Tegu lizards are curious animals originally from South America which are essentially dog-sized lizards with tongues like those of a snake.
They have been introduced to other parts of the world via the exotic pet trade, because they are somewhat docile in captivity and can even become somewhat affectionate under the right circumstances.
Yet, not many people know much about them. Below, five curious facts you may not know about tegus.
1. They are not monitors
Tegus may look like a chonky version of a monitor lizard, but they are actually a separate species. Tegus and monitor lizards share a common ancestor which means they are in fact distant relatives, but they are an example of divergent evolution.
While both tegus and monitor lizards are highly intelligent animals, tegus are generally considered more docile and easier to tame than monitors, which are more aggressive and can be difficult to handle. In addition, all species of monitor lizards are venomous, whereas tegus do not have venomous bites.
2. They can climb
All baby tegus are arboreal and spend most of their life on trees when they are young. As they reach maturity after 2-3 years, they become territorial and prefer to spend time on the ground.
They can still climb, however, they just prefer not to. In the Amazon basin, adult female gold tegus will often climb on trees to find a termite nest where they can lay their eggs. Hatchlings who are born on a tree will stay on it and feed on insects until they are old enough to descend on land.
3. They can swim, too
Most tegu species are adapted to living in terrestrial environments and are not particularly fond of water. However, they are capable of swimming if the need arises. This ability is likely related to the fact that tegus are found in a variety of humid environments, such as rainforests and savannas, which may be prone to flooding. In order to survive in these environments, tegus have evolved the ability to swim in order to avoid predators, find food, and escape dangerous situations.
While most tegu species are not particularly aquatic, there are some rare species, such as the Caiman Lizard, that are more comfortable in and around water. These lizards are found in areas near bodies of water, such as swamps and marshes, and are known to be strong swimmers, climbers, and burrowers.
4. Their tails grow back
Like many other lizards, tegus can drop their tail when they feel threatened by a predator or if it gets stuck somewhere it shouldn’t. After losing their tail, a new one starts generating in its place, although it will look totally different!
A bizarre case was observed in Argentina where a tegu has been observed growing not one, but five different tails at the same time. This likely happened because its original tail was partially injured but did not successfully detach from its body, which started growing new ones to replace it.
5. Males have chonky jowls
Male tegus, and particularly male Red Tegus, have characteristically large “cheeks” which at times can give them a chubby appearance. This is due to a combination of large pterygoid muscles for chewing food and testosterone-fueled muscle development.
The purpose of tegu jowls is then to allow the lizard to consume large amounts of food, as well as appearing “stronger” in the wild. In captivity, the “fat cheeks” may sometimes be mistaken for a sign of obesity, but this is often not the case.
6. They are increasingly popular as pets
Tegus are popular as pets due to their intelligent and curious nature, and they can be quite affectionate with their owners. Tegus make great pets because they are intelligent animals and can be trained to do a variety of tricks, such as coming when called and following basic commands. They can also be taught to recognize their own name and respond to it.
However, they can also be quite large and require a significant amount of space and resources. It is important to do your research and understand the needs of a tegu before deciding to get one as a pet.
7. They eat just about anything
Tegus have a high metabolism and require a diet that is high in protein and fat. In the wild, they eat a variety of insects, small mammals, and birds, as well as fruit and vegetables. In captivity, they can be fed a diet of commercial tegu food, insects, and vegetables. It is important to provide your tegu with a varied diet in order to ensure that it gets all of the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
8. They can live for a long time
Tegus can live for a long time, with some individuals living for over 20 years. They have a relatively slow growth rate and do not reach sexual maturity until they are around 3-4 years old. Once they reach sexual maturity, they become territorial and may become aggressive towards other tegus. It is important to provide your tegu with enough space and resources in order to prevent aggression and ensure that it stays healthy and happy.
9. They can be found in a variety of habitats
Tegus can be found in a variety of habitats, including rainforests, grasslands, and savannas. They are native to South America and can be found in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Many species of tegu lizards are also found in other parts of the world as a result of the exotic pet trade. It is important to understand the natural habitat and needs of a tegu in order to provide it with the best possible care.
10. Some people eat them
Tegus are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, particularly in rural and local communities in South America, where they are traditionally hunted and eaten.
In countries such as Argentina and Brazil, where tegus are native, their meat is often served in a variety of dishes, such as stews and soups. It is also sometimes served with rice or other grains.
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.