always near rivers or lakes. Here in Argentina they are mainly found in the provinces of Misiones, Corrientes, Chaco, Entre Ríos, Santa Fé, Córdoba, La Pampa and Buenos Aires. Unluckily it is been hunt to obtain meat and leather. This is why this specimen is in extinction.

Nutrition:

Their nutrition includes a wide variety of plant material, insects and other prey (snails, small mammals, small birds, bird eggs, mollusks, fish, and even amphibians), and changes as they grow.  Smaller tegues eat a variety of insects, including; spiders, snails, earthworms. Later they start eating fruits, and as they grow bigger they eat small vertebrates, like frogs, snakes, etc. They also eat many types eggs. Their teeth change through their life.  Studies have documented that 66.8 % of the stomach contents consisted of vegetable matter; 12.9 % were invertebrates; and 20.3 % were vertebrates.  When they are young the have front teeth which help them to eat insects. As adults their teeth are bigger, and muscles in the jaw are more well developed, especially in males.

Another important characteristic of tegues is their method of hunting bigger prey species.  The prey is typically trapped in their mouth and pounded on the ground with swift head movements in order to tear it for easy swallowing.  Despite these adaptations, be careful not to overfeed animal prey items, as ½- 2/3 of the diet should be vegetatian.

Patterns:

They usually begin their daily activity in the afternoon. Tegues become more sedentary in the colder months. In Argentina this occurs from March to August, but it always depends on environmental changes. They remain in underground caves that they build or steal from other animals. After October the reproduction period begins, and goes through the end of November.

Reproduction:

When the male finds comes across an appropriate female, he moves his neck and makes a snorting sound. Then he grasps her neck with his mouth and her body with his rear legs.  After copulation, the female builds a cave to egg lay. The eggs are white and oval (approximate 48mm height ). Hatchling Tegues are 7 to 11 cm long and they are bright green, with black spots, (a good camoflauge).

Enemies:

Predators of the immature tegues include birds of prey, pumas, and snakes. Tegues will drop their tail in an attempt to confuse predatory.  Usually when it regrows it is irregular and shorter. The tail is also used for defense as a whip.

Placement:

Unlike common iguanas, Tegues need more space for walking and moving over the ground, so a long versus a tall cage is preferred. They do like to climb but they are not especially agile. The cages should be as large a possible, at least twice the length of the lizard (including tail).  Cages should be easy to clean/disinfect.  You should provide them with plenty of water with easy access.
Remember that in wild they build their refuge near rivers and streams.

Handling

Tegues are known to be very aggressive lizards instinctively.  This doesn’t mean they will always act this way, but you should be prepared just in case. If you want to have a friendly human-adapted animal you should acustom your reptile to being with you. Try to be present during eating and gently pet them to desensitize them to human touch (but be careful, and always wash your hands after handling any reptile). Don’t force them to do what they don’t want to do.  Let them move freely on your hands with only slight resistance.  With time and patience you will likely get a satisfactory result.  Warning: be very careful with specimens you are not familiar with.

Lighting

Tegues need sunlight during spring and summer, and become dormant (lethargic) during winter months.  Do not expect them to be as active all year round.  Provide them with heat in the cage by means of basking lamps and under tank pads.  It is ideal to provide a gradient of heat, so that the lizard can select its preferred temperature based on its location in the cage.  Use UVB lamps as a supplement, but not in place of natural, unfiltered sunlight (at least 1/3-1/2 of the year).

Substrate:

I prefer newspaper or paper towels, because it is easy to clean, unlikely to be ingested, and relatively sterile.

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Veterinarian/Owner of Pismo Beach Veterinary Clinic

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