RWPZ Tegu.png

Tupinambis merianae

Order: Squamata

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Temperature guidelines:
  • Ambient range: 75-90 degrees F.
  • Basking spot: 95-110 degrees F.

  • 50-80%

Daily Husbandry:
  • Fresh water from the tap is fine. Remove any feces that appear. Monitor temps/humidity.

Weekly Husbandry:
  • Heavily mist holding area 3 times a week. Animal can be placed in a shallow tub of room temperature water twice a week for a soak. No need to soak longer than 15 minutes.

Monthly Husbandry:
  • Change out substrate completely.

Substrate/Water Quality:
  • Can use fresh tap water. Newspaper is too messy for this digging lizard. Cypress or coconut mulch, and aspen shavings are adequate. Unless you can give 12-20 inches of substrate depth, a hide box is important for this burrowing lizard’s well-being.

  • UVB is essential for this animal. Also high powered heat lamps are important to give this animal its high basking temps. Cycle should be 12L/12D.

Diet Requirements

  • This species is an omnivore. Feed 6 days/week with alternating days of appropriately sized rodents and fruit. Frequency of feedings subject to change.

Veterinary Concerns

  • It is important to soak this animal. The tegu at Roger William's Park Zoo came from the RISPCA and had been not properly cared for by his owner. He has many layers of shed on his tail that our keepers try to pull off after soaking when they can.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • The tegu at Roger William's Park Zoo is very food motivated. He is target trained and will walk on a harness. It is important to use tongs during training sessions as he is very fast and could easily bite. We never use food on programs or walks as we have no need to do such. His harness is a modified small dog harness.

Programmatic Information

Tips on Presentation

  • Because the tegu at RWP zoo is shown on a harness, it is important to interpret the harness properly. Many people think that because he seems so relaxed on walks that he would make a good pet. We always include information about humane education in presentations.

Tips on Handling

  • The tegu at RWP zoo will only tolerate being held for a minute tops. We really only pick him up to put him in his (very large) cooler. We include 2 heat discs if the outdoor temperature is below 50 degrees.
  • heat discs:
  • See the Tegu Handling Guidelines from the Roger Williams Park Zoo for more information on handling, presentation, and enrichment.

Potential Messaging

  • This is an impressive animal for rainforest presentations.
  • If you get your tegu from a local shelter, you can add in humane education talking points.

Acquisition Information

Tegus are often available from local shelters. However, they have a reputation for being aggressive. Be sure to meet the tegu and handle before adding to your collection.

Comments from the Rating System

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Geographic Range:
Tropical & subtropical Columbia, Venezuela, and Guyana through the Amazon Basin of Venezuela and Columbia along the larger rivers to Paraguay and northern Argentina.

Tropical rain forests, savannahs and flatlands with thorn bushes. Along rivers in hilly grasslands with subtropical trees. Also found on coastal, sandy areas with grass and trees.

Physical Description

ü Reaches a maximum length of 140 cm
ü Base color is blackish brown with a light blue sheen – along the back are numerous bands of yellow spots of various sizes. These bands extend to the tip of the tail. A series of irregular whitish yellow flecks cover the head, throat and limbs.
ü Pineal eye on top of head senses light & dark


ü Males follow female – hissing loudly and biting her tail.
ü Females often lay eggs in termite mounds where eggs are kept at a constant temperature and humidity is favorable to their development. After hatching, the young break out from the termite mound.
ü Clutches may consist of 4-32 eggs.
ü Eggs hatch within 152-171 days


ü Ground dwellers – often found in forest clearings
ü Dig own burrows
ü Excellent climbers & swimmers
ü Visually oriented - highly active, running, climbing, or swimming for a good portion of their lives and as might be expected from their level of activity some maintain high body temperatures for a reptile (up to 40*C).
ü At least nine genera with more than 110 living species.

Threats and Conservation Status

This species is rated as "Least Concern" by the IUCN ( for more information.)

Did you know…

  • ü The fossil record shows this family was more widely distributed in the past with upper Cretaceous fossils from Mongolia.


Contributors and Citations

  • Jen Rudolph- Manager of Ambassador Animal Programming- Roger Williams Park Zoo -- see our Info sheet for more!