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Red Tegu Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Red Tegu
Scientific Name:Tupinambis rufescens
Life Span:12 to 20 years
Size:2 ½ to 3 ½ feet up to 4 years
Habitat:Arid semi-deserts and grasslands to light woods
Country of Origin:Argentina and Uruguay

Physical Description

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The Red Tegu is a large predatory lizard that can grow from 2.5 to 3.5 feet in length. Some specimens can grow up to 4 feet in length. This lizard is native to western Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, where it lives in arid semi-deserts as well as grasslands and woodland areas.

The Red Tegu is commonly sold as pets all over the world because of its docile nature, and it is one of the easiest exotic pets to keep. The name red tegu was taken from the unique color of the lizard, which is a distinct reddish color.

The reddish color varies from one specimen to another. Some have redder than others with glowing red bodies, while some have a dull red color. As the red tegu grows old, the reddish glow turns darker, especially on the face, jowls (for males), and on the back.

Male tegus are larger than females. Males also have larger heads and jowls. You can tell that you have a male tegu when there are two large scales at the base of its tail. Tegus mature at around three years of age, and these lizards need to hibernate to reproduce. 

Life Span 

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Red tegu will live from 12 to 20 years. Just like any lizard, the red tegu has three life stages: hatchling, juvenile, and adult stages.

Hatchling

During the hatchling phase, red tegus have very little red coloration. The color of baby red tegus tends to be brownish-green and has black stripes across its width and broken white stripes along their lengths. The red color will eventually develop as the lizard matures.

Juvenile

Some juvenile red tegus already have the reddish skin color, and the black and white stripes present during the hatchling phase are still visible. The males are brighter compared to females. Juvenile males have growing jowls but not as large as the jowls of adult males.  

Adult

Adult red tegus have duller colors compared to juveniles and hatchlings. Adult bodies are larger and more muscular, but males are larger, stockier, and have larger jowls than females. At just three years old, red tegus are fully mature and are now ready to reproduce. The distinct enlarged scales at the base of the tegu’s tail in males are present. Females are more slender and have a duller color compared to their male counterparts. In captivity, male and female red tegus should be housed separately. These will only be introduced to one another during the breeding phase. 

Eating Habits

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In the wild, the Red Tegu is an omnivore and is described as opportunistic feeders. Young wild tegus will eat crickets, moths, mealworms, and other smaller insects. During their adult phase, these will have a varied diet consisting of rodents, birds, and fishes. Adults and juveniles may also eat plants and weed. This lizard can also eat larger prey like small lizards, pinkie mice, and more. 

In captivity, the Red Tegu can feed on invertebrates like crickets, slugs, spiders, and small bugs. Breeders have noticed that red tegus grown in captivity tend to become picky eaters. These captive tegus may prefer only a diet composed of meat.

To feed your Red Tegu, give food during the day right after it can bask under the lamplight or heating lamp. Lizards, like the red tegu, need time to increase its body temperature before it can perform all kinds of activities. In captivity, red tegus must be encouraged to eat by adjusting temperature and humidity.

Water

Red tegus don’t need deep water to swim, but they need water to drink. Use a shallow bowl of water where they can drink from. A bowl of water may only fit small tegus, but as your pet grows, so will its feeding dish. Some pet owners use dog food dishes and water bowls to feed large adult red tegus. These supplies are larger and steadier, so there won’t likely tip over and spill.  

For smaller tegus, you may spray water on the tank walls and plants inside the tank. The small tegu will lick the vapor of these surfaces instead. You should spray at least twice or thrice a day because water is also needed to enhance humidity inside the tank.                                                                                                      

Development, Reproduction, and Breeding

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Tegus start to develop sexually at the age of three. And with their sexual development, these lizards experience changes in their bodies. Color and pattern changes happen, and ultimately, males grow and are larger than females. 

After hibernation, the red tegu will wake up and mate. A male will select a female and will woo her using head movements, ritual calls, and chirping. 

