Argentine Black and White Tegus

Argentine Black and White Tegu
Argentine Black and White Tegu. Getty Images/Setareh Vatan/Design Pics

Argentine Black and White Tegus

Argentine black and white tegus are sometimes simply called black and white tegus although this can lead to confusion as there is also a Colombian tegu (the Colombian tegu is a similar but smaller and a less docile tegu). Sometimes Argentine tegus are also called giant tegus or big headed tegus. The scientific name is Tupinambis merianae and as their common name implies, they are from Argentina and other parts of South America.

While they aren't commonly seen as pets, they can live about 15 years in captivity and reach about four feet in length (including their tail). Female tegus are slightly smaller than their male counterparts but both sexes have a fairly distinctive pattern of white and black dots and stripes all over their bodies.

Despite their large size, Argentine black and white tegus enjoy a reputation as being quite docile and tame (much more so than other tegus). This is especially true of those that are handled regularly from a young age. 

Housing Argentine Black and White Tegus

Due to their large size, Argentine black and white tegus need a large and secure enclosure. Juvenile tegus can be kept in a large glass aquarium with a locking lid but adults will need a larger specialty terrarium or custom built cage.

For adult Argentine tegus, plan on at least a six feet by three feet by two feet tall enclosure (taller cages are not necessary for tegus as they do not stand on their hind legs or climb trees).

A hide log or box should be provided at either end of the temperature gradient. You should keep this hide slightly damp with wet sphagnum moss to aid with shedding and as a source of humidity for their environment (your tegu will spend most of their time in this hide).

Argentine tegus like to burrow so they need a substrate that is not only absorbent and easy to clean but also allows their natural digging behavior.

Cypress mulch, orchid bark, or eucalyptus mulch are the preferred substrates for tegus although some people prefer the convenience of several layers of paper for ease of cleaning (although this prevents the natural instinct to dig). Avoid wood chips, ground corn cobs, or stone gravel due to the risk of ingestion. You should also avoid indoor/outdoor carpeting since it is likely to get shredded in your Argentine tegu's digging attempts and the stray threads can pose a risk of entangling nails and toes.

Lighting and Heating for Argentine Black and White Tegus

Argentine black and white tegus are diurnal (active during the day) so they need exposure to full spectrum UVA and UVB lighting like the sun provides. They also need a source of heat. While it is true that tegus can tolerate cooler temperatures, for proper health and digestion, daytime temperatures should be maintained at 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit (27-30 degrees Celsius) with a basking spot of 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit (38-43 degrees Celsius). Cooler night time temperatures (10 degrees lower than day time temperatures) are acceptable but don't allow a drastic change in temperature. Use a combination of reptile heat lamps, bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, and heat mats to reach these high temperatures but avoid hot rocks as they can cause severe burns.

Feeding Argentine Black and White Tegus

Juvenile Argentine tegus can be fed a diet largely composed of gut loaded crickets (dusted with a calcium/vitamin supplement) along with some other feeder insects for variety (such as readily available mealworms and waxworms). As your tegu gets older, they can be fed pinkie mice and eventually adult mice (pre-killed or frozen thawed) but use caution if the mice you are feeding have fur as impactions are commonly seen. Adult Argentine black and white tegus can also have a variety of fruits and vegetables added to their diet. Canned dog food and eggs can be offered as a very occasional supplement (too much protein will cause kidney failure) or treat. Be sure to feed your Argentine tegu their mice with a bowl or tongs to prevent accidentally getting bitten by your hungry lizard.

Providing Water for Argentine Black and White Tegus

Argentine black and white tegus enjoy soaking when they aren't burrowing so be sure to provide a large shallow water dish that will fit their entire body (cat litter pans work well and are inexpensive). Provide fresh water frequently, especially if your tegu defecates in their water. Having this large water dish will also help you achieve the ideal 60-80% relative humidity in your tegu's environment (a hygrometer will help you monitor the humidity level in your enclosure). Misting the enclosure with water will also aid in keeping the environment the way your tegu likes it.


Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT