Monitor and Tegu Lizard Care Sheet
Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.
Care recommendations cover a variety of species, including:
Savannah monitor – Varanus exanthematicus
Tegu lizard – Tupinambis sp
Savannah monitors are medium-size, stocky-bodied lizards native to the hot, rocky deserts and woodlands of eastern and southern Africa, where they scavenge for small prey. Tegus are large, stocky lizards native to the rainforests, savannahs and grasslands of South America. There are several species of tegus, including the Argentinian tegu of Argentina, the black and white tegu of Colombia, and the blue tegu and the yellow tegu of Brazil and neighboring regions. Blue and yellow tegus are exceedingly rare and not typically kept as pets. Tegu lizards and Savannah monitors are very large, require a lot of space and attention to keep and are not recommended for beginners.
Typical appearance and behavior
- Are moderate-size lizards who grow quicky, reaching full size (3 to 6 feet) in three years
- Have gray- to beige-colored bodies with lighter beige spots on their backs and beige to yellow rings down the length of their tails
- Have wide heads, short necks and long, blue, deeply forked tongues
- Males and females look very similar
- They tend to be more docile and easily trained than other monitors and are popular as pets
- With gentle daily contact and slow movement, a monitor can usually be tamed over time
- Despite their mild temperament, they have a strong bite, can scratch with their long nails and whip with their tails
- When threatened, they will puff out their necks, hiss, stand on their hind legs and snap their tails; do not handle them when they exhibit this behavior
- These medium-size, muscular lizards have shorter, thicker necks than monitors and tapering snouts with tongues that are less deeply grooved than those of monitors
- Intelligent and prone to escape
- Are capable of running very fast
- Males are larger than females, reaching 4 to 5 feet in length, and have large jowls (skin under their necks)
- With daily handling, these lizards often bond closely to and enjoy interacting with pet parents and may even come when called
- When a predator grabs them by the tail, they can release, or “drop,” their tails as a defense mechanism to escape
- Tegus’ appearance varies by species:
- Argentine tegu – The most popular pet tegu, they tend to bond closely with their pet parents once acclimated. They have black skin with white splotches and bead-like scales
- Colombian black and white tegu – Smaller than the Argentine tegu with smoother skin
- Blue tegu – From Colombia, Brazil and surrounding areas, they are rarely kept as pets. They are smaller than Argentine tegus and have blue-tinged skin
- Yellow tegu – From Brazil, this protected species is one of rarest tegus. They have yellow bodies and black facial markings
|Average Life Span||Up to 10+ years with proper care, depending on the species|
|Average Adult Size||3-6 feet, depending on the species|
|Diet||Savannah monitors: Carnivores
|Minimum Habitat Size||50-gallon tank for a single juvenile
6’L x 3’W x 6’H habitat for a single adult
Savannah monitors and tegus are medium-size lizards who require large habitats when kept as pets. A single juvenile can be housed in a 50-gallon tanks for their first six months. The minimum size habitat for one adult is 6’L x 3’W x 6’H. Provide the largest habitat possible and upgrade habitat size as the lizard grows. Ensure the habitat is secure as these lizards are escape artists. Tightly fitting screen lids allow ventilation and help prevent escape, but they should be plastic-coated so your pet can’t hook their sharp claws. Locking doors are recommended, as adults may aggressively try to escape. Monitors and tegus should be housed individually.
Depending on the species, these lizards reach adult size in two to five years.
Building your habitat
- Décor - While monitors and tegus are generally ground-dwellers, they do like to climb low décor; a few commercially available long, sturdy branches, driftwood, hollow logs, hide boxes and large rocks are recommended. Décor should be horizontally oriented, as these lizards are not agile climbers. They need a great deal of space to move around, so be careful not to overcrowd the habitat. They also enjoy digging and burrowing so should have dig boxes containing deep substrate (12 to 24 inches deep) in which they can dig and bury. Some tegus and monitors enjoy piles of straw or hay in their habitats to walk through and dig in
- Humidity - Maintain 70 to 80% humidity for tegus and 50 to 60% for Savannah monitors by misting as needed every day. Larger enclosures may require more automated misting with a fogger, misting system or humidifier. Provide a tub or kiddie pool of shallow water that is large enough for the lizard to soak in and to help maintain humidity through evaporation. Monitor humidity with a humidity gauge
- Substrate - Cypress mulch, sphagnum moss, pelleted paper-based bedding and coconut fiber can be used as substrate, as they absorb moisture and help maintain humidity, Substrate should be moist but not wet, or lizards can develop skin and respiratory tract infections. Wood shavings should be avoided, as they have oils that irritate the skin and respiratory tract and are indigestible if eaten. Substrates such as sand and soil are also indigestible. Lizards may develop life-threatening gastrointestinal tract obstructions if they consume indigestible substrates. Consider feeding lizards in a separate enclosure without bedding to lessen the chances of developing an obstruction. Reptile carpet should be avoided, as it can entangle their long claws and get moldy. Substrates should be deep enough (4 inches for a juvenile and 8 to 12 inches for an adult) to allow digging and burrowing
- Temperature – Provide a temperature gradient (90 to 95°F for the warm end and 75°F for the cool end/nighttime) so these lizards can self-regulate their body temperatures. Basking temperatures should reach 100 to 120°F.. Monitor temperatures with at least two thermometers—one in the cool zone and the other in the hot (basking) zone. Heat may be provided by an incandescent bulb or ceramic heat bulb. Heat sources should be attached to thermostats to regulate temperatures. Hot rocks should not be used as a heat source, as they can burn reptiles. Use a nocturnal or red bulb to provide heat at night, if necessary
- Lighting - While these lizards get calcium and vitamin D from eating whole prey, they benefit from full-spectrum ultraviolet (UV)B rays for 10 to 12 hours a day. This exposure to UVB rays enables them to make vitamin D in their skin so that they can absorb dietary calcium. An incandescent day bulb, along with a UV bulb, also provides clear distinction between day and nighttime for diurnal lizards to perform their normal behaviors. Change UV bulbs every six months, as their potency wanes
Cleaning your habitat
Thoroughly clean and disinfect water and food bowls daily. The habitat should be spot-cleaned daily to remove droppings and discarded food. Thoroughly clean the habitat at least once a week:
- Place the lizard in a secure habitat
- Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
- Rinse the tank and all furnishings thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
- Dry the tank and furnishings and add clean substrate before putting lizard back into the habitat
Both Savannah monitors and tegus should eat:
A variety of insects, including gut-loaded (recently fed) crickets, mealworms, roaches, superworms, calci-worms, hornworms, earthworms and silkworms. Feed waxworms less often, as they are high in fat
- Frozen, thawed rodents—fuzzy, pinkie and adult mice or small rats, depending on lizard size and body condition— may be fed occasionally
- Commercially available diets for carnivorous reptiles are available for both Savannah monitors and tegus
- Both tegus and monitors can be offered small amounts of cooked eggs and small amounts of fish or cooked lean meat
As tegus are omnivores, they can also be offered small amounts of fresh fruit such as berries, melon, apples and occasional bananas. Feeding fruit, however, should be limited to prevent obesity.
Things to remember when feeding your tegu or monitor:
- Fresh, clean water should be available all the time
- Avoid high-fat foods such as dog and cat food, as these lizards easily become obese, and dog and cat food do not have the ideal calcium and phosphorus balance for a reptile
- Adult tegus should eat more rodents and fewer insects and other foods
- Do not use a microwave to defrost frozen rodents, and do not prepare them in the same area that you prepare food. If it is unavoidable, be sure to thoroughly disinfect the area. See the Feeding Frozen/Thawed Foods care sheet for more information
- Feed juvenile tegus and monitors two to three times per week and adults one to three times per week, depending on their body condition (with thin lizards eating every other day and obese lizards eating only once a week)
- Place live insects in the habitat so that lizards can forage for them and get exercise
- Vary the diet as much as possible for nutritional balance and to help keep lizards interested
Sprinkle food with calcium supplement daily and a multivitamin supplement once a week
Lizards regularly shed their skin in patches. Most lizards shed every four to six weeks. Before shedding, they may become a duller color. After shedding, many lizards eat their shed skin to prevent predators from knowing they are present. Ensure the humidity of the habitat is at the appropriate level to allow proper shedding. To facilitate shedding, provide a container of shallow water in which the lizard can immerse their entire body. Mist frequently during shedding to help maintain elevated humidity levels and provide a shedding box—a hide box filled with moist sphagnum moss—to aid in the shedding process. Be sure to change the moss frequently so that it doesn’t become moldy
Where to buy
In store only Savannah monitors and tegus are available for purchase at your local Petco Pet Care Center. Please call ahead to check availability.