Courtship

Courtship starts to spring and can be full of ritualistic behaviors. Males will continuously pursue females while shaking their heads, popping their large jowls, and dragging their cloacae on the ground.

Females will also exhibit this dragging behavior as she sways her body back and forth and dragging their bodies. Females will also swing their tails from side to side as they hold the front part of their body a bit higher. Female red tegus will bob their heads, but Argentine black and white tegus don’t. 

Meanwhile, males tend to display aggressive behavior towards other males when housed in a larger area but surprisingly will tolerate another male in a smaller cage or enclosure. Most fights occur between females. Females can tolerate another male while nesting but not another female.

Nest building

After mating, the female’s swill builds a nest at around seven to ten days after mating. The female will use different kinds of material, and the most commonly used are hay and leaves. The nest will be three feet in diameter and around two to three feet in height. Some tegus would build their nests under just about anything.

Some breeders will remove the male once the female is building her nest. This is because females become aggressive at this time. These will perceive anything that they will perceive as a threat to her nest and eggs.

Females create a two area nest with the bottom chamber as the area where her eggs will be deposited and the top as the place where she will stay to guard them. Females will remain aggressive until after the nest and the eggs are removed. In captivity, don’t place the females back in an enclosure with other tegus after the nest and eggs are gone because soon it will be hibernation again. Females will remain aggressive and may kill other tegus no matter where they are.   

Breeders have different takes to the ratio of males to females in a tank for successful breeding. A breeder of Argentine Black and White tegus claims that having more males than females can guarantee success. If you breed one male to one female, there will be a 50% success rate. Two males to one female or three males to a female, etc. will greatly ensure success.

The red tegu nest

Females lay eggs in just a few days after the nest is completed. This is around three to seven days after completion. The female will drink vast amounts of water during dry conditions. Females will regurgitate water on its nest when it starts to become dry. Usually, nests are moister compared to the surrounding soil, and this helps make the nest warm for the eggs.

Females will lay between 10 to 70 eggs in a single clutch. A breeder recorded one female specimen laying 73 eggs in one clutch. The average number of eggs in a clutch is 30. Because of laying so many eggs, female tegus will tend to become thin afterward. At this time, breeders remove eggs for incubation. Breeders also take care not to rotate the eggs as they remove these from the nest. The incubator should already be set up once the eggs are removed from the nest. Breeders usually start to set up the incubator once they notice the female start to construct her nest.

Incubation and hatching tegu eggs

The best incubator uses a mixture of perlite and vermiculite at 50/50 ratio, and the incubator kept at 90 – 100% humidity. Tegu eggs do not become softer when they incubate, but these become larger and firmer the more time they spend inside the incubator. This is because tegu eggs have pressure, and this will make the eggs continuously grow in size.

Tegu eggs are also dented and are soft when laid by the female but will start o become frim in just a few days. Some reptile eggs become dented when these pips. When tegu eggs pip, fluid can squirt up to 12 inches from the eggs. Once the eggs pip, the babies won’t stay too long inside the egg. These will emerge from their eggs as soon as they pip. 

Tegu hatchlings should be removed from the nest as soon as these hatches. Food must be immediately offered, and usually, hatchlings will start to feed in a matter of hours while some will feed the next day. Small to medium-sized crickets will do best for hatchlings.

You also need to prepare at least two tanks for your hatchlings. One tank is for regular-sized hatchlings while the other is for smaller ones. A 20-gallon tank is best, and this should have a heat lamp with at least a 65-watt bulb in one end. Use a shallow water dish and use a newspaper as bedding. This way, the tegus will remain dry, and this can help their bellies heal faster. The basking area of the tank should be from 95 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler area must not be lower than 80 degrees Fahrenheit.    

Common Health Problems

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Here are the common health problems that Red Tegus experience:

Parasites

Red tegus come with parasites that at first may have no effect on their health, but when the tegu starts to feel stressed or is sick of any immune system condition, these parasites can cause dangerous life-threatening illnesses. 

