Argentine Black and White Tegu

a close up of an Argentine Black and White Tegu's head

Argentine Black and White Tegu are native to South America. Their name suggests that they’re from Argentina, but they’re also from Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. They are very fast growing, and can reach lengths of 5 feet and weigh as much as 20 pounds. 

Because they’re large lizards they’ll need a bit more care than other lizards will. Most owners end up building them an enclosure because it’s pretty difficult to find one large enough for them. While they start out small, they get really big, really fast. Many families aren’t prepared for how fast they’ll grow, or how big they’ll get.

If you have time to give them the care they need, and the space they need, you’ll find that Argentine Black and White Tegus are great pets that just want to fit into your family like a dog or a cat would.

As great as these lizards are, we don’t recommend them as the first lizard you bring home. We make this recommendation because of their space requirements, how large they will quickly get, and all of the upfront costs associated with them. Already lizards are one of the most given up pets in the country. We want to make sure people know what they’re getting into before they bring home any pet.

If you decide that an Argentine Black and White Tegu is the right pet for your family you can expect to pay between $200 and $500 for them. Price seems to be all over depending on where you live in the US, as well as how available they are where you live.

Argentine Black and White Tegu Information

  • Average Length: 3.5 to 5 feet
  • Average Weight: 15 to 20 pounds
  • Skin Appearance: Beaded
  • Skin Colors: Black and White with dots and stripes
  • Grooming Needs: Low Need
  • Shedding: Once every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No tolerance to cold
  • Good Pet: They allow people to hand them, so yes! 
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Respiratory Infections, Metabolic Bone Disease, Calcium and Phosphorous Deficiency and Parasitic Infections
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 15 to 20 years

Physical Appearance of Argentine Black and White Tegus

an Argentine Black and White Tegu walking across the grass

Argentine Black and White Tegus are long lizards that grow up to 5 feet long. Females are shorter and normally only grow up to 3.5 feet long. Hatchlings are born 7 to 10 inches long, but they grow very fast. In less than a year they’ll grow to 75% of their adult size.

Argentine Black and White Tegus lizards have a heavy build with powerful legs and long tails. Males look physically different than females because they have bulky cheeks.

They have a fork-shaped tongue. Their tongue is similar to a snake’s because it lets them smell and sense predators with it.

Their skin has black and white patches and stripes all over their body. Baby Tegus may have green between their head and neck. The green color gradually fades into black and white as they get older.

Temperament of Argentine Black and White Tegu

Argentine Black and White Tegus are calm, friendly and intelligent lizards. They are active during the day and like to spend their time basking or looking for food.

They are affectionate and form strong bonds with their family but handling adult Argentine Black and White can be difficult because of their size. We recommend you start handling your Tegu from a young age to get them comfortable with you. Frequent handling from a young age will make them receptive to your handling when they grow. Because of the strong bonds they form with their family, many owners say they’re similar to owning a cat or a dog.

Baby Tegus usually don’t bite and will only run away if they feel scared.

Argentine Black and White Tegus might go into brumation if the weather gets too cold. During this period they will usually not eat and spend most of their time basking or sleeping. The brumation period can last between 3 to 6 months. If they are not losing weight and their skin looks healthy, then everything should be fine.

Their Compatibility with Children

an Argentine Black and White Tegu walking across a tree that's laying in the grass

Tegus can be great pets for kids. The problem is that in a fairly short period of time they get pretty big, and kids don’t grow nearly as fast. With the right boundaries, and supervising younger children while playing with the Tegu everyone can have a lot of fun.

Anyone handling or touching Argentine Black and White Tegus should always wash their hands after being around them. Most lizards are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should keep your children from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses from your monitor lizard.

Living Space for Argentine Black and White Tegu

Because of their size they need a large enclosure. A large reptile enclosure or a custom built enclosure will be needed. Beginner reptile owners might find it difficult to maintain a large enclosure.

Glass enclosures are good for Argentine Black and White Tegus, if you can find them large enough.

Enclosure/Cage Size

While hatchlings can be housed in a small 20-gallon tank. They grow fast and will need a larger enclosure in just a few months. Tegus usually reach 75% of their adult size within a year and it might just be easier to start with a large enclosure.

We recommend a minimum enclosure size of 8’L x 4’W x4’H is recommended for an adult Argentine Black and White. Females are shorter and can be kept in a slightly smaller enclosure.

Substrate

an Argentine Black and White Tegu that's in the grass with their head raised so they can look at something

Argentine Black and White Tegus like to burrow and will need a deep substrate. While hatchlings are fine with a 4-inch deep substrate, adults will need an 8 inch deep substrate.

Good substrate options are coconut coir, sand, soil or cypress mulch. These substrates will let your Tegu burrow and are good at retaining moisture.

