Tegus are generally not aggressive and they prefer to use their tail to whip enemies and annoying caretakers. These lizards are however equipped with a set of very sharp, mammal-like teeth which they use to crush their preys whole when they eat.
A tegu bite can be deadly for small creatures, although humans do not usually have anything to worry about, since tegus do not grow large enough to be a threat.
As a matter of fact, a full grown tegu’s bite, whether coming from a pet or wild animal, is similar to that of a small dog and should be a cause of concern only as a possible cause of infection rather than due to the laceration itself.
Tegu bite force
Tegus have massive jaw muscles which allows them to attack prey with one of the strongest bites of any reptile. Unlike other lizards, tegus have a sharp set of teeth similar to those of mammals, and they are able to crush bones with relative ease when feeding. An adult tegu bite force can be as high as 1000 N or 250-300 psi pressure. By comparison, a human bite is around 285N or 150-160 psi.
While tegus bite stronger than other large lizards such as the komodo dragon, they are not generally considered dangerous to humans. This is because their bite is not venomous and they are not generally considered an aggressive species.
Much like crocodiles, tegus are capable of performing a so-called “death roll”, a move which consists in grabbing a prey with a strong bite and then spinning their body in mid-air at high speed. Captive tegus rarely demonstrate this behavior as they seldom have to hunt for food, and death rolls are usually done to attack live prey or as a form of defence from predators.
How to prevent a tegu from biting you
It is important for pet tegus to get used to their owner from a young age, during which they need to be tamed by means of regular handling.
Most tegu biting happens by accident during feeding, you can prevent this by using tongs to feed your tegu or providing food in a bowl or container. It is best to avoid hand feeding and to wash your hands after handling food in order to get rid of any food smell on your fingers. Some owners discourage live feeding in order to prevent your tegu from developing “hunting” skills.
Unlike other reptiles like snakes, tegus are opportunistic eaters who do not necessarily need to hunt, and you can still provide whole prey in their diet in the form of reptilink or frozen mice.
Keep also in mind that when your tegu turns 2 year old or so it will enter tegu puberty or so-called “guberty” (a.k.a. “terrible twos”), a period that can last several months during which it will be particularly unpleasant to interact with. If your tegu appears moody it is best to wear thick leather gloves when handling it, wear closed-toe shoes and avoid hand feeding during this period.
What to do if a tegu bites you
Tegus are not generally aggressive towards their owners, but accidents can happen. If you get bitten by your pet tegu, the first thing you should do is to assess the severity of the bite. Most of the time the tegu will leave a superficial skin wound which does not require any treatment other than a good wash with antibacterial soap.
If you are bitten by an adult tegu and the cut looks deep enough to require stitches, go to the nearest hospital and tell your doctor what happened. Tegu bites can be very serious and pose the risk of infection (even salmonella), so do not underestimate it!
Can a tegu bite off your finger?
A full grown tegu can technically bite off your finger, but you should not worry about your domestic lizard doing that, as tegu bites in captivity almost always occur by accident, your pet is unlikely going to bite your finger off and will stop biting as soon as it realizes you’re being hurt.
Wild tegus, on the other hand, can be aggressive. There is at leastone reported case of a man in Brazil having part of his finger lacerated after an encounter with an aggressive wild tegu which was having a fight with his dog. The man tried to save his dog but got bitten by the wild tegu in the process, with injuries to its finger down to the bone.
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.