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Salvator Tegu Care Guide

One of the most exotic types of lizards you can buy as a pet is the Salvator Tegu. What is the Salvator Tegu, you ask? Well, let's find out!

What is a Salvator Tegu? Salvator is a genus of lizards & Tegu is a species name for several lizards in the Salvator genus. Together Salvator Tegu is a term that is used to describe three different species of Tegu lizards: Salvator duseni (The yellow tegu), Salvator rufescens (The red tegu) & Salvator merianae (giant tegu).

To fully appreciate you need to know the full facts about this intersting Lizard. In this article I will break down all the facts about the Tegu, the different species and how you can care for one should you wish to.  

What is the Salvator Tegu's scientific name? And what other names do they have?

As you may or may not know, scientific names are the names that are given to all living things by scientists that classify those living things by their genus and species.

For instance, your scientific name, as well as mine, is Homo sapiens. Homo is the term for our genus, and sapiens is our species.

The scientific name for the Salvator Tegu, however, is a little bit confusing because Salvator Tegu is in itself made up of scientific terms. Salvator is a genus of lizards that was later renamed as Tupinambis.

However, in 2012, several lizards of the Tupinambis genus were renamed yet again back to their original name, Salvator. Tegu is a species name for several lizards in the Salvator genus.

And yes, I'm aware that all of that is a bit hard to wrap your mind around, but just know, in short, 'Salvator Tegu' is a term that is used to describe three different species of Tegu lizards. Those three species are as follows, with their scientific names first, followed by their more common names:

  • Salvator duseni - The yellow tegu, also called Duseni's tegu
  • Salvator rufescens - The red tegu
  • Salvator merianae - Known as the giant tegu, the black and white tegu, the chacoan tegu, or the blue tegu

There are other types of tegu lizards, as well. These are the tegus that retained the genus name Tupinambis. Just for fun, I will list those as well. They are as follows:

  • Tupinambis teguixin - The Colombian black and white tegu or the gold tegu
  • Tupinambis longilineus - The Rhondonia tegu
  • Tupinambis palustris - The swamp tegu
  • Tupinambis quadrilineatus - The four-lined tegu

Where is their natural habitat?

All the different species of Salvator tegu lizards can be found roaming all over South America. Specifically, they can be readily found in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

More recently, they have become what is known as an "introduced species" to the Fernando de Noronha Island and, in part due to irresponsible pet owners who let their pets go, the United States, specifically in Florida.

By species, the yellow tegu (S. duseni) is found naturally in Paraguay and Brazil. The black and white tegu (S. merianae) is found naturally in the south of Brazil, eastern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia.

The red tegu (S. rufescens) is native to Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Parana, which is an area in Brazil. The red tegu and the black and white tegu are the ones that can be found in the United States, as the yellow tegu is illegal to own as a pet, and therefore, has not been introduced to the US.

How big are tegus? How much do they weigh?  

On average, Salavtor Tegus grow to between three and five feet long; however, the males of the species have been known to grow even larger. They tend to weigh approximately eight to twenty pounds, though, again, males can become a few pounds heavier.

Males are also visibly stockier than the females of the species. They develop large, prominent jowl muscles.

What is the lifespan of a tegu?

Like many lizards, tegus can live quite a long time, so deciding to buy one as a pet is not a quick, just-for-a-couple-months investment. This is often where a younger lizard owner makes a mistake.

He buys a lizard such as a tegu or an iguana thinking it is a super cool pet to have and that it makes a really neat topic of conversation, but he does not consider that one day, he will grow up, move out, and create a new family of his own.

When he does finally grow up and move on, his pet lizard still needs a place to stay, but often, this newly adult pet-owner no longer wants the responsibility of taking care of something he bought on a whim as a teenager.

This leads to him releasing the lizard into the wild, into an ecosystem that was never meant to house him, which can have seriously damaging effects on both the lizard and the environment.

