Do Tegu Lizards Make Good Pets?

Written by Hailey Pruett
Updated: November 2, 2022
Image Credit reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com
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Tegu lizards are remarkable animals, and they’ve become increasingly popular in the pet trade! This is largely thanks to their adorable, almost dog-like appearance, high intelligence, and playful temperaments. But do they actually make good pets, or are these mini-Godzillas too challenging for most reptile owners to handle?

Read on to learn more about pet tegu lizards, what they need to thrive in captivity, and how much you can expect to spend on their care.

What Are Tegu Lizards?

Best lizards - Black and White Tegus
The Argentine black and white tegu lizard is the most common tegu species in the pet trade.

iStock.com/Rafael Cutó

Tegus are large lizards that primarily belong to the Teiidae family. This group also includes other large-bodied species like whiptails and caiman lizards

Virtually all tegu species are carnivorous, though some also eat insects. Their wide, heavy bodies make them mostly terrestrial, though they are strong swimmers. Like most lizards, they are diurnal, or more active during the day.

In total, there are well over 100 different species of lizards that can be classified as tegus. However, only a handful of them, such as the Argentine black and white tegu and red tegu, are kept as pets. They range in size, though most species are large and can grow to well over 3 feet in length and weigh more than 20 pounds.

Tegus have a wide geographical range, from humid rainforests in the Amazon to more temperate savannas and semiarid forests. They feed on various types of animal and insect protein, from rodents and fish to bird and reptile eggs and even some beetles, roaches, and worms. 

Notably, aside from perhaps monitor lizards, tegus are among the most intelligent lizards in the world. They have become increasingly popular as pets in part due to their high intelligence and playful demeanor. However, a pet tegu lizard can also be challenging to care for due to their size and tendency to be somewhat destructive and occasionally stubborn.

Do Tegu Lizards Make Good Pets?

Argentine Black and White Tegu
Though they aren’t great for first-time reptile owners, tegus can be rewarding pets for those up to the task of caring for them.

dwi putra stock/Shutterstock.com

Tegu lizards can be good pets, but they aren’t recommended for first-time or novice reptile owners. Due to their large size and high intelligence, they require a lot of space and enrichment to thrive in captivity. They are also voracious eaters with long lifespans, and they can develop costly health issues if not given optimal care.

If you’ve never owned a lizard before, it might be a good idea to pass on a tegu for something smaller and more manageable. This isn’t to say a beginner can’t care for a tegu, necessarily, but you’ll need to do a lot of research and invest potentially thousands of dollars into their care.

Although there are many different kinds of tegus, only a few species are kept as pets. The most common tegus in the pet trade are the Argentine black and white tegu and the red tegu. Both species can live well over 15 years in captivity, and they grow to be well over 3 feet in length.

Whether or not a tegu will make a good pet for you personally will depend on a few factors. These include, most notably, your budget, as well as how much space and free time you have to dedicate to their care. While they are fairly docile animals, pet tegu lizards are prone to boredom due to their high intelligence. They require ample enrichment and regular interaction to remain happy and healthy in captivity.

In short, tegus are certainly not a type of lizard you’ll be able to simply plop in a 20-gallon tank with a heat lamp and leave alone for 10 hours a day! But if you’re up to the task, a tegu can make an excellent pet and a highly entertaining longtime companion.

Are Tegu Lizards Expensive to Keep?

Tegu Lizard
Pet tegu lizards can be very costly due to their large size, voracious appetite, and need for constant enrichment.

Arne Beruldsen/Shutterstock.com

Tegus are one of the more expensive types of lizards to care for in captivity. This is mostly because of their massive size and large appetite compared to most other common pet lizards. In addition to large enclosures, they require adequate heat and UVB lighting, which can be costly to maintain long-term.

Caring for a tegu requires a rather substantial budget compared to most other lizards. For starters, they’re absolutely huge, often growing to be 3+ feet long and 20+ pounds as adults. To properly house a pet tegu lizard, you’ll need to build a custom enclosure, as most pre-made reptile enclosures only go up to around 100 gallons.

For most tegu species like Argentine tegus, the recommended enclosure size is at least 8 feet by 4 feet. The enclosure should also be deep with high, sturdy walls, as tegus like to burrow, climb, and explore. Their tendency for burrowing, along with how clever they are compared to most other lizards, makes them skilled escape artists, so a secure enclosure is essential. Since tegus can be destructive, the enclosure may need repairs over time.

Feeding a pet tegu lizard is also quite costly, at least compared to other common pet reptiles. Both black and white and red tegus are omnivorous, and they need varied, nutritious diets. They have huge appetites and can eat a wide range of foods, such as rodents, insects, eggs, meats like chicken and beef, and even a small amount of vegetables and fruits.

Overall, tegus are among the most costly and time-consuming pet lizards to house and care for in captivity. However, they are also incredibly rewarding and engaging companions. Be sure to also keep a vet fund on hand for any potential health issues. Remember, tegus can live for more than 15 years, and yearly check-ups can help ensure they live long, happy lives as pets.

What Do Tegus Need in Captivity?

 red tegu
Tegus need large, often custom-built enclosures to accommodate their massive size.

reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Tegus must be housed in large, sturdy enclosures with lots of decor like hides, rocks, and plants for enrichment. Ideally, an adult tegu’s enclosure should be at least 30 square feet. Tegus also require fairly high humidity and temperatures. Their enclosure must have a temperature gradient with a warm side and a cool side for thermoregulation.

If you’re not setting aside an entire room in your home for your pet tegu lizard, be aware that the enclosure will ideally be nearly room-sized anyway. It may need to be custom-built to suit your living space’s dimensions.

Your tegu enclosure will need constant heating, most likely in the form of at least two large (100+ watts) basking or heat bulbs. UVB lighting is also essential for digestion and bone health. Tegus are ectotherms, so they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. 

Most importantly, the enclosure needs a temperature gradient with a warm side and a cool side. The warm side of the enclosure should also have a slightly raised basking area to allow your tegu to thermoregulate. Temperatures should range from around 80 to 90 degrees during the day.

Humidity can be attained through manual misting or an automatic misting system. Tegus require fairly high humidity at around 80%. Moisture-retaining substrates like coconut fiber and cypress mulch are best. The entire enclosure floor should be covered with at least 4 inches of substrate for burrowing. A large, nonporous water dish will keep your tegu hydrated and boost the humidity in the enclosure.

Finally, the enclosure also needs plenty of decorations for enrichment. Tegus love to explore and interact with their environments. Rocks for climbing, plants and hides for shelter, and even large toys like colorful balls can keep your pet tegu lizard mentally stimulated.

red tegu

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About the Author

Hailey Pruett is a freelance content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover living in Tennessee with their spoiled cat, grumpy leopard gecko, and loving partner. Their favorite animals are lizards, turtles, snakes, and frogs. When they aren't obsessively writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, Hailey is usually playing relaxing life simulator video games and obscure, old-school RPGs. They are non-binary and comfortable with any pronouns.

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