Tegus as Pets

Tegus are sometimes referred to as “New World Monitors”, and indeed they do fill similar ecological roles.

Tegu aficionados often claim that their pets are “dog-like” – and now research has revealed that, at least in the breeding season, they function as warm-blooded animals!

Although among the most responsive of all reptile pets, Tegus require huge enclosures and can crush bone and inflict other serious injuries with their sharp teeth and powerful jaws. As personalities vary, with many remaining persistently aggressive, Tegus are not suitable pets for young or inexperienced owners.


Most herpetologists recognize 6 species, but a confusing array of common names is used in the pet trade. Tegus are placed in the family Teiidae and the genera Tupinambis and Salvator. Also included in the family Teiidae are the popularly-kept Ameivas and Whiptails. These “mini Tegus” are discussed as a separate group elsewhere on this website.

Range and Habitat

Tegus range from southern Central America (Panama) through much of South America to northern Argentina. A breeding population of Argentine Black and White Tegus (Salvator merianae), derived from released pets, is established in south Florida; other Tegu species, which may interbreed with the Argentine, may also be present.

Tegus occupy forest edges, city parks, secondary growth and scrub, swamps, grasslands, riverside thickets, and many other environments. Most readily colonize farms, where they are valued as rodent catchers and reviled as chicken and egg thieves.

Appearance and Temperament

With their muscular bodies, swaggering gaits, and powerful limbs, these stout beasts put one in mind of Monitor Lizards. The scales are glossy, and the various species exhibit colors ranging from black and white to reddish-tan. At 3 to 4 ½ feet in length, Tegus are the largest members of their family - and a force to be reckoned with both in and out of captivity!

Personalities vary, with many individuals remaining aggressive even after being well-adjusted to captivity. Tegus are also very food-oriented, and even relatively calm pets may suddenly bite at nearby movements…injuries received in this manner can be very severe. They are, therefore, suitable only for well-experienced adults with the space and time required for their upkeep.

Tegu Housing

While Tegus can make long-lived, responsive pets, they are too large for typical terrariums. Custom made cages measuring at least 6’ x 6’ and ample exposure to UVB light is essential.

Tegu Diet

Tegus actively forage for food, and take nearly any creature that they can overpower, along with fruit and carrion. Rats, opossums, and other mammals, bird, turtle, and caiman eggs, frogs, snakes, lizards, barnyard fowl, fish, spiders, and large insects are consumed with equal relish. Florida’s introduced Tegus prey upon endangered species such as the Key Largo Woodrat and the eggs of American Crocodiles and Scrub Jays.

Captive Tegus need a wide variety of whole rodents, invertebrates and fruits for proper nutrition.