I said all of that to say this: if you are planning on buying a tegu as a pet, you need to realize up front that he is going to be with you for a long time. Wild tegus can live between fifteen and twenty years in the wild.

In captivity, they can sometimes live even longer if they are well kept, which means that owning a tegu is a decade long commitment at the very least.

Do not buy one a whim; unless you have sat down and really considered the commitment you are making to this animal, you should not purchase one.

What does the ideal housing look like for a tegu?

The first thing you need to know about tegus is that they grow, and they grow fast. This means that the relatively small aquarium you bought for your baby tegu is not going to hold him long.

When your tegu is a baby, a small tank works fine. Generally three feet by two and a half feet gives the little guy plenty of room to run around, dig, and explore.

In the wild, unlike iguanas and other lizards that enjoy living in the canopies of trees, tegus spend most of their time on or near ground level, and they love to dig!

This is an important thing to remember because it means that the tank does not necessarily need to be tall, but it does need to be very long and wide enough to give your tegu plenty of room to explore and dig.

Your tegu will quickly outgrow his baby tank, however. Check out this video below and keep your eyes peeled for the two minute mark, which shows a side-by-side comparison of a tegu at a month old and at ten months old. 

The difference is extraordinary, especially for such a short period of time. There is no way that the ten month old tegu in this video could fit into its baby enclosure.

At three years, your tegu will be fully grown. As has already been discussed, a full grown tegu can reach lengths of up to five feet and can weigh up to twenty pounds.

At this size, a much larger enclosure will be needed. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your enclosure is at least one and a half times longer than the length of your tegu, including his tail.

This means that for most tegus, the enclosure should be, at minimum, seven to eight feet in length and at least three feet wide. These dimensions are only the bare minimum, however.

If you have the room to house a larger enclosure, you definitely should. Tegus love lots of space, and the more room your tegu has to dig, the happier he is going to be.

Also, remember that tegus are not climbers, so if the walls of your enclosure are high enough (three to four feet), it does not necessarily need a top. This is great for people who want to create DIY tegu enclosures in their home.

It allows them to build what basically amounts to a fence on the floor, which is much easier to build than a four-walled enclosure.

Will tegus benefit from a hide box?

YES! In their natural habitat, tegus spend approximately eighty percent of their time in damp, underground burrows; these burrows aid them in shedding their skins.

It is imperative that your pet tegu have something that simulates these burrows.

Tegus need damp, moist hide boxes where they can keep themselves damp and moisturized. Tegus require a high level of humidity, and hide boxes filled with damp substrate are the perfect option.

The hide box needs to be large enough for your fully grown tegu to fit into, but it should also be snug, so that when your tegu hides in its hide box, it is surrounded by the dampness and the moisture.

This ensures that your tegu keeps a healthy level of moisture in its skin, which is tremendously important to your tegu's health, especially when it comes to the shedding process.

What is the ideal substrate for tegus?

There are really four different substrate options that are the best:

  1. Coconut Husk - This is readily sold in pet stores that sell lizards and lizard products. It is often marketed under the name Reptichip. This is basically just coconut shell that has been mulched. It holds humidity very well and is less dusty than many other substrate options.

  2. Eucalyptus Mulch - This is another great option for keeping in humidity; however, it should not be used in correlation with live plants.

  3. Cypress Mulch - This is yet another substrate option that is great at holding in the humidity that your tegu requires. It works especially well if you pour it on top of a soil mixture.

    However, if you do plan on using cypress mulch, make sure it is pure cypress mulch, not a mixture of cypress and other things, as sometimes, these things can harm your pet.

  4. Orchid Bark - Another popular substrate is orchid bark. Personally, I won't use it because most orchid bark mixtures are made of kiln-dried redwood.

    I don't like to use it because redwood is toxic to tegus; however, from all the information I've read, the process of kiln-drying the redwood supposedly removes the harmful toxins, making it safe to use. Again, I have not tried it myself, but it is a popular option that I often see mentioned.

