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Argentine Black and White Tegu

Salvator merianae

Photo Credit: Nick Leone

Origin: Argentina and parts of Paraguay, South America

Size: 36-55 inches

Lifespan: 15-20 years

Basking Temperature: 100-110 degrees F

Cool End Temperature: 70-75 degrees F

Humidity: 60-80%

Substrate: Coco fiber-peat-soil mix appropriate for burrowing

Baby enclosure size: No less than 40 gallons (36” L x 18” D x 16” H)

Adult enclosure size: 8’ L x 4’ D x 3’ H

Difficulty: Intermediate

The Argentine Black and White Tegu (referred to as “tegu” for this guide) is an amazing reptile to keep as a pet due to its docile nature when properly socialized, cared for and its relative hardiness. These reptiles are not without their challenges though as they do require a large enclosure as adults and have a 4-6 month brumation cycle that can be challenging. If not socialized well and handled properly, adult tegus can cause serious injury to a keeper. For these reasons, they are not recommended for novice keepers.

This guide is a brief overview of basic care and minimum husbandry requirements and is not intended as a comprehensive guide to tegu care or for different species of tegu. Our best advice:

Read, read, read! Studying about your new pet is the key to a long and happy life for them, and years of enjoyment for you.


Enclosures for tegus are modest for the first 6-12 months. 40 gallon enclosures are sufficient for hatchlings, then 4’x2’x2’ for early adolescence up to roughly 12-16” in length. It should be noted that enclosures with screen lids will not hold appropriate humidity, and must be covered in order to achieve that requirement. Adult Tegus will reach 3-5ft and will require large 8x4x3 enclosures with a comfortable temperature gradient and deep substrate for burrowing. Large basking areas and hides will all be needed as well. Enclosure size alone can be prohibitive for many keepers that do not have ample room to house them. It is common for tegus to be moved into smaller enclosures during brumation but this is not necessary. 


Tegus require a deep substrate (roughly 10”) that will allow for borrowing and being completely covered that holds humidity well. Soils with leaf litter, coco husk, jungle mix substrates all will suffice, and cypress mulch can be added to the mixture. Avoid any pine, cedar, or treated wood products. Ensure that the substrate is always moist as this assists with shedding and humidity. 


Tegus require a day-night cycle of lighting and heat. Enclosures should stay between 72-82 degrees during daytime hours and can drop to 70 degrees at night. Daytime lighting should consist of at least 8 hours of UVA-UVB and is best set up for 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the evening before lights out, but continuous lighting is fine. They require basking access during the day of 100-110 degrees which is best achieved with a basking stone under the heat source.  

Tegus have no heating or lighting requirements during brumation other than ensuring a temperature between 50-60 degrees. 


Humidity should be maintained at 60-80%. Place a good quality hydrostat in your tegu’s enclosure to monitor humidity. Using the correct substrate and misting occasionally is usually sufficient to maintain appropriate levels. 


Provide your tegu with a non-porous water bowl large enough for the animal to soak in and change it frequently. Tegus frequently defecate in their water bowl, so frequent disinfection is essential with veterinary-medical disinfectant (such as F10) or household Listerine (yellow only). Always rinse bowls thoroughly after disinfecting and avoid using bleach.   


Tegus are known for being extremely docile and easily managed, but this is not always the case. Tegus can develop territorial instincts as they mature and experience “cage aggression”, they can be more sensitive around breeding time and are voracious eaters. A large adult tegu has powerful jaws that can seriously injure the handler so always learn your animal’s body language and stay alert during handling. When adopting a new tegu, always give it time and space both for the animal to feel comfortable and for you to observe and learn it’s behavior. Have patience and always respect the fact that the animal may be frightened or uncomfortable in new surroundings. Well socialized tegus are intelligent enough to recognize their owner and respond to various stimuli, so a well-cared for and socialized animal can be an amazing companion.  

Tegus will brumate for 4-6 months out of the year. During this time they will completely bury themselves in the substrate, their metabolism slows dramatically, their heat requirements drop to 50-60 degrees while maintaining reasonable humidity of 50-60%. Do not try to prevent the animal from natural brumation and ensure proper heat-lighting requirements are always available when the animal is not brumating. It is recommended to check on your tegu every 3-4 weeks during brumation to ensure it is not showing signs of illness and that their enclosure is within brumating parameters. 


Tegus are classified as omnivores. They begin life with a mainly carnivorous diet of insects such as dubia roaches, crickets, and various worms. Young tegus can be fed pinky mice-rats no larger than the distance between their eyes and will typically eat daily. As the tegu matures feeding can be every other day with larger whole prey that is size-appropriate. Ground meats such as poultry or pork can be added as well as eggs with the shell, which is a large part of their natural diet. As tegus mature they will begin eating more leafy plants, berries and melons. Adult tegus should be offered a good variety of meat, whole prey, fruits and vegetables with an appropriate amount of nutritional supplements as required. 

NEVER FEED YOUR TEGU DURING BRUMATION! When a tegu brumates, its metabolism is too slow to digest food so any feedings will result in rotting-toxic undigested food that can result in death. Tegus should not eat for 2 weeks prior to brumation and ensure your tegu is fully out of brumation before feeding. 

Care guide provided by Tim Jackowicz, Intrepid Exotics