These parasites can multiply and affect the tegu’s health. You can stop parasites and infections from spreading by placing a new tegu under quarantine. Usually, a new pet or a new lizard is the cause of parasites, and placing it on quarantine can help reduce parasites greatly in the enclosure or tank. 

Be sure to check for signs and symptoms of parasitic infections such as smelly or runny poop, weight loss, an enlarged abdomen, anorexia, and a lack of energy. 

Incomplete shedding

Look for signs of incomplete shedding difficulty like flakes, skin clinging on the tail or the eyes, and any signs of restlessness. Stuck skin must be removed right away. One remedy is to soak your lizard in a dish of warm water for a few minutes. For severe shedding problems, consult a vet. A vet can remove stuck skin and will treat wounds or cuts, as well.

Metabolic Bone Disease 

MBD is a common health condition in reptiles and other egg-laying animals. MBD is the lack of calcium in bones and may occur over time. Acute symptoms of MBD are bowed legs, a rubbery jaw, and kinks along the spine. Also, females that lay eggs, as well as live young like the Red Tegus, need increased calcium in their diets. This condition may be reversed by increasing vitamin D3 and calcium intake. You may use calcium supplements and a good UV lamp to improve vitamin D3 levels in the lizard’s body. 

Dehydration

Healthy tegus will drink a lot of water in a day resulting in about equal amounts of urine, but if a tegu is dehydrated, then it will suffer from complications. Usually, tegus become dehydrated because of not enough water, too high temperatures, dirty water, low humidity, and offering only distilled water. 

Signs that a tegu is dehydrated when its skin has lost elasticity, has dull or wrinkled skin, have dry and flaky skin, sunken eyes, sticky tongue, and dry mucous membranes. A dehydrated lizard will also exhibit weight loss, lack of energy, and loss of appetite.  

To treat dehydration, soak the tegu in a 50/50 solution of unflavored Pedialyte and water.  Your pet should have access to clean and fresh water daily. The correct temperature and humidity settings inside their tanks or enclosures.  

Obesity

This is a very common problem with tegus because these will eat almost anything they are offered. Their bodies should look muscular but streamlined. Specimens with disproportionate bodies may be classified as obese. 

Causes of obesity are frequent feeding, too much fat in the tegu’s diet, not enough exercise, a small enclosure, and low temperatures. Symptoms of obesity are decreased activity or laziness, huge jowls for males, heavy breathing, and a tail with a segmented appearance.

Prolapse

There are two kinds of prolapse: hemipenal prolapse, which is when one or both of the lizard’s hemipenes falls from the vent or does not retract. Cloacal or rectal prolapse is when the rectum falls from the vent and does not retract. The usual causes of cloacal and hemipenal prolapses include dehydration, large numbers of parasites in the gut, constipation or impaction, mating, egg-laying, and defecating. 

A tegu with prolapse should be taken to a vet that specializes in reptile care immediately.

Preventing Illness

The most important way to prevent illness is to keep the enclosure temperature and humidity at the best levels that promote tegu health. For smaller tegus kept inside a terrarium or enclosure, use the best lamp and a humidifier.

Leave a bowl of water inside the tank to enhance humidity inside the tank. The best humidity is important to improve overall health and to enhance shedding. You must keep your tank clean; a dirty tank can lead to the growth of bacteria, and this can affect the health of your tegu. A good cleaning product should be used. Don’t use products that contain chemicals that can harm your lizard.

Always quarantine new tegus, young or adult. These new pets may bring pests, mites, and parasites, so you must monitor its health before you introduce it to the main tegu tank. Wait till a week or a month to quarantine a new lizard.

Behavior

One way to better understand a red tegu is to get to know its many unique behaviors. Here are some of them

Docile lizards

Red tegus are docile, will get along humans, other pets, and children. Because of their docile nature, tegus are very common as first-time lizard pets. 

Can be trained like dogs

Red tegus can be trained to follow simple commands. Some handlers say that their pet red tegus can respond when called and will also follow them around. These lizards will love playing with young children, dressing them up, feeding them treats and just treating them like a baby.

