Small Breed Rescue of Southern California

Animal Care

Animal Type:
Animal Breed:
Black and White Tegu

Black and White Argentine Tegu: Feeding, Housing, and Handling


Tegus need an enormous enclosure with lots of floor space, in the hundreds of gallons. While you can get away with a 40 gallon for a juvenile, tegus grow very fast and will quickly outgrow your tank. If you accept from the beginning that you need to start with a very large enclosure, you will save yourself a lot of money in the long run. If you cannot provide a large enclosure and also supplemental out of enclosure time, perhaps a tegu is not for you. Large enclosures are almost always custom built, so you will need to familiarize yourself with all the aspects of proper enclosure construction.  

Your enclosure needs to be ventilated but also secure. Tegus are intelligent and strong so they can easily exploit any deficiency you may have overlooked on their enclosure.

Tegus like to dig and burrow so provide a suitable substrate like mulch, sphagnum moss, coconut fiber all of which are resistant to mold and retain moisture well. Do not use things like sani chips, sand, or anything that may breed bacteria. Keeping a Tegu clean can be challenging enough. Remove any feces to keep the enclosure clean daily/weekly/as needed and do a complete substrate change every 2 months or as needed.

Your enclosure should have fresh water and if possible on that is large enough for your tegu to soak in but not deep enough that they may drown. Soaking is an important part of the shedding process and also helps to eliminate mites and keep them regular. Tegus also like to deficate in their water was make sure you have a way to frequently change the water. Incorporating a large filter can also help and tegus like the running water it creates.

Your enclosure needs to have a source of UVB lighting. UVB light regulates the synthesis of Vitamin D3, and it is Vitamin D3 that allows reptiles to properly absorb and metabolize calcium. Research has found both UVB and UVA light have many other benefits for reptiles as a whole, assisting the immune system, keeping the skin healthy, and with color vision. This is a big animal so you are going to need a lot of high powered UVB lighting. Consider going with the larger tube style florescent lights rather than the smaller spiral ones.

Your enclosure also needs a temperature regulated warm side of about 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit and cool side in the lower 70's. While tegus are semi warm blooded, capable of raising their body temp up to 20 degrees above ambient, it is essential that they are able to regulate their temperature based upon the environment. Too cold and they can no longer digest their food, too hot and they can overheat and die. Tegus, like to get their heat from above and below. We recommend under tank heat mats for glass enclosures or tile and Infrared ceramic or heat panel units for both wooden and glass habitats. You MUST run these with a thermostat regulator and you MUST make sure that the area of heat is the correct temperature. We recommend that you have a digital infrared thermometer to check the temps in different spots in the habitat regularly.

Your Tegu should also have a place to hide so they can feel safe. Most will sleep in this spot as well. Make sure their hide is sufficiently larger than they are. It is best to have a hide available at both the hot side and the cold side so that they can choose which one to be in based upon what is best for digestion and/or comfort. You can use the hide in the warm side as a platform that they can climb on to get closer to their heat source too.

In Summary:
- Make sure your enclosure is at least as 4 times long as the lizard so they can stretch out and run. Ideally for an adult that would be at least 8ft x 24in x 24in
- Make sure your enclosure has adequate ventilation but is also secure from escape.
- Provide a comfortable substrate that can absorb liquids and does not cause impaction.
- Provide fresh water, enough that your tegu can soak in.
- Make sure to provide a UVB light and heat source from above and below to help keep them healthy.
- Make sure to provide a temperature regulated heat source as well as a cool side to your enclosure.
- Have the tools to manage and check the temps.
- Make sure your tegu has a place to hide.

Diet and Feeding

What do Tegus eat?

Tegus are Omnivores which means they eat just about everything they come across that smells good and fits in their mouth. Most of what they eat are either small prey, carrion, or fruits that have fallen from the true and may be beginning to rot. Their diet is largely composed of meat with some fruits and vegetables. Boiled eggs are a favorite, make sure never to feed raw eggs though.

An important note about feeding:

It may be tempting to hand feed your tegu but this is a bad idea. Your tegu will associate your hand with feeding and may attempt to bite you whenever it sees your hands. This is an association that you want to avoid.

Safe Multi-Vitamins Do Exist?

The best multivitamin that we have found is Herptivite Multivitamin for Reptiles, because unlike other multivitamins it will not cause vitamin A poisoning. This is because it uses natural vitamin A which cannot poison reptiles, making it extremely healthy and safe for tegus. You will want to sprinkle this on their food at meal time.

How much should you feed your tegu?

