Colombian Tegus

Colombian Tegu
Colombian Tegu. Getty Images/James Gerholdt

Not to be confused with the Argentine black and white tegu, the Colombian tegu is often found in homes of herp lovers across the country. These larger lizards don't make good pets for everyone though so make sure you read up on their care before deciding to get one. With the right care and proper environment, the Colombian tegu can be a rewarding pet reptile.

Names: Colombian Black and White tegu, Colombian tegu, Tupinambis teguixin, Golden tegu, Black tegu

Size: About three to three and a half feet long

Lifespan: Up to 20 years

Colombian Tegus in the Wild

As their name implies, Colombian tegus are from the South American country of Colombia but can also be found throughout the Amazon basin. Their native habitat is hot and humid since they live near the equator and they enjoy eating almost anything they can find including insects and rodents. They are quite the scavengers in the wild. They can also be found farther south of the equator where the climate is slightly cooler and burrow their bodies into the soil to cool off on a regular basis. Very little is known about their breeding habits because they are often cooling off underground and hiding in their burrows.

Colombian Tegu Temperament

These large reptiles have a reputation of being more aggressive than the similar looking Argentine black and white tegus therefore they don't make good pets for beginner reptile enthusiasts.

With regular handling, preferably from a young age, Colombian tegus can be content to hang out with their owners and be carried around but if they are not handled they will resort to their aggressive personalities and are likely to bite the hand that feeds them. Experienced reptile owners that also have a lot of patience to hand tame and time to spend with their Colombian tegu will be rewarded with a friendly reptile pal.

Experienced owners may argue that Colombian tegus don't deserve the title of being aggressive but compared to docile lizards like bearded dragons and leopard geckos many people could argue that there is truth to it. Things you can do to make sure your Colombian tegu isn't aggressive include acquiring one at a young age from a private breeder who has been handling their clutches already, handle your tegu daily, and feed your tegu outside of their regular enclosure so they don't associate you with meal time.

Housing Colombian Tegus

Since Colombian tegus grow to be over three feet long you will need a large enough enclosure that will not only keep them safe but allows for enough room to burrow, move about, and eat. Most tegu owners end up building their own enclosures using supplies from home improvement stores, purchase large terrariums, or utilize a closet or small bedroom as their tegu's home. Each option presents their own concerns regarding supplies, costs, and ease of cleaning but regardless of where your tegu is house, make sure they have enough room to be tegus. A minimum of six feet by three feet by three feet is recommended for most Colombian tegus that also get time to exercise outside of their enclosures.

Despite the large cage that is needed, keep in mind that Colombian tegus don't require a lot of height on their cages because they don't climb like some reptiles that are similar in size.

A water dish that allows your Colombian tegu to soak if they so desire should be in their enclosure as well as a place to burrow in their substrate. These areas can be provided by using large plastic containers to aid in cleaning or to allow burrowing you can simply provide a deep layer of soil or bark substrate safe for reptiles. A basking area with something to climb on like a branch or shelf will allow your tegu to get closer to the heating elements if they wish or hide under it. At least one hide area should be provided. Try to move things around in the cage on a regular basis to provide mental stimulation and encourage your tegu to move and explore his home.

Feeding Colombian Tegus

The size of your Colombian tegu will dictate what kind of food you feed until they are full grown. Offering gut loaded crickets, meal worms, horn worms, wax worms, and cockroaches to your smaller tegu is ideal in addition to some fruit (but not all tegus will eat fruit). The insects should always be dusted with a reptile calcium and vitamin D3 supplement (to help prevent metabolic bone disease) and your tegu should always be fed outside of their cage (or they may associate the cage door opening with meal time and be more likely to bite you or become aggressive when you reach into the cage). Some owners use a large plastic storage container to contain the prey items and then put their tegu in that container to eat.

Larger and full grown adult tegus may show less interest in the insects they were raised on and should be transitioned to pinkie mice and eventually fuzzies, adult mice, and rats of various sizes. Chicks can also be offered if you want to add in some variety to your tegu's diet. Occasionally some low fat ground turkey and a raw egg can be offered as well. Tegus love eggs but these should be reserved as treats. You can also use some of the egg to dip food in that your tegu needs to eat if you have a picky eater on your hand (this is especially helpful for sick tegus or tegus that have not been on a proper diet and are being difficult to convert).

Most tegu owners feed their growing lizards several times a week or even daily and then cut back the number of feedings as they reach maturity. Colombian tegus are prone to obesity so monitor their weight once they are full grown and make sure they have enough time and room to exercise.

Heat and Lighting for Colombian Tegus

Since Colombian tegus are from a more tropical environment you will need both heat and UVB emitting light bulbs to provide the proper rays to your pet. Use a combination of ceramic heat emitters, basking lights, and full spectrum lighting that gives off a high percentage of UVB rays to reach a basking temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The rest of the enclosure should be around 85 degrees Fahrenheit with it not dropping below 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Make sure the UVB lighting is not placed on a glass or plexi glass surface as these will block the invisible rays. Most manufacturers recommend placing the bulb about 12 inches from your tegu's basking area but be sure to follow the package recommendations and replace the bulb about every 6 months. The lights that emit white light should only be left on for 12 hours a day to allow your tegu to have a proper day and night cycle. Use a ceramic heat emitter or night heat light that emits a purple or red glow to heat the enclosure at night. A thermometer should be placed inside the cage (ideally one thermometer on each end of the cage or one that can be moved) to monitor these temperature in your tegu's home. 

Humidity for Colombian Tegus

Seeing as tegus burrow into the moist soil and live in tropical environments they are used to having high humidity. The large water dish that you have for your tegu to soak in and drink from will help keep the humidity level high but you may also need to mist the enclosure on a daily basis. Monitor your tegu's shedding and if they are having problems then it may be an indication that the humidity is not high enough. Placing a hygrometer in the enclosure will allow you to gauge how humid it is.

With enough planning and daily care you can have a beautiful, healthy, and friendly Colombian tegu for years to come!