While these are four of the most popular options for substrate, many people choose to make their own do-it-yourself substrate. The most popular 'recipe' for homemade substrate includes organic topsoil, sphagnum moss, play sand, peat moss, and shredded, damp leaves. I use this method myself, and it has always worked well.

Finally, the last note on substrate concerns keeping it clean. Visibly nasty or soiled substrate should be removed from your pet's home immediately. Otherwise, be sure to change the substrate out at least twice a month to keep it fresh and as clean as possible.

What lighting and heat needs do tegus have?

Tegus are tropical lizards, so they need a warm, humid home that mirrors their natural habitat. Ambient temps within the enclosure during the day should stay between eighty and ninety degrees Fahrenheit.

The temperatures should not drop more than five to ten degrees during nighttime hours. Tegus are most active during the daytime, so there should also be a basking spot available during the day whose temperature is between ninety five and a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

There are several ways of heating tegu enclosures. The most common ways are through the uses of under-the-tank heating pads, ceramic heat emitters, and both regular and nighttime heat bulbs.

The nighttime heat bulbs are red in color, and thus do not provide the bright, daytime light that would throw off your tegu's day and night cycle. Heating lamps can be used, but they are not recommended as they can make the enclosure too hot and can also be dangerous. Heating rocks are never a good idea.

Like most other pet lizards, tegus also need a source of UV light available to them; getting at least twelve to fourteen hours of UV light a day is essential to their health.

Not all UV bulbs are created equal, so you should always buy UV bulbs from reputable companies who know about the needs of lizards.

Finally, do not be afraid to take your tegu friend outside! The best UV light comes directly from unfiltered sunlight, so taking your tegu out for a walk every now and then is not only okay, it is recommended!

Most pet stores, both online and in physical stores, sell harness and leash combos for larger lizards. Pick one up and take your friend for a stroll. You will definitely turn heads in the neighborhood.

What are the water requirements of tegus?

Water is an important part of any tegu's daily routine. Tegus do drink water, but the main use of water for tegus is to keep their habitat humid and to keep their bodies damp.

Because they are tropical animals, they are used to living in seventy to eighty percent humidity. Obtaining this level of humidity inside the house can be difficult, but it can definitely be done.

The first thing you need to do water-wise is to make sure whatever substrate you decide to use is mixed with enough water to make the whole mixture nice and moist. It should not be soggy or soaking, but it does need to be uniformly cool and damp.

You should also mist both the enclosure and your tegu multiple times a day. You can buy a cheap mister practically anywhere; fill it up and spray the habitat and your pet whenever you have the chance.

Finally, ensure that your pet's habitat is large enough to include a large, shallow pool of water. The pool should be long enough so that your pet can fit his entire body - tail included - in it.

The pool does not need to be deep, though. Making the water any deeper than your pet's shoulder is inadvisable. Keep the water fresh and cool; change it daily.

What do tegus eat?

If you are serious about becoming a tegu owner, then I suggest you visit this page and bookmark it; it is that helpful. I think it lists literally every food that is safe for your tegu to eat. I will hit the high points of the list here, though.

Tegus are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plants. One important thing to remember is that meat that has been ground often loses many of its nutrients, so feeding your pet whole prey is best.

Also, never feed your tegu live food. Tegus in the wild certainly catch and eat live prey, but it is safer for your tegu if whatever it eats doesn't fight back. Remember: Fresh or frozen only!

Although your tegu will need a good mix of both meat and plants, younger tegus will need more meat than veggies while they are still growing; they need the protein. As tegus age, they eat less meat and more veggies.

Also, some sites I have run across recommend feeding your tegu dog or cat food. I highly disagree with this. Tegus are not cats or dogs; therefore, they should not be fed like cats and dogs. I'm not even going to go into the million reasons not to do this; I'm just going to tell you, don't do it.

Some great foods to feed your tegus are soft boiled eggs, whole fish, mice, baby chickens, turkey, venison, mango, papaya, most berries, kiwi, green beans, okra, collard or mustard greens, and squash.

