Argentine tegus (Salvator spp.) are 3-5’ long, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to the southern half of South America. They prefer humid, grassy or forested areas for habitat, and are rarely found in trees or water.
Argentine tegus are robust, strong-looking lizards with a blunt triangular head, thick neck, thick, tapered tail, muscular limbs, and a long, forked pink tongue. Mature males feature prominent jowls, and are generally larger than females. Salvator merianae has a black and white pattern, while Salvator rufescens has a red and white pattern.
Despite their popularity, Argentine tegus are not easy animals to keep as pets. They’re large, active, messy, and demanding. However, when kept with patience and dedication, they can be very rewarding. With good care, an Argentine tegu can live 15-20+ years.
Minimum enclosure size for Argentine tegus
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single Argentine tegu is 8’L x 4’W x 4’H. This may seem huge, but keep in mind that these are large lizards that still need access to an appropriate temperature gradient. Of course, if you can manage it, larger is always better! Regular supervised free-roaming opportunities is also recommended.
Housing multiple tegus in the same enclosure is not advised.
Do Argentine tegus need UVB?
Yes! Argentine tegus require UVB lighting to thrive in captivity. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits. Here are the best UVB bulbs for Argentine tegus housed in a 8’x4’x4’ enclosure:
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking platform 13-15” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking platform 17-18” below the lamp.
They are also likely to benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment as well. Add a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.
Lights should be on for 11 hours/day during winter and 13 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for Argentine tegus
Argentine tegus should have a basking surface temperature of 125-135°F, as measured by an infrared thermometer. The cool side should be between 75-85°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer.
Provide heat for your tegu with a cluster of halogen heat bulbs placed above the basking platform. You will need enough lamps to evenly heat an area at least the size of the tegu’s body. Halogen bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts.
Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Heating should be turned off at night.
Best humidity levels for Argentine tegus
Argentine tegus prefer a high-humidity environment, so the humidity inside their enclosure should be fairly high: 70-80%. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Increase humidity by misting the enclosure 1-2x/day with a large pressure sprayer or automatic misting system. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. If you need more help maintaining humidity, install a cool mist humidifier connected to a humidistat. Pouring water directly into the substrate can be very helpful.
Best substrate for Argentine tegus
Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) in the enclosure will help maintain correct humidity, cushion your tegu’s body, provide a digging medium, and also help make your enclosure more attractive!
We recommend the following substrates for tegus:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can help with humidity as well as add enrichment value.
Substrate should be at least 6” deep (absolute minimum) and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with any contaminated substrate.
How to decorate an Argentine tegu enclosure
An empty enclosure makes for a bored tegu, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Here are some ideas to get your started:
- more branches
- live or artificial foliage
Training and designing enrichment activities are also good ways to help keep your tegu engaged, as well as provide a nice opportunity for bonding!
What to feed to an Argentine tegu
Argentine tegus are omnivorous, which means that they require a diet of both plants and animals to get the nutrition that they need. How often and how much they need to eat depends on age:
- Hatchlings (0-6 months) — 5x/week (70-80% protein, 20-30% vegetables and fruit)
- Juveniles (7-12 months) — 4x/week (70-80% protein, 20-30% vegetables and fruit)
- Subadults (1-2 years) — 3x/week (70-80% protein, 20-30% vegetables and fruit)
- Adults (>2 years) — 2x/week (60% protein, 30% vegetables, 10% fruit)
The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your tegu is VARIETY. Here are foods that are appropriate for an Argentine tegu to eat:
Feeder insects for Argentine tegus: crickets, dubia roaches, red runner roaches, black soldier fly larvae, mealworms, superworms, darkling beetles, hornworms, silkworms, snails, grasshoppers, chicks, quail chicks, egg (with shell), mice, rats, gerbils, small rabbits, shrimp, salmon, high-quality canned dog food
Safe vegetables for Argentine tegus: collard greens, cactus pads, spring mix, arugula, kale, pea shoots, alfalfa, bok choy, carrot greens and roots, spinach, dandelion greens/flowers, hibiscus leaves/flowers
Fruit is high in sugar and should only be offered as an occasional, vitamin-rich treat. Options include berries, figs, apples, prickly pear, papaya, and mango.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help keep your pet healthy. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all foods except whole prey and dog food. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.
Of course, don’t forget a large, shallow tub of water for your tegu to drink from and soak in! Change the water at least twice a week and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your Argentine tegu
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. However, Argentine tegus are generally quite tolerant of humans when well socialized. Still, bear in mind that each has its own personality, so results will vary. Some tame down well, while others prefer to be left alone.
If you want to build a trusting relationship with your pet Argentine tegu, you will need to develop a foundation of positive interactions. Offering food from feeding tweezers works well as an initial bribe, and it’s best to get the lizard to come to you rather than simply grabbing it.
Here are some more tips for success:
- Don’t grab the lizard from above. Instead, scoop from below.
- Support as much of its body as possible.
- Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
- Put the lizard back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet! We recommend the following sources: