Thinking of adopting a baby tegu? These lizards grow rather quickly and dramatically, with an adult male Argentine tegu reaching the size of a small dog (around 5 feet).
In the first two years of their life, however, juvenile tegus are tiny and vulnerable, and they require additional care in order to stay healthy and thrive.
If you have just adopted a tegu hatchling you are going to need to pay special attention to its environmental and dietary needs.
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Differences between baby tegus and adults
While adult tegus are mainly terrestrial, hatchlings and juvenile tegus are arboreal, spending much of their time climbing on trees in order to hide from predators (which include larger tegus!).
Physically, a young tegu does not really look much different from any other lizard, and they lack the typical “fat” jowls that distinguish adults from monitor lizards.
Their coloration is also different, young tegus often appear to be more green or orange compared to adults which may have black and white patterns (salvator merianae), gold and black patterns (tupinambis teguixin), or a “raw meat red” coloration (salvator rufuscens).
Handling and Taming
Because there’s no such a thing as imprinting for lizards, baby tegus won’t initially recognize you as their caretaker. In order to get them to trust you, you will need to interact with them regurarly and handle them as much as possible so that they stop seeing you as a potential predator. Many owners leave a used t-shirt in their tegu’s enclosure so that they learn to recognize their smell and associate it to “home”.
Juvenile tegus have a tendency to run from you but you need to be persistent in your handling. Try to pet and stroke them whenever it’s feeding time so that they are out of their hides, do not pull them out yourself and do not grab them by their tail or they will see you as a threat.
They may tail whip and perhaps even bite but at this young age they are unlikely to do any harm. When they reach “guberty” (at around 2 years of age) they might get moody and more aggressive than usual, it’s a good idea to put on some thick gloves when you are handling them because their bite may actually do some damage.
Baby tegus do not need as much caging space as adults, but because they grow quickly it may be more cost-efficient to house them directly in the enclosure they will stay in as adults. The size of the enclosure will depend on species, aim at at least 8x4x4 for Argentine black and white tegus, Chacoan tegus, and Red tegus.
A 6x3x3 enclosure may suffice for Blue tegus and Colombian gold tegus. Keep in mind that these are minimum size recommendations and that males tend to grow larger than females.
You will need to provide 12 hours of UVB light and adequate heat, with both a basking area and a cool off area, and make sure your tegu cannot accidentally touch the heat lamp as they climb. Humidity should be relatively high, especially for red tegus which are prone to skin and shedding issues (70-90% humidity is recommended).
Replace their water bowl daily and spray the enclosure with a mist bottle. The substrate you pick should also be deep enough for them to burrow. Cypress mulch, coconut shell, reptisoil are good choices.
Hides are particularly important for baby tegus as they are especially vulnerable to predators in the wild. Add logs and rocks to the enclosure so they can feel safer and reduce anxiety. Juvenile tegus are known for spending much of the day hiding.
Diet and Feeding
All baby and juvenile tegus, regardless of species, should be fed a diet high in protein in order to promote growth for the first two years or so. This can be achieved by initially feeding mostly insects such as cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, earthworms, mealworms, silkworms and snails. As their mouths grow larger, you may be able to start feeding them pinkies and reptilinks. Eventually, you can feed them raw chicken and turkey, raw or boiled eggs (with the shell), fish and shrimp; as well as vegetables and fruits such as carrots, bell peppers, squash, pumpkins, dandelions, strawberries, blueberries, apples, grapes, cherries, cactus pads and fruits.
|Juvenile tegus (0-2 years)||90% protein||10% fruits and vegetables|
|Argentine tegu (>2 years)||60% protein||30% vegetables, 10% fruits|
|Colombian tegu (>2 years)||90% protein||10% fruits and vegetables|
How often you need to feed your tegu depends largely on its age. Baby tegus should be fed daily and they will grow at a fast rate for the first couple of months. They can be fed 4-5 times a week when they are around 1 year old, and less sporadically once they reach sexual maturity (around 2 years).
|Hatchlings (0-6 months)||Feed every day|
|Juveniles (7-12 months)||Feed almost every day|
|Subadults (1-3 years)||Feed every other day|
|Adults (>3 years)||Feed twice a week|
Best foods for juvenile tegus
Farm bred insects:
- Dubia roaches
- Discoid roaches
- Snails (including shell)
Other whole prey:
Fish and seafood:
- All sorts of raw fish, cut in pieces
Eggs and poultry:
- Whole quail eggs (raw or soft boiled, with shell)
- Scrambled chicken egg served with shell pieces
- Ground chicken or turkey, dusted with calcium powder
- Chicken gizzards, heart and liver
- Greens (e.g. carrot, chicory, collard, dandelion, mustard greens)
- Squash (e.g. acorn, butternut, kabocha, spaghetti, yellow squash)
- Green Beans
- Green Peas
- Snap Peas
- Sweet peppers
- Berries (e.g. blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)
- Melons (e.g. casaba, cantaloupe, watermelon)
- Seedless grapes and dates
Foods to avoid
- Wild caught insects
- Processed meats
- Canned food that is high in sodium or sugar
- Azalea flowers
- Azalea leaves
- Buttercup flowers
- Marijuana leaves or flowers
Calcium supplements are especially recommended for all tegu lizards regardless of age and species. Choose a calcium supplement that is free of phosphorus and vitamin D3 and dust your baby tegus’s food with it once to twice per week.
Occasionally feeding whole prey smaller than your tegu’s mouth (e.g. insects, pinkies and shrimp or prawn) can also help provide calcium as opposed to ground meats. Finally, you may also gut load live insect prey with calcium and then feed them to your lizard.
Once a week, it is recommended to sprinkle or mix a multivitamin with your tegu’s food as well in addition to calcium, especially if your tegu does not get enough veggies and fruit in its diet.
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PetsWithScales.com is an informational website about big lizard pet care. We collect and provide information from different sources across the web on how to keep and care for reptiles as pets. The species we mainly deal with are tegus, monitor lizards, skinks and geckos. Our aim is to provide high quality information to help pet owners make better, more informed decisions about their animal’s diets, health and life.