lizard-care

Colombian Tegu Care Sheet

February 02, 2021

colombian gold tegu

Colombian tegus (Tupinambis spp.) are 2-3.5’ long, diurnal lizards native to the northern half of South America. They prefer tropical forests for habitat, and although they are considered largely terrestrial, they are also known to climb and swim.

Colombian tegus generally look like young Argentine tegus, with a slender, elongated build and a pointed head. However, they are much smaller and typically have bronze and black coloration, with specific pattern being dependent on species. The most common Colombian tegu in the pet trade is the Gold Tegu, Tupinambis teguixin, which bears the most resemblance to its Argentine cousins.

Colombian tegus are typically wild-caught and can be difficult pets due to their defensive nature and difficulty to tame. They are not as sociable as Argentines can be, and aren’t a very hands-on pet. However, with patience and good care, they may live up to 10-15 years.

Minimum enclosure size for Colombian tegus

The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single Colombian tegu is 6’L x 3’W x 3’H. This may seem huge, but keep in mind that these are large, active lizards. Of course, if you can manage it, larger is always better!

Housing multiple tegus in the same enclosure is not advised.

Do Colombian tegus need UVB?

Yes! Colomiban 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 Colombian tegus housed in a 6’x3’x3’ enclosure:

  • Arcadia Desert 12%, 34”
  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0, 34”

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 12 hours/day. All lamps should be turned off at night.

Best temperature for Colombian tegus

Colombian 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 Colombian 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 Colombian 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 and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with any contaminated substrate.

How to decorate a Colombian 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:

  • hideouts/caves
  • more branches
  • ledges
  • 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 a Colombian tegu

Colombian tegus are carnivorous, which means that they require a diet of primarily animal-based foods to get the nutrition that they need. However, keep in mind that around 10% of their diet still needs to come from fruits and vegetables. How often they need to eat depends on age:

  • Hatchlings (0-6 months) — 5x/week 
  • Juveniles (7-12 months) — 4x/week
  • Subadults (1-2 years) — 3x/week
  • Adults (>2 years) — 2x/week

The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your tegu is VARIETY. Here are foods that are appropriate for an Colombian tegu to eat:

Protein options for Colombian 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

Vegetable options for Colombian 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 options for Colombian tegus: berries, figs, apples, prickly pear, papaya, mango

Supplements

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help keep your tegu 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.

Water

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 Colombian tegu

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. When it comes to Colombian tegus, they generally prefer to be left alone. They’re not as “cuddly” as their Argentine counterparts. However, taming and training is possible, and it starts with trust.

If you want to build a trusting relationship with your Colombian 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:

  • The ReptiFiles Tegu Care Guide
  • Tegus From Around the World
  • The Tegu-Phile

  • Image by Joel santana Joelfotos from Pixabay 


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