A very rare red tegu is taking the internet by storm. He is an Argentine red tegu that was purchased as a baby lizard. From the time this lizard was first brought home, it’s owner taught it new tricks and has also created videos about the tegu.                                                                                                      

Female to female aggression

Females can live with other males but not with other females. During nest-making, females will exhibit aggressive behavior towards other females. She will bite and even kill other females (sometimes even males) that approach the nest. 

Female red tegus will continue its aggressive behavior long after the eggs are hatched, and the hatchlings leave the nest. 

Females very protective mothers

Females red tegus are ingenious; they will build nests made of moist soil that has two chambers to protect their eggs and eventually. It’s hatchlings. The first chamber is in the ground where she will deposit her eggs. The second chamber sits on top of the first, and this is where she will remain to guard her nest. 

Voracious eaters

Red tegus will eat anything that moves. It has a voracious appetite, which also causes specimens to grow and become obese. Handlers need to recognize this and to do all they can to keep their red tegus on a steady diet and to never overfeed them.                                                                                                      

Good diggers

Another quality of a red tegu is that this is a very good digger. It can dig up to several feet just to create tunnels and dens. This is why to construct their cages, the bars of the enclosure should have walls that are a few feet under the ground.  

Hibernation

This lizard hibernates. It will do so in the wintertime when it’s too cold to do almost anything. Before hibernation, the tegu will usually stock up on food. It will eat and eat and then look for a place to sleep or hibernate. After hibernation, the red tegu will come out of hiding and will be ready to mate in just a few weeks. 

Courtship and mating behaviors

Red tegus are similar to other types of lizards when it comes to courtship behavior. These lizards will bob their heads, sway their tails, chirp, and drag their undersides to attract the opposite sex. Male red tegus are very persistent and will pursue females by following her around. 

Shedding

Shedding in tegus happens in large flakes with younger lizards shedding more frequently than adult ones.  

Meanwhile, incomplete shedding may also happen with parts of the tail, hands, feet, and eyes shedding in smaller flakes, and skin may be hard to remove in some areas of the body. Usually, incomplete shedding could mean problems with humidity and metabolic conditions.

To treat incomplete shedding and to help shed properly, you must improve humidity levels inside the tank. You may also place your lizard in warm water for at least a few minutes to remove dead skin. Take your pet lizard to the vet for any problems with shedding.

Habitat

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For hatchlings and juveniles, the ideal tank size is a 20-gallon enclosure or terrarium. You may place one, two, or more lizards in the tank. Tegus will become very big lizards when they are in their adult phase; therefore, a large cage is a good idea. You can take the tegu out of its cage to roam around in your hard as long as you are there to keep a close watch.

Tegus are very good diggers, and if you’re going to make your cage for your pet, make sure that one tegu has a cage with least 4 feet x 2 feet wide area. The walls of the cage should be at least two to three feet deep under the ground because the tegu will likely dig its way out. Tegus also make tunnels where they can remain while it’s hot and also where they can sleep at night. 

You’ll be surprised as to how strong red tegus are because these can move even heavy tank or cage furniture. It can push logs, pots, dishes, and plants and rearrange them.  

Lighting, Humidity, and Temperature

The Red Tegu needs a good lighting system when kept inside an enclosure. Incandescent light is the best choice for a small tank or enclosure. High-powered lamps will do well for a larger tank. Use an under-cage heating pad to maintain tank temperature for a small cage. This will keep the tank interiors at 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, especially in the morning and 85 to 90 degrees at nighttime. You must also maintain humidity inside the enclosure by leaving a dish of water and to a spray of water. Spray water several times a day to ensure that the tank remains humid, especially when you’re keeping a hatchling or a juvenile lizard. Invest in a humidifier for a more accurate humidity reading.  

Tank Bedding and Accessories

For tank bedding, use bark or mulch. This will hold more moisture and allowing enhanced humidity. Dry cages can lead to dehydration and problems with shedding. Misting the cage with water should be done daily to improve humidity.  

