Argentine Black and White Tegu

Tupinambis merianae


Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Fresh water from the tap is fine. Remove any feces that appear. Monitor temps/humidity.
  • Heavily mist holding area 3 times a week. Animal can be placed in a shallow tub of room temperature water twice a week for a soak. No need to soak longer than 15 minutes.
  • The minimum length of the enclosure should be twice the length of the entire body, minimum width should be snout-tail length, and the height tall enough to allow for deep substrate and bulb placement.
  • Substrate:
    • Can use fresh tap water. Newspaper is too messy for this digging lizard.
    • Cypress* or coconut mulch, and aspen shavings are adequate. Unless you can give 12-24 inches of substrate depth on one end of enclosure, a hide box is important for this burrowing lizard’s well-being.
    • Change out substrate completely.

*As Cypress has become less available due to environmental concerns and keepers have turned to more sustainable options for their reptiles’ soil/sand mixtures such as: Sand mixed with 30-50% topsoil and/or coconut coir as needed to maintain a consistency that can hold a burrow.

  • Temperature, Humidity, Lighting
    • Temperature: Ambient range: 80-90 degrees F; Basking spot: 100-135 degrees F. Cool side 70s.
    • Humidity: 60-80%.Humid hides can be provided by adding moist sphagnum moss to a hide box or daily misting of a burrow.
    • Lighting: UVB is essential for this animal. Also high powered heat lamps are important to give this animal its high basking temps. Cycle should be 12L/12D.

Diet Requirements

  • This species is an omnivore.
  • Studies of tegus in their native habitats have found that the diet consists of roughly 30-66% plant material (mostly fruit), 15-40% invertebrates, and 20-28% vertebrates. The diet of juveniles was approximately 48% invertebrates, 22% plant matter, and 16% vertebrates.
  • Roger Williams Park Zoo: Feed 6 days/week with alternating days of appropriately sized rodents and fruit. Frequency of feedings subject to change.

Veterinary Concerns

  • It is important to soak this animal. The tegu at Roger William’s Park Zoo came from the RISPCA and had been not properly cared for by his owner. He has many layers of shed on his tail that our keepers try to pull off after soaking when they can.
  • They are prone to obesity which seems to occur most often when overfed rodents and fatty ground meats.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • Check out the Reptelligence Facebook page and Reptelligence website for enrichment and training inspiration.
  • Hide boxes, rocks, items to climb on.
  • Vary locations diet is presented.
  • The tegu at Roger William’s Park Zoo is very food motivated. He is target trained and will walk on a harness. It is important to use tongs during training sessions as he is very fast and could easily bite. We never use food on programs or walks as we have no need to do such. His harness is a modified small dog harness.


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism: Large males can reach a length of an impressive 60 inches, however most tegus range in size from 40-50 inches and weigh 8 to 15 pounds.  As a rule, males are stockier than females and develop prominent jowl muscles giving them a “cheeky” appearance.

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines

  • Roger William’s Park Zoo: The tegu at RWP zoo will only tolerate being held for a minute tops. We really only pick him up to put him in his (very large) cooler. We include 2 heat discs if the outdoor temperature is below 50 degrees.
  • Heat discs:
  • See the Tegu Handling Guidelines from the Roger Williams Park Zoo for more information on handling, presentation, and enrichment.


Tips on Presentation

  • Roger William’s Park Zoo: Because the tegu at RWP zoo is shown on a harness, it is important to interpret the harness properly. Many people think that because he seems so relaxed on walks that he would make a good pet. We always include information about humane education in presentations.

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Roger William’s Park Zoo:

Potential Messaging

  • This is an impressive animal for rainforest presentations.
  • If you get your tegu from a local shelter, you can add in humane education talking points.

Acquisition Information

Tegus are often available from local shelters or reptile rescues. However, they have a reputation for being aggressive. Be sure to meet the tegu and handle before adding to your collection.

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Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Tropical & subtropical Columbia, Venezuela, and Guyana through the Amazon Basin of Venezuela and Columbia along the larger rivers to Paraguay and northern Argentina.

Tropical rain forests, savannahs and flatlands with thorn bushes. Along rivers in hilly grasslands with subtropical trees. Also found on coastal, sandy areas with grass and trees.

Physical Description

  • Reaches a maximum length of 140 cm
  • Base color is blackish brown with a light blue sheen – along the back are numerous bands of yellow spots of various sizes. These bands extend to the tip of the tail. A series of irregular whitish yellow flecks cover the head, throat and limbs.
  • Pineal eye on top of head senses light & dark

Life Cycle

  • Tegus can live to be 12-20 years old under human care.

    Males follow female – hissing loudly and biting her tail.

  • Females often lay eggs in termite mounds where eggs are kept at a constant temperature and humidity is favorable to their development. After hatching, the young break out from the termite mound.
  • Clutches may consist of 4-32 eggs.
  • Eggs hatch within 152-171 days


  • Diurnal
  • Ground dwellers – often found in forest clearings. Dig own burrows, excellent climbers & swimmers.
  • Visually oriented – highly active, running, climbing, or swimming for a good portion of their lives and as might be expected from their level of activity some maintain high body temperatures for a reptile (up to 40*C).
  • The Argentine tegus will go into a state of brumation-during the winter months, many tegus brumate. Picking up on shorter days that also bring changes in humidity and atmospheric pressure, they gradually slow their activity level, eat less, and remain in their burrows/hides.

Threats and Conservation Status

This species is rated as “Least Concern” by the IUCN ( for more information.)

Tegus are hunted mainly for skins, the commercial pet trade, and human consumption by locals to a lesser degree. In 1999 the export quotas from Argentina and Paraguay were 1,350,000 skins per year. The population of tegus is monitored for decline and the species are CITES-listed Appendix II animals.

Did you know…

  • The fossil record shows this family was more widely distributed in the past with upper Cretaceous fossils from Mongolia.
  • At least nine genera with more than 110 living species.




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