Tegus are quite large lizards, capable of reaching 5 feet. They are rather docile and friendly despite their threatening and intimidating appearance.
They are also more than meets the eye because they exhibit unique physiological functioning, temperaments, and requirements.
Today, we’ll go through the 13 most interesting facts about Tegus to help you get a clearer perspective of the lizard’s profile.
So, here we go:
1. Tegus are Oviparous
There are basically 3 types of animals on Earth: oviparous, viviparous, and ovoviviparous. The first category defines animals that produce eggs, which they then protect (or not) until they hatch and spawn the next generation.
Viviparous animals give birth to live offspring with no eggs involved. The embryo(s) develop inside the mother’s womb and only come out once the incubation period is complete.
Ovoviviparous animals are a mix of the 2. They produce eggs but incubate them inside their bodies. They then give birth to live young, which can lead some to the impression that they’re dealing with a viviparous animal.
Tegus are oviparous, so they produce eggs, which the female will hide to protect them from predators. These lizards achieve sexual maturity by the age of 2-3 and undergo the reproductive process in late spring or early summer when temperatures are right.
This makes sense because the resulting eggs incubate for approximately 2-3 months, hatching in the heart of the warm season.
This increases the hatchlings’ survival rates, given that they are born in warm temperatures with plenty of food available.
2. Different Tegu Species
Few people realize that there are quite a few Tegu species available. These differ both in appearance and overall behavior quite drastically, depending on the species you’re comparing.
Here are some overall facts to show that:
Gold Tegus are predominantly gold and yellow and are very rare in captivity
Argentine black and white Tegu is similar to blue Tegu in temperament, as they’re both docile and highly intelligent; even so, they’re rather rare as pets due to their high requirements
Colombian Tegu is primarily arboreal and prefers 90% of its diet to contain animal protein
There are quite a few other examples to consider, as there is a variety of Tegu species to work with. This diversity is more often attributed to Tegu’s high adaptability and reproductive capabilities, 2 of the reasons why these reptiles qualify as pests in some states.
3. Tegus have Forked Tongues
The fact that Tegus have forked tongues may seem banal. But the fact that they use their tongues for a variety of purposes is anything but. Tegus rely on their tongues to taste their prey, steer it down the throat, and even regulate their body temperature on hot summer days.
But Tegus are reptiles and have more in common with snakes than you might think. Their tongues don’t only resemble those of snakes, but they even function similarly due to the Jacobson’s organ located on the mouth palate.
This organ allows snakes, and other reptiles like Tegus, to detect various scents in the air, which helps the animal:
- Recognize when an animal is approaching
- Detect whether the animal is a predator or prey
- Sense the direction and distance of the animal
- Sense any odor that could help the lizard understand more about its environment
The sense of smell is critical to Tegus, as it allows them to hunt more effectively in their ecosystem.
Especially since Tegus are active predators that stalk and pursue their prey when hunting.
4. Grow Pretty Large
Tegus can reach impressive sizes of up to 5 feet and weigh up to 12 pounds. This is quite the size for a lizard, but not all of them get there. Some stay smaller, around 3 feet, especially the males.
The maximum size of one Tegu depends on several factors, such as genetic makeup, available food, environmental conditions, stress, predators, etc.
If you want to boost your Tegu’s quality of life and overall size, consider:
- Providing a varied diet with multiple food items
- Focusing on the food items that your lizard enjoys and eliminate those that it doesn’t
- Keeping the reptile’s enclosure clean, well-maintained, and under constant supervision
- Providing a natural-looking layout with sufficient space and at least one hiding spot
- Considering supplements to avoid nutritional deficiencies and optimize the lizard’s growth rate
- Taking the Tegu to regular vet checkups to monitor the animal’s health status and prevent problems
5. Live for Decades
Tegus typically live up to 10-12 years in the wild, with most falling short even of that. However, they live considerably more in captivity, up to 20 years or even more.
Many Tegu keepers have reported lifespans of up to 30 years, although these haven’t been confirmed. But it wouldn’t be impossible either.
Tegus face a variety of threats in the wild that decrease their life expectancy considerably. These include predation, climate changes, diseases, parasites, territorial, food, and mating-related fights, unfortunate human interactions, habitat destruction, you name it.
Fortunately, Tegus don’t have a lot to suffer as a species, thanks to their astounding resilience and breeding proficiency. But individually, they struggle with low lifespans.
All these are basically non-problems in captivity. Here, Tegus have all the food they can eat, face no more natural predators, the closed-circuit climate is optimized and stable, and the reptile’s mental state is (hopefully) stable.
The lizard also receives personalized care and veterinarian assistance to deal with any health issues in time.
These factors explain why Tegus live such long and stable lives in captivity, essentially becoming family members with time.
6. Semi-Aquatic Reptiles
Tegus are filled with surprises, one of them being their ability to swim. And they’re not novices either, but quite proficient at it. Tegus can exhibit excellent swimming capabilities for short periods of time, even if they’re not aquatic reptiles per se.
Tegus qualify as terrestrial animals, but they can also climb and swim whenever necessary. They have an on-off relationship with water, as they only use it when needed.
This includes when needing to cool off, hunt, or escape predators, which aren’t that many, but they are resilient.
Some species of Tegus, like the Argentine black and white one, inhabit wetlands primarily and have a closer relationship to their wet ecosystem.
They even hunt in water and have a more varied diet than their more terrestrial counterparts because of it.
7. Surviving in Diverse Environments
Tegus are quite resilient and adaptable animals that can thrive in a variety of ecosystems. These include wetlands, grasslands, forests, savannas, and open areas, preferably with lush vegetation.