  • Hatchlings (0-6 months) — 5x/week
  • Juveniles (7-12 months) — 4x/week
  • Subadults (1-2 years) — 3x/week
  • Adults (>2 years) — 2x/week

Portion size should be about the same size as the tegu’s skull. This is especially important with whole prey items; tegus don’t really chew their food, and can choke if given something too big. For safety’s sake, always offer whole prey slightly smaller than their skull. Like other pet reptiles, tegus are prone to obesity, which usually happens when they are fed too often or receive too many rodents, fatty meats, fruit, or human food. 

Aside from providing a variety of flavors and textures, a varied diet more importantly supplies a greater spectrum of nutrients than can be accomplished with a diet of “staples.” Therefore, it is your job as a tegu owner to provide as many different kinds of tegu food as possible.

What Bugs and Insects Do Juvenile Tegus Eat?

Baby Tegus will eat just about any insect that moves, however it is up to their owner to make sure that they only eat safe bugs. Below is a list of the most common bugs that owners will feed:

Black Soldier Fly Larvae
Butter worms
King worms
Phoenix worms
Wax worms
You should never feed bugs that you have found in your house or property because those bugs could contain parasites and/or pesticides that may cause negative health effects.

Should You Buy Crickets or Dubia Roaches?

Two of the most common feeder insects for reptiles are dubia roaches and crickets. While both crickets and dubia roaches are considered healthy for most reptiles, each insect has its own pro's and con's, which can make it a bit difficult for owners to choose the right insect for their needs. We have created a list of the pro's and con's for both crickets and dubia roaches below so you can better determine the best feeder insect for your needs.

Cricket Pro's:
They aren't roaches (which creep some people out)
Don't immediately hide/bury themselves
Have a softer shell

Cricket Con's:
Smell bad
Chirp and make sounds
Jump and can escape easier
Are more difficult to breed
Get dirty easily and can carry parasites

Dubia Roach Pro's:
Are quiet
Can't jump and rarely escape
Don't smell bad
Have a longer lifespan than crickets
Are very clean and don't carry parasites
Extremely easy to breed
Are more resilient and live longer than crickets

Dubia Roach Con's:
They will hide/stand still making it more difficult for reptiles to spot them
Takes longer to sort them by size before feeding
Their hard shell makes dusting them more challenging than crickets
They are roaches, which creep some people out

The Bottom Line - Both crickets and dubia roaches are healthy for reptiles that eat insects. If you're looking for the best insect for your reptile, we recommend dubia roaches because they are less likely to carry parasites and have twice the protein crickets do. However, reptiles can be picky eaters and some reptiles prefer crickets over dubias and vice versa so experimenting with both may be helpful if your beardie is a picky eater. Dubia Roaches

What Vegetables Do Tegus Eat:

There are many vegetables that are safe for tegus and most omnivorous lizards to eat. Below is a list of the most common staple vegetables that you can feed your tegu:

Acorn squash
Artichoke Heart
Asparagus (Raw)
Bell Peppers (Raw)
Bok choy
Butternut squash
Cabbage (Raw)
Collard greens
Cucumber (Peeled)
Lentils (Cooked)
Mustard greens
Okra (Raw)
Spaghetti squash
Turnip greens
Yams (Raw)
Zucchini (Raw)
Yellow squash

What Fruits Do Tegus Eat?

Besides plants and insects, tegus will also eat fruit. The following list of fruit is safe for you to feed your tegu. 

Watermelon (no seeds)

Warnings About Feeding:
Many reptiles can sometimes accidentally ingest the substrate around the food they're eating. Because of this, it is not recommended to feed smaller reptiles in tanks with loose substrate. Usually older larger reptiles are more accurate with eating and have an easier time dealing with the little substrate they may occasionally ingest, however you will need to keep this in mind with younger ones.

Foods to Avoid:
To keep your tegu healthy you will need to make sure they stay on their diet. There are also some foods which are unhealthy for them or lethal for them to eat. Make sure they do not eat any of the below items:

Do not feed: Avocado, azalea flowers/leaves, broccoli, buttercup flowers, eggplant, lettuce of any kind, marijuana or hemp leaves, onion, rosemary, sage, or spinach. 

Iceberg Lettuce - Since lettuce is mostly water it is not nutritious. Because of this it is best to avoid feeding your tegu lettuce or any greens with the word "lettuce" in the name.

Spinach - Spinach is also another food to avoid. While spinach is healthy, calcium binds easily to it which can make it hard for your tegu to digest.

Insects Captured in the Wild - Never feed your tegu any insects you catch yourself. The insects you catch probably have parasites on them and contain trace amounts of pesticides, both of which can make your tegu sick.

Fireflies or Insects that Glow - If a bug or insect glows in the dark, then do not feed it to your reptile. Even one of these bugs can be lethal to an adult lizard.

Avocados - Do not feed your reptile avocados. They are toxic, but their toxicity levels are unknown; however, they are deadly for birds.


Note that whole prey items will always be superior to meat products, as they contain more complete nutrition (especially calcium!).

  • Beef heart supplemented with calcium
  • Chicks (chicken and quail)
  • Ground chicken/turkey mixed with calcium powder
  • Eggs, with shell (raw or boiled)
  • Fish (human-grade, whole)
  • Crayfish/crawdads
  • Shrimp
  • Frogs (human-grade)
  • Mice
  • Rabbit meat, parts, or kits (babies)
  • Rats
  • Hamsters
  • Gerbils
  • Snakes (nonvenomous, F/T)

Frozen whole prey items must be prepared correctly before feeding. Thaw it out in the fridge the night before feeding day, then about 15-30 minutes before feeding, stick the prey in a BPA-free plastic bag like a Ziploc and submerge in warm, almost hot, water. The body temperature of a mouse is similar to a human’s, so you’ll want the prey to be about 98-100°F before offering it to your tegu. You can check the temperature with your temp gun.

A quick note about eggs — Raw eggs contain an enzyme called avidin, which decreases a tegu’s ability to absorb biotin (vitamin B7). When a reptile can’t absorb biotin, it can cause skin, scale, and shedding issues. Fortunately, cooking neutralizes this enzyme.

A quick note about fish — some fish contain an enzyme called thiaminase. Thiaminase destroys a reptile’s stores of vitamin B1 (thiamin). Over time, this can cause thiamin deficiency. Thiamin deficiency causes neurological damage and even death if not caught in time. Cooking the fish neutralizes this enzyme.

Fish that contain thiaminase include: bass, catfish, goldfish, herring, mackerel smelt, tuna, and whitefish. 

Dog/Cat Food

Believe it or not, dog and cat food is also good for tegus (as a part of the rotation in a varied diet, of course — whole prey will always reign supreme)! Cat food is best used with Colombian tegus and young Argentine tegus, and dog food is good for adult Argentine tegus.

Make sure to use canned food rather than kibble (although kibble is alright occasionally if water is added), and avoid formulas containing artificial colors/flavors. Grain is fine as long as the formula is high-quality and not too high in carbohydrates. The claim that grain-free dog food is best is largely unsubstantiated and may even be harmful, although that claim is still being investigated.

We recommend the following brands and flavors as being ingredient safe:

Here are some brands known to be reliable but you must check the ingredients and many may have potatoes, spinach, or other undesirable ingredients . Brands marked with an asterisk (*) are raw diets complete with bone and organ meat for whole prey nutrition.

  • BARF*
  • Carnivora*
  • Castor & Pollux
  • Darwin’s
  • Eukanuba
  • Evolution Naturally
  • Halo
  • Hills Science Diet
  • Instinct: Original Grain Free
  • Forthglade
  • Merrick - Backcountry Real Chicken Dinner - We have only found one type of this canned food which doesn't contain potatoes or spinach
  • Nature’s Variety
  • Nature’s Menu (Country Hunter)
  • Primal*
  • Purina
  • Raw Bistro*
  • Royal Canin
  • TruDog*
  • Wellness CORE
  • Whole Earth Farms
  • Zignature - we have found that the guenea fowl, duck and turkey versions offer the best ingredients

Ideally the food should contain as much of the whole animal as possible (meat, bones, and organs), which is why I love raw dog food diets. If you have a question about the safety of a certain brand/formula, check

On the Subject of Water

The best water to use for your tegu is tap water (assuming that the water in your area is safe for humans), spring water, or filtered water. Not distilled or softened. Here’s why.

A large water bowl should be provided, preferably large enough for your tegu to be able to soak its entire body comfortably. Plastic tubs work great for this! Aside from being a source of hydration, this also helps maintain humidity and provides a place to soak while in shed.

Water should be changed every 2-3 days, or whenever it gets dirty. And since tegus have the endearing habit of also using their water bowl as a toilet, be sure to disinfect it weekly with a veterinary disinfectant like Chlorhexidine or F10SC. Use either chemical as directed by the label.


Tegus in general can be tamed very easily. A Tegus bite has some extreme force so always be cautions and aware. There are a few do's and don'ts.

  • Do not manhandle your tegu. While you may be able to subdue your tegu by strength it can also damage the trust you work so hard to build.
  • To pick up a Tegu, bring your hand to their level and pick them up gently and slowly, supporting their body weight with your palm.
  • Never pick up a tegu by the tail or legs.
  • Allow your tegu to hold on to your hand. In time they may become comfortable trusting you by relaxing their feet, but initially they need to be able to hold onto you.
  • Tegus like to watch their surroundings, so they can be comfortable using you as a lookout point and may prefer to be on your chest/shoulder. In the wild, large birds are natural predators to smaller tegus so you may find your tegu gets nervous in open spaces, especially with a view of the open sky.