You probably know Tegus for their popularity as intelligent, tamable, and sociable animals. You may also know them as pests in many states due to their voracious appetite, resilience, and reproductive prowess.
However, today we will discuss Tegus from a different perspective: their role in the ecosystem.
Believe it or not, wild Tegus are not all bad. In fact, they may be essential to their ecosystem for a variety of reasons, which we will discuss in the following sections. So, let’s get it started:
The Ecological Role of Tegus
Despite their unflattering notoriety, Tegus are actually core components of their ecosystem, helping to preserve the balance and contributing to the overall functioning mechanism.
To understand the Tegus’ ecological role, we need to look into the following 3 aspects:
The Position in the Food Chain
While Tegus are technically omnivorous reptiles, in practice, they qualify as opportunistic hunters and eaters. These lizards prefer meat above all else and will consume plants, veggies, fruits, and other plant materials to complement their diet.
But truth be told, many Tegus are almost strictly carnivorous. This is important to note because it describes these lizards’ impact on their ecosystem.
They consume a multitude of animals and insects that would otherwise overgraze and overbrowse, destroying the surrounding vegetation and impacting the entire ecosystem negatively.
Tegus contribute to preventing that by managing the numbers of these animals and insects as best they can. More importantly, they are quite great at it, albeit within limits.
In a food-rich environment, Tegus can easily outnumber their prey with time, at which point their impact on the ecosystem can turn negative.
Many plants and trees rely on insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles to spread their seeds. The usual method of transportation relies on the stomach as a vehicle. Plant and tree seeds are protected by an outer shell that’s impervious to the animal’s digestive juices.
This means that the seeds will be present in the animal’s poop, which will decay on the ground, spreading the seeds and facilitating the birth of the next generation of plants.
Tegus are quite good at it because they consume various plant matter, they eat quite often, and they traverse considerable terrain to patrol their environment, look for food, and mate.
This makes Tegus quite good at seed dispersal, albeit unintentionally.
All animals are part of a never-ending nutrient recycling process that begins with the lizards eating their meals and producing poop.
The by-product of the digestive process consists of a variety of nutrients that the reptile can no longer use. But the rest of the ecosystem can.
Naturally, all animals fall into this category since they all poop. This means that Tegus are nothing special after all. Or, they would be if they wouldn’t produce so much poop. Tegus can produce a lot of fecal matter, especially when food is abundant.
That’s because they have faster digestive systems compared to snakes, for instance, which only eat once every several weeks or months.
Tegus eat and poop once every 2-3 days, depending on the specimen and the food available.
That being said, we cannot focus on the good without also mentioning the bad. Because Tegus are not all fun and games. These are large, predatorial, and destructive lizards that often cause more harm their good in their respective ecosystems.
In this sense, Tegus can overeat with relative ease, causing them to destroy entire populations of animals and insects in the region. Doing so will impact other animals whose comfort and survival depend on the first.
The Impact of Habitat Loss on Tegus
Tegus are generally resilient creatures, but they, too, struggle with some issues.
Here are some to consider:
- Habitat loss – This problem has several causes, both human and natural. Habitat loss can occur due to human activities, accidental forest fires, landslides, floods, etc. Tegus don’t face severe habitat loss due to their adaptability and the large geographical area that they occupy, but it’s a problem that could affect them more severely over the years.
- Habitat fragmentation – Habitat fragmentation refers primarily to larger ecosystems being broken into smaller areas, which fragment the lizard’s natural habitat. This isn’t as impactful as habitat losses, but they still affect Tegu populations in the region.
- Competition – Tegus compete with each other over food, females, territory, and other resources, so this is nothing new under the sun. The problem is that the previous 2 issues will exacerbate Tegus’ domination battles, leading to even bloodier outcomes.
- Direct human contact – Tegus aren’t generally aggressive towards humans, but humans are towards Tegus. There are several reasons for that, including the Tegus’ pest status in some areas, causing people to kill them on site. Other people can hunt them for trophies or as part of the pet trade. This steers us toward an important point: always make sure your Tegu is captive-bred. Wild-caught Tegus are generally infected with a variety of parasites and bacteria. They are also used to living in the wild, so they’re unlikely to adapt to a captive lifestyle.
So, Tegus have their fair share of dangers to contend with in the wild, even though they aren’t exactly endangered or vulnerable. However, it would be ideal for protecting the lizards before getting to that point.
In this sense, there are some conservation efforts being taken as we speak, so let’s discuss those next.
Conservation Efforts for Tegus
We have several strategies to consider at this point:
- Habitat protection and restoration – The first step refers to protecting and restoring Tegus’ natural habitat, which typically involves several strategies. These include restoring damaged areas, creating safe zones for Tegus to enjoy in peace, and protecting the reptile’s main food sources.
- Habitat connectivity – This measure is meant to correct the problems relating to habitat fragmentation. Experts aim to create safe-passing corridors between different ecosystems that were once united. This allows the reptiles to move safely and unhinged through fragmented habitats without actually restoring them to the full.
- Sustainable land use practices – Agriculture and deforestation practices are generally the most damaging for the ecosystem. This approach aims to bring fauna-protecting services in contact with landowners, farmers, and ranchers to work together for a better approach. The goal is to minimize the impact of human-related activities on the environment without impacting the efficiency or reliability of said activities from the human perspective. Finding the sweet spot is tricky balancing work, but it can be done.
- Awareness and education – This approach aims to educate people and raise awareness on the impact of their actions on the surrounding ecosystems and animals and plants populating it. This is the best way of finding and creating allies right in the heart of the problematic region. The strategy typically involves outreaching local communities, schools, and various stakeholders with influence in the region.
Fortunately, these approaches aren’t vital for Tegus as they are for endangered or vulnerable species.
But they do have their place in the overall strategy of preserving the animals’ habitat and preventing the Tegus from acquiring the ‘endangered’ tag to begin with.
Tegus are fascinating exotic lizards with a noticeable impact on their habitat’s fauna and flora.
Whether the impact is negative or positive depends on numerous factors, such as the Tegus species, environmental conditions, the ecosystem itself, etc.