Monitor lizards and tegu lizards are an example of two families of big lizards which evolved from a same ancestor, but are actually quite different from one another. They can both make excellent pets under the right care and conditions, but there are considerable differences in personality and husbandry requirements you should be aware of.
Differences Between Monitor and Tegu Lizards
|Tegu Lizards||Monitor Lizards|
|Generally larger in size (3.5-5 feet)||Generally shorter (2.5-4 feet)|
|Mostly omnivores||Mostly carnivores|
|Have large jowls and “chonky” appearance||Have long snake-like necks|
|Non-venomous||Have a venomous bite|
|Generally laid back and calm||Generally active and inquisitive|
|Easier to care for||Harder to care for|
Tegus and monitor lizards may look similar at first glance, but they are actually quite easy to tell apart. Adults can be easily distinguished from the look of their jowls and necks, which are more prominent in tegus (especially males), making them look like they have “fat cheeks”, whereas monitor lizards tend to have slim, snake-like bodies with long necks. Argentine tegus also tend to grow quite large in size compared to your average house monitor, although in the wild you will find species of monitor lizards which are twice as big as tegus.
Both tegus and monitor lizards are extremely smart and intelligent reptiles that are able to recognize their caregivers, respond to training and like to engage in playful activities. Tegus are generally considered more docile and “puppy-like”, while monitors can be a bit more “wild”. The latter species also takes its name from their naturally inquisitive nature, as they are extremely curious and have a tendency to stand on their legs and “monitor” their surroundings.
When it comes to diet, there a considerable differences in feeding habits between tegus and monitors. Most monitor species (as well as Colombian tegus) are prevalently carnivore, wich means they mostly feed on insects, eggs and small animals such as rodents. In the wild, some species of monitor lizards can even attack and prey on large animals such as deers and buffalos. The Argentine tegu, on the other hand, follows a omnivorous diet comprising meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables. Their feeding is a lot more varied and they have more of a scavenger than predatory behaviour, meaning they will eat just about anything you toss at them.
Overall, monitor lizards are more dangerous than tegus for a variety of reasons. First of all, their bite is venomous, although their venom is not fatal to humans. Unlike the vicious Komodo dragon, monitor lizards species which commonly kept as pets are very unlikely to seriously hurt a person, and there is only one documented case of a Nile monitor owner who was potentially killed and eaten by his pets (although it is more likely that the lizards started feeding on him after he died due to natural causes).
On the other hand, tegu lizards are considered very docile and rarely ever attack a human. Their bite is stronger than that of a monitor’s, but does not contain any venom, and because of their size it can be compared to the bite of a medium-sized dog.
Neither tegus nor monitors should be kept together with other medium-sized pets such as cats and dogs unless under close supervision, and you should never let your lizard near your hamster, bird or any small pet they may see as a natural prey.
Tegu or Monitor lizard as a pet?
Both tegus and monitor lizards can make for very rewarding pets to keep, but neither is easy to care for and they have very specific care requirements you need to look out for. If you are looking to adopt a big lizard, prepare for the fact that they can live for up to 20 years and will need lots of room, food and entertainment.
Overall, Argentine tegus (salvator merianae) and Red tegus (salvator rufescens) are the two species which are considered easier to keep in captivity and better suited for beginners. They can grow quite large in size which means they require a lot of room, but other than that, they are generally cheaper than monitors and easier to feed thanks to their varied diet, lower protein requirements, and the fact that they can eat “human” food as adults (e.g. raw chicken, fish, eggs) which you may have easier access to.
Monitor lizards on the other hand, are less popular as pets and their husbandry requirements are still largely misunderstood. This means that it’s much harder to find exact guides on how to care for them, and many owners are still left to guess what’s best for their pets. The taming process is also much longer and more difficult, and may never actually work. This is why caring for monitor lizards can be challenging and is only recommended to experienced reptile keepers.
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.