Carnivorous Lizard Care and Husbandry

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Carnivorous Lizard Care and Husbandry
VCA WEST LOS ANGELES ANIMAL HOSPITAL
AVIAN AND EXOTICS PET CARE LIBRARY
Savannah Monitor
(Varanus exanthematicus)
Argentine Black and White Tegu
(Salvator merianae)
Carnivorous Lizard Care and Husbandry –
Savannah Monitor/Argentine Tegu
Housing/Handling
Carnivorous lizards are naturally intelligent and
aggressive creatures. They require significant and
frequent handling (preferably during the first year
of life) to become ‘tame’ as pets. Monitors and
Tegus have an aggressive bite that is extremely
painful if inflicted. Care should be taken to help a
pet carnivorous lizard become accustomed to
human contact.
Monitors and Tegus are often experts at escape and will spend large portions of their days
finding potential escape routes from their enclosures. Ensuring your lizard has a secure
enclosure will be important to maintaining its safety.
A minimum size of a 30 gallon tank is required for juvenile
monitors/tegus. As they grow, a larger enclosure will be needed
(purchased or home-made). A general guideline is the enclosure
must be at least twice the length of the animal, and at least 18”
wide. High walls are recommended to help prevent escapes. Solid
walls and flooring are also recommended since these lizards have
sharp nails that can often rip through screen walls. ‘Enclosure
furniture’ should include hide boxes and/or hollow logs.
Substrate can be brown butcher paper, newspaper, indoor/outdoor carpet, or astroturf. Wood
chips are a possible substrate but can lead to ingestion/impaction, and are more difficult to
keep clean.
Heat/Lighting
Carnivorous lizards require a basking area and a nonbasking area with a temperature gradient between the
two. To achieve this, a basking area with a broadspectrum UVA/UVB heating bulb (for example, a mercury
vapor bulb) should be offered on one side of the
enclosure. This should be least 12” away from where the
lizard would bask. Two temperature gauges should be
Continued
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Carnivorous Lizard Care and Husbandry –
Savannah Monitor/Argentine Tegu
| Page 2
placed in the enclosure, one near the basking area and one in the non-basking area. The
basking area gauge should also include a UVA/UVB monitor. Ideal temperatures for each area
for Savannah Monitors and Argentine Tegus are:
Basking area:
Non-Basking area:
Savannