Colombian Tegus

These lizards are strong and can be aggressive

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 3 to 3 1/2 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 Behavior and 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 can be aggressive toward humans.

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.

Ideally, you'll acquire your Colombian tegu 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 its regular enclosure so it doesn'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.

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 in 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.

Food and Water

Offering gut-loaded crickets, mealworms, hornworms, wax worms and cockroaches to your smaller tegu is ideal in addition to some fruit. The insects should always be dusted with a reptile calcium and vitamin D3 supplement to help prevent metabolic bone disease. 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 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.

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

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 plexiglass 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 temperatures in your tegu's home. 

Humidity

Since 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 it is 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.

Choosing Your Colombian Tegu

As stated earlier, these are not suitable pets for the novice reptile owner. Colombian tegus are strong and can be aggressive, so be sure you're up to the task before taking one in.

This is definitely a pet you want to acquire from a reputable breeder. A sick tegu may have dry patchy skin, swelling around its nasal passages, and unusual bumps in its limbs. 

Common Health Problems 

Calcium and phosphorous deficiencies are common in tegus, and like other reptiles, they're susceptible to parasitic infections, respiratory infections, and most seriously, metabolic bone disease.

This latter ailment is one that usually results in a lack of UVB lighting. Be sure you bring your tegu to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles if your pet stops eating, seems lethargic, or shows any swelling or dry skin. These are all signs of a sick tegu.

Similar Breeds to the Colombian Tegu

If you're interested in checking out lizards similar to the Colombian tegu, here are a few suggestions:

Otherwise, check out our profiles of other breeds of monitor lizards.