They prefer habitats with at least one source of water nearby, be it a stream, pond, river, or anything similar.
Depending on the species, Tegus also exhibit excellent adaptability. Colombian Tegus, for instance, can cover immense areas, from tropical forests and savannas to dry scrublands with little moisture.
The Argentine black and white Tegu has also adapted to urban living, feeding on trash cans and pet food. Even pets in some cases.
The reptile’s amazing adaptability is what qualifies it as a pest in so many states, but this is for another discussion.
8. Omnivores with Powerful Jaws
Tegus have amazingly powerful jaws, capable of delivering upwards of 220 psi or 1,000 Newtons. This is around 50% more jaw strength than humans, which explains how Tegus are capable of such deadly bites.
They also possess impressively large and sharp teeth that they use to eviscerate prey and chew fruits and veggies at the same time.
Despite their qualification as omnivores, most Tegus prefer live prey like small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, crayfish, insects, you name it. Their powerful jaws and sharp teeth are the perfect killing tools for them.
9. Unique Eating Habits
Tegus have quite impressive eating habits, compared to other lizards or even reptiles.
Here are 3 examples to clear that out:
- Bee hives – The fact that bees place their hives on trees above the ground cannot save them from Tegu’s determination. The same goes for the bees’ aggressive demeanor and painful venom. Tegus aren’t immune to bee stings, but their thick skin protects them exceedingly well. They will get stung, but the reward far outweighs the pain or risks associated with the stings. Tegus can eat honey, larvae, and even the bees themselves, thanks to the plus of protein content.
- Venomous snakes – Not many animals can consume deadly venomous snakes like rattlesnakes, coral snakes, and copperheads, but Tegus can. This is primarily due to the lizard being immune to snake venom, so the lizard can’t be bothered when hunting and killing a deadly crawler. This makes the Tegu an important part of ecosystems overrun by venomous snakes.
- Eggs – The fact that Tegus can consume bird and reptile eggs isn’t anything new or unique. But the fact that Tegus can smell eggs buried underground is. This amazing ability is very useful for detecting clutches of eggs from quite a respectable distance, informing the lizard of the high-protein snack available underground. Led by its nose, the lizard will reach the main point of interest and use its powerful legs to dig the site up.
An interesting point here, these feeding abilities actually rank Tegus closer to pests than pest-controlling animals.
Bees are mostly beneficial to their ecosystem, and so are venomous snakes since they feed primarily on rodents and other pests in the area. Tegus also consume the eggs of multiple animal species, and they have quite an appetite.
These feeding tendencies don’t shine the best light on the reptile.
10. Solitary and Territorial
Tegus are extremely territorial and will react aggressively toward intruders belonging to the same species. These animals only meet during the mating season when they absolutely need to, and that’s about it.
Other than that, Tegus don’t share space, food, females, or any other resource.
If they sense an invading Tegu nearby, the reptile will become wary immediately. Tegus can sense one another quite easily via their smell. If they meet, Tegus will resort to threats and vocalizations to discourage the intruder from moving any further.
The Tegu may hiss, whip its tail, and even posture up to make itself appear larger. If that doesn’t work, the lizard will charge, and a bloody fight may ensue. It’s not uncommon for male Tegus to fight to the death because of this.
So, don’t even think about keeping Tegus in pairs or groups. Not even when it’s a male and a female since they will only interact peacefully with one another during the mating season.
And I use ‘peacefully’ loosely here because Tegus aren’t known for their peaceful behaviors when mating.
11. Highly Intelligent and Trainable
Tegus are unexpectedly intelligent, considerably more so than you would expect from a bunch of reptiles. These lizards are curious and inquisitive and can exhibit social behaviors towards their handlers. Expect your Tegu to learn how you look and sound and interact with you in a friendly manner.
Tegus can also learn various tricks, as you can tame them to some degree. The best way of achieving that is by feeding the Tegu treats every time it listens to your commands.
Most importantly, you should start the taming process when the Tegu is still young and more receptive to the instructions.
However, keep in mind that Tegus are all different individuals with different personalities and behavior. One Tegu may be friendlier and more docile than others, which can exhibit more secluded and antisocial behavior.
So, proportion your expectations and interactions to your Tegu’s overall character.
12. Predator and Prey
Large and powerful lizards rarely have any natural predators in the wild, and the same goes for Tegus. These powerful reptiles don’t have many predators to worry about as adults.
The situation is vastly different when discussing hatchlings and juveniles, though.
Young Tegus have several natural predators to consider, including birds of prey (hawks and eagles), mammalian predators (jaguars, pumas, ocelots), and snakes like the green anaconda.
These animals can easily kill a juvenile Tegu if given the opportunity. Some larger mammals or an anaconda can even kill an adult Tegu, but the risk is usually not worth the effort. Adult Tegus are very powerful and possess sharp teeth paired with a powerful bite.
For this reason, most predators consider adult Tegus as predators themselves rather than prey.
13. Make Good Pets
Interestingly, Tegu lizards are quite good pet material. They’re not extremely pretentious and sensitive about their habitat and can eat a variety of foods, provided the nutritional values make sense.
They are also intelligent and social toward their handlers, making them a treat to own and interact with.
However, the owner’s level of experience makes all the difference in the world. These reptiles require specialized care and personalized habitats to thrive over the years.
As a beginner, you’re better off if you start your reptile journey with an easier species.
Tegus aren’t the most popular lizards in the world, which is most likely due to their relative difficulty of care and food-related pretentiousness.
But you can’t deny that these are fascinating exotic animals that you can train to become literal members of your family.
Just make sure you understand what they need before committing to getting one.