Argentine Black and White Tegu

Argentine Black and White Tegu

KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Squamata
FAMILY: Teiidae
GENUS: Salvator
SPECIES: Salvator merianae

LIFE SPAN: 20 Years
WEIGHT: 50 lbs

The Argentine black and white tegu is a large lizard native to South America. These lizards are popular as pets because they have unusually high intelligence and can also be house-broken. As hatchlings, these tegus have an emerald green color from the tip of their snout to midway down their neck with black markings. The emerald green becomes black several months after shedding. As a young tegu, the tail is banded yellow and black; as it ages, the solid yellow bands nearest the body change to areas of weak speckling. Fewer solid bands indicate an older animal. A tegu can drop a section of its tail as a distraction if attacked. The tail is also used as a weapon to swipe at an aggressor; even a half-hearted swipe can leave a bruise. The females are usually much smaller than males. They have beaded skin and stripes running down their bodies.

Distribution

Argentine black and white tegus are found in eastern and central South America. They live in tropical rain forests, woodlands, savannas, semi-deserts and in agricultural areas.

Habits and Lifestyle

Argentine black and white tegus are generally solitary and diurnal reptiles. They are terrestrial but young tegus are more arboreal and often spend the time in trees to stay safe from predators. Tegus usually spend their time basking in the sun to regulate their body temperature and foraging. During the winter months, they brumate (hibernation-like state), usually in groups. Tegus are capable of running at high speeds and can run bipedally for short distances. They often use this method in territorial defense, with the mouth open and front legs held wide to look more threatening. Tegus make good pets, as they tend to become acclimated to their owners and are generally quite docile as adults. They are intelligent and can even be house-broken. However, if they are not handled regularly, they show more aggressive behavior; their bite can be painful and damaging due to strong jaws and sharp teeth. Tegus do not produce venom. They will perform a threat display if they are upset or stressed. The first stage is huffing, or very heavy breathing, which means be careful. Then the animal starts lashing its tail, somewhat like a moving snake. In wild, after that tegus may stamp their front feet, this performance is also known as a “dance”. If these hints are ignored, then the tegu can charge and may bite.

Diet and Nutrition

Argentine black and white tegus are omnivorous. Juveniles in the wild consume a wide range of invertebrates, including insects, spiders, and snails. They also eat fruits and seeds. As they grow they become more predatory. They may seek out eggs from other reptiles and from birds’ nests and will eat small birds, vertebrates, insects and wild fruits.

Population threats

There are no major threats to Argentine black and white tegus at present. However, these lizards are hunted sometimes for their skin and meat. They are also collected for the commercial pet trade.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Argentine black and white tegu is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Argentine black and white tegus eat fruits and thus play an important role in dispersing seeds throughout the habitat they live in.

Virtual Tour

Supported by a grant from the Community Foundation of Collier County