Certain insects are great for baby tegus, as well. Again, visit the complete food list on Tegus From Around the World; you won't be sorry.

How often should you clean your tegu's habitat?

You should always check your tegu's home for feces or other messes and remove them immediately. We humans do not like to sit around in our own messes, and your pet doesn't either.

Other than cleaning messes daily, you should clean your pet's home once a week to keep it as clean and sanitary as possible.

However, tegus aren't incredibly messy animals, so if you miss a week every once in a while, that is okay. Never wait longer than two weeks to clean the tank, however, and try to keep the weeks you miss a cleaning to a minimum.

Substrate should be changed every two weeks at minimum. 

Are there any known health issues associated with tegus?

The most common health problems associated with tegus are dehydration, metabolic bone disease (MBD), scale rot, obesity, and respiratory infections.

While these do sound severe - and can be in certain cases - they are all mostly preventable by feeding your tegu a balanced diet, ensuring the temperatures in his home are at the perfect levels, keeping the humidity in the enclosure spot-on, and keeping fresh, damp substrate for him.

Signs of illness to watch for include sudden weight loss, drastic changes in appetite, changes in excrement, lethargy or listlessness, limping, swollen limbs, and coughing or wheezing.

If you notice any of these, take your tegu to see a vet immediately. Make sure you find out where the nearest exotic vet is to you when you first get a tegu. You never want to get blindsided by an illness and have no idea where or how to find a vet near you.

Related Questions

Are tegus dangerous? Like any animal, tegus can be dangerous, but only if they are mistreated or not trained properly. Despite their large mouths, strong jaws, and sharp teeth, tegus are unlikely to bite.

Other than the Columbian tegu, tegus are mild animals who do not mind human interaction. The biggest safety concern with tegus is that they can come to associate their owners with food.

When you handfeed your tegu, he can often start to see your hand as food, and he might accidentally bite you thinking you are food. Putting food into a separate cage and afterwards placing your tegu into the cage can help prevent this problem. You can also feed your pet with tongs instead of your hands.

According to Clint from Clint's Reptiles, tegus are one of the absolute best pet lizards. If you've ever watched Clint's videos, you know he is very open and honest about whether or not a particular reptile makes a good pet, so for him to put tegus at the top of the list is a good sign that these are safe, easy-going animals.

Which tegu is the smallest, and how big does it get? The smallest species of tegu is the gold tegu (Tupinambis teguixin), which grows to between two and three feet in length and weighs between seven and nine pounds. That doesn't sound very small at all, but as far as tegus go, it is actually the smallest of the bunch.

How many eggs do tegus lay? Female tegus usually lay anywhere between twelve and thirty eggs during their reproduction cycle. The eggs are leathery, not hard like the eggs of a bird.

All tegus lay their eggs in nests, although some tegus choose to lay their eggs in the nests of termites rather than building their own nests. The eggs generally take two and half to three months to hatch.

How big do red tegus get? While not the largest species of tegu - that honor goes to the Argentine black and white tegu - the red tegu (Tupinambis rufescens) grows to be quite large.

They can grow almost as large as their black and white relatives, with lengths reaching up to four and a half feet and weights reaching twenty pounds. They are large and powerful lizards but surprisingly docile.

Tegus can be excellent pets to have; they are mostly mellow and quickly grow accustomed to human interaction, especially if you get them while they are young and spend lots of time with them.

If you are thinking of getting a pet lizard, I highly suggest you consider the tegu. Just remember, they are long-lived, so choosing to become a tegu parent is a long-term commitment that shouldn't be entered into lightly.

I hope this post has helped you learn a few things you didn't know before visiting. Please don't feel embarrassed or frustrated if you still don't feel like you know everything you need to about tegus.

Tegus are rare and beautiful animals, but they do take some work. However, if you are willing to invest the time and attention into them, they will give you decades of love and companionship.


Hi, this is me with my daughter and my Lizard friend. I hope you enjoy my research. Please feel free to check out my "About Me" page to find out more about me.