- Appropriately-sized habitat
- Commercial Monitor or Tegu food
- Sphagnum moss
- Food and water dish
- Mealworm dish
- Hideaway place
- Climbing décor
- Heat light
- Heat fixture
- Multi-vitamin supplement
- Calcium supplement
- Cricket keeper
- Cricket food
- Cricket quencher
- Humidity gauge
- UVB lighting and fixture
- House adult tegus and monitors separately
- Do not house different reptile species together
Signs of a healthy lizard
- Active and alert
- Clear, bright eyes with no swelling or discharge
- Full, muscular body and tail
- Supple skin with no sores, swellings or discoloration
- Droppings are firm, not runny or bloody
- Eats and passes stool regularly
- Clear nose and vent
Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)
- Weight loss or decreased appetite
- Discharge or bubbles from eyes, mouth or nose
- Lesions, swelling or discoloration of skin or retained shed
- Sneezing, runny nose, difficulty breathing
- Weakness or paralysis of limbs
- Runny or bloody stool or lack of stool
Common health issues
|Health Issue||Symptoms or Causes||Suggested Action|
|Health IssueGastro-intestinal disease||Symptoms or CausesRunny or bloody stools, caked or smeared stool around the vent, weight loss, loss of appetite caused by bacterial, viral or parasitic infection.||Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian.|
|Health IssueMetabolic bone disease/vitamin deficiency||Symptoms or CausesInability to absorb calcium due to insufficient UVB light or improper amounts of dietary calcium/vitamin D3. If untreated, can lead to deformed, softened or fractured bones, swollen limbs, decreased appetite, weakness and lethargy.||Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian and provide ample UVB lighting, a balanced diet and the proper amount of calcium/vitamin supplements.|
|Health IssueRespiratory tract disease||Symptoms or CausesLabored breathing, mucus and/or bubbles in the mouth or nose; can be caused by inappropriate habitat temperature and humidity, leading to secondary bacterial, viral or fungal infection.||Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian and ensure habitat hasi the proper temperature and humidity.|
|Health IssueSkin problems||Symptoms or CausesRedness, swelling, lesions, discoloration of skin. May be due to infection with bacteria, fungus or parasites, or to an unclean habitat or inappropriate humidity||Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian, thoroughly clean the habitat, and ensure habitat is at the appropriate temperature and humidity.|
|Health IssueDysecdesis (problems shedding)||Symptoms or CausesRetained pieces of skin anywhere on body, especially over the eyes or around toes; caused by dry habitat or underlying disease.||Suggested ActionIncrease habitat humidity; contact your veterinarian if there is no improvement.|
- What do monitor lizards eat? Monitor lizards may be offered a variety of insects, including gut-loaded (recently fed) crickets, mealworms, roaches, superworms, calci-worms, hornworms, earthworms and silkworms. Feed waxworms less often, as they are high in fat. They may also be offered frozen, thawed rodents (fuzzy, pinkie and adult mice or small rats, depending on lizard size and body condition) occasionally as well as commercially available diets for monitors.
- How big do lizards get? Savannah monitors and tegus can grow up to 3 to 6 feet long, depending on the species.
- Can you have a monitor lizard as a pet? Savannah monitors are commonly kept as pets.
- Is a monitor lizard an amphibian? A monitor lizard is a reptile, not an amphibian.
- What do tegu lizards eat? Tegus should be fed a variety of insects, including gut-loaded (recently fed) crickets, mealworms, roaches, superworms, calci-worms, hornworms, earthworms and silkworms. Tegus also can be offered small amounts of cooked eggs and small amounts of fish or cooked lean meat. As they are omnivores, they can also be offered small amounts of fresh fruit such as berries, melon, apples and occasional bananas. Feeding fruit should be limited to prevent obesity.
- How big do tegu lizards get? Most tegus reach 4 to 5 feet in length, depending on the species.
- How long do tegu lizards live? Tegus can live up to 10+ years with proper care.
- How fast can a tegu lizard run? Their muscular legs enable tegus to run very fast.
Additional care sheets
Notes and resources
Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.
Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as salmonella bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.
Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.
Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about lizards and disease.
The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If your pet is sick or if you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.