Don’t use a substrate that is dusty because these can be toxic for your Argentine Black and White Tegu.

Decorations

Logs or boxes make great hiding spots for your Argentine Tegu. The hiding spots should be kept damp by adding wet sphagnum moss. A damp environment inside the hiding spot will help your Tegu when they shed their skin.

All the decorations used should be strong enough to support your Argentine Black and White Tegu’s weight. If they fall off of something they could get hurt.

Best Climate for Argentine Black and White Tegu

Your Argentine Black and White Tegu’s enclosure should have separate warm and hot areas. Place the heat source on one side of the enclosure to create separate warm and hot areas. Reptile heat mats, ceramic heat emitters or red bulbs can be used as heat sources to create a heat gradient. 

Temperature

an Argentine Black and White Tegu walking through some sand and rocks with their tongue out looking for prey

On the warm side, the temperature should be kept between 75°F to 80°F. The temperature in the basking spot should be around 110°F.

Humidity

Black and White Tegus need a high humidity kept between 75 and 90 percent. Regular misting will help keep humidity higher. If maintaining a high humidity is difficult, automatic misters are available and can regularly mist your Tegu’s enclosure.

Lighting

UVA and UVB lighting should be added to your Argentine Black and White Tegus’s enclosure. The light should be kept on for 10 to 12 hours a day. Many families will set up a timer to turn the lights on and off in the enclosure so they don’t forget.

Water Source

A water dish large enough for them to soak should be kept inside their enclosure. The water dish will help them shed their skin and keep the enclosure humid.

The Attention an Argentine Black and White Tegu Needs

You’ll want 2 thermometers inside their enclosure, one on the warm and the other on the hot side. A hygrometer should be added to monitor the humidity levels.

Argentine Black and White Tegus are aggressive with their food and should not be handled when they have food inside their enclosure.

Health Issues

Parasitic Infections

Intestinal Parasites like roundworms, hookworms or pinworms can cause serious health issues in reptiles. In mild cases, the disease may not show symptoms but in severe cases it can result in:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioral issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Loose Stool
  • Throwing up food

Captive lizards generally contract parasitic infections from other infected reptiles, contaminated food or objects. Regular cleanings to their enclosure can reduce the chances your reptile will be infected from parasites in their environment. Take your pet to your vet if they have the above symptoms.

Parasitic infections have the potential to destroy the digestive tracts of your turtles and must be treated as soon as signs are noticed.

Mites

Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off the blood of your reptile, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times they will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another pet.

Symptoms of mites on your reptile:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your reptile or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your reptile

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets is key to not spreading mites from pet to pet.

Ticks

Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your lizard as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your reptile. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your reptile to die.

Symptoms of ticks on reptiles:

  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Long soaks
  • Weight loss
  • Red spots or deformities on their skin

Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their skin people will be suspicious of either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are and with a close inspection of your reptile you should be able to spot them pretty easily.

The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your lizard, rub it with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your reptile might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Grooming and Care

Spot clean the substrate and the walls of their enclosure daily. A deep clean should be performed once a month.

Clean the water dish and replace the water every day.

Feeding An Argentine Black and White Tegu

a pile of mealworms are great food for an Argentine Black and White Tegu

Argentine Black and White Tegus are omnivores and they can eat meat, insects and fruit.

Juveniles should only be fed crickets, waxworms and mealworms. The insects should be gut-loaded before feeding them to your Tegu. Gut loading involves feeding nutritious food to the feeder insects. When your lizard consumes the feeder insects the nutrition passes on to them.

As your Tegu grows you can start feeding them pinkie mice and gradually adult mice. In addition to meat-based food adult Tegus should be fed a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Younger Argentine Black and White Tegus should be fed every day while adults should be fed once every 3 days. Your Tegus may not eat anything if they are in brumation.

Tegus are aggressive with their food and should be fed carefully with tongs to keep them from biting you.

Any uneaten food should be removed from their enclosure after a few hours.

Related Questions:

Is it Legal to Keep Argentine Black and White Tegus as Pets?

Some states like Florida and Alabama have banned keeping Argentine Black and White Tegus as pets. Possession of Tegus in these states is restricted to research and educational purposes. In Florida these lizards are considered invasive and can be legally killed in the state if found in the wild.

We recommend finding out about your local laws before getting a Tegu as a pet.

What are Other Common Names of Argentine Black and White Tegu?

These Tegus are also called Argentine Giant Tegu or Black and White Tegu.

How Many Types of Tegus are There?

There are over 400 different species of Tegu lizards but only around 9 types are commonly kept as pets. Colombian Black and White Tegu, Purple Tegu, Argentine Red Tegu, Crocodile Tegu and Chacoan White Headed are a few commonly kept pet species.