The accessories inside the tank should be safe and must have no pointed edges which can injure then tegu. Your pet’s health is foremost, so don’t place heavy and complicated accessories.  

For the bedding or substrate, use paper for easy cleanings such as newspaper, butcher, or packing paper or paper towels. Also, a Red Tegu will hibernate during the winter months, so adding a secure and comfortable area where it can hibernate is essential.

Sanitation

Maintain your lizard’s cage with natural cleaning solutions. You can use homemade cleaners or commercially available cleaners for the tank and its accessories. Homemade cleaners like baking soda, lemon and vinegar are the most effective because these will not just remove dirt but will also remove odor, 

Another good idea is to use dishwashing soap, bleach, and water. Rinse everything before you place the lizard back inside the tank. Baking soda and lemon can clean and deodorize the tank. 

To use chemical cleaners, follow instructions carefully. Always rinse well with running water to remove any toxic ingredients. Use paper towels or a clean towel to dry walls, floors, and accessories. You must clean filters, humidifiers, and fans if you use these to maintain your lizard’s tank. 

Availability – Where to Get One?

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You can buy a Red Tegu from a pet store or an online reptile trade shop. Usually, shops sell only baby tegus, and rarely are adults sold. The price for a regular baby Red Tegu is around $200 to $300 depending on the size, color, gender, and age. You can buy tegus for a lower price if you purchase from a local breeder. 

Also, the cost of shipment and delivery can make a Red Tegu costly. This is why most pet owners decide to buy tegus from a local pet shop or directly from a supplier.

How to Care for a Red Tegu

Red Tegus should be cared for properly with the following techniques:

  • When your tegus are still small, keep these in a 20-gallon tank. Keep this tank humid to prevent illnesses, improve shedding, and to keep your lizard healthy and happy. If you have a bigger tank, use a humidifier to control humidity. 
  • Correct lighting also enhances humidity, so apply proper lighting conditions inside your tegu’s tank.
  • Place the tank in a quiet area when the lizard is asleep and during hibernation. Tegus are diurnal, find out your lizard’s preferred feeding time and sleeping time. 
  • As much as possible, feed the tegu before you clean its enclosure.
  • Change the substrate frequently to prevent mold, bacteria, and parasites. Soft soil can be used as a substrate to mimic the natural environment of the tegu.  
  • Hold your lizard early so it will trust you. Tegus may be trained like a dog using clicker training and reward training. You can train it to follow simple commands but be consistent.  
  • Don’t overcrowd the tank. Use a larger tank or enclosure. You may use smaller tanks for breeding.
  • Change the water inside the bowl. Keep the water fresh and clean. Never remove the bowl of water inside the tank because this can help enhance humidity.
  • Take your pet to a reptile specialist or an exotics vet regularly, especially when it’s sick.  
  • Always wash your hands before and after handling your tegu. Some lizards carry Salmonella parasite and may still look healthy.   

FAQ Section

Are red tegus dangerous?

Wild red tegus are aggressive in the wild and can bite and hiss when it feels threatened. However, captive red tegus are known to be docile. Some breeders and handlers say that their red tegus follow them around and will follow different simple commands like a pet dog.  

What do red tegus eat?

Red tegus are omnivores, which means that these can eat meat and plants. Small red tegus will eat small insects, worms, crickets, and small bites of fruits and vegetables while adults will eat larger pieces of food. 

How long do red tegus live?

Red tegus will live up to 15 to 20 years. Captive tegus are more likely to live longer compared to tegus in the wild because of possible predators and various environmental conditions that affect their natural habitat.  

Do red tegu lizards bite?

Yes, red tegus will bite if they feel threatened. But when you handle the tegu as a pet, then it is less likely to become aggressive and bite. 

Are red tegus nocturnal?

No, red tegus are diurnal. These can stay active in the morning and then sleep at night, but it’s best to explore a tegu’s routine to know when to feed it or take it out of its cage. 

How do you feed a red tegu?

Place the food inside a large shallow dish so that the tegu will just come over and eat.  Tame red tegus will eat food by hand or with the use of chopsticks, forks, and tongs.

Can red tegus jump?

Red tegus have very short legs and won’t jump, but these can use their legs to climb and to dig underground. 

Can tegus swim?

Red tegus are known to be very good swimmers. These will swim fast but will prefer to remain on land to hunt. If you have a pet tegu, you can use a large vat or basin for it to swim or just laze around.

How small is the smallest red tegu lizard?

The smallest red tegu can be as large as 2.5 feet in length. The largest can grow up to 4 feet in length.  

Do you need to provide heat inside a red tegu lizard enclosure?

Yes, whether your red tegu is small and living in a terrarium or a large adult and living in a cage, it still needs heat because these are lizards that can’t regulate its body heat. A reptile lamp is a good choice, and a powerful lamp is perfect for larger enclosures and cages.  

Will red tegus eat eggs?

Red tegus won’t eat its eggs but will eat the eggs of other animals. Female red tegus are protective of their eggs to the point that it will bite anything that it will think is a threat to its clutch of eggs. 

Is it safe to house male tegus together?

If an enclosure is large, male tegus can become territorial, but if the cage or tank is small, a male tegu will remain friendly with other tegus inside the cage. Females are a different story as these can become very aggressive, especially when it’s constructing its cage or guarding its nest of eggs. 

Do red tegus show aggressive behavior?

Yes, males can become aggressive towards other males when fighting over a large territory. Females can be aggressive to any tegu, male or female, as long as she perceives it as a threat to her eggs or babies.

Do red tegus have salmonella?

Red tegus are like other lizards and may harbor Salmonella. This is a parasite that can cause terrible signs and symptoms but does not affect the lizard. Frequent handwashing is very important when handling a tegu. 

Can red tegus eat canned food?

Yes, red tegus can eat canned food or canned dog food, but it’s best to feed it fresh food.

Will red tegus eat vegetables and fruits?

Yes, red tegus will eat veggies and fruits. These are omnivores and will eat meat and plants. 

How to take care of a tegu?

Take care of a tegu like you would care for a regular pet dog. Domesticated red tegus can be walked, taught tricks, fed and petted like a dog.

How large should a red tegu cage be?

Red tegus can grow as large as a 4 – foot lizard and as heavy as 19 pounds. A suitable cage has to be large, with ample space for sleeping, eating, and basking.  

Can other types of tegu be housed together?

No, you should never place different types of tegus together. Some kinds of tegus are aggressive, while some are docile. 

Are tegus good pets?

Red tegus make good pets and in fact, will be as good as a pet dog. These are docile creatures and will even learn how to perform tricks.s 

Will a red tegu recognize its owner?

Yes, red tegus are known to recognize their owners and may follow them around like a dog.

Will a red tegu handle cold environments?

No, red tegus cannot handle a cold environment. It will prefer a warm environment than a cold one because it is unable to regulate its body temperature efficiently.

How do red tegus sleep?

Red tegus sleep by huddling close to a heat source and closing its eyes. Some tegus will prefer to sleep away from the heat source while some sleep nearby.

How do red tegus drink?

Red tegus drink by slurping water from its water dish or by licking water droplets from the walls of the tank or enclosure. 

Do red tegus have teeth? 

Yes, red tegus have teeth that allow them to hold on to food and take a bite. Their bites are stronger than other lizards.

Can red tegus grow their tails?

Red tegus can’t lose their tails and grow them. This trait is exhibited by other lizards such as geckos but not tegus.

Are red tegus endangered?

No, red tegus are not listed on the endangered species list. Although some classify this as a species of concern because these lizards can reduce in the number unless their habitats are protected. 

Is a red tegu legal in my area?

Some countries and states do not permit the care of exotic animals like the red tegu. If you’re unsure about local laws and you would like to have a red tegu as a pet, check local animal councils in your area to verify. 

Can you successfully breed red tegus?

Red tegus can be bred in captivity only when careful consideration of their breeding behavior is done. Some breeders managed to successfully hatch red tegus using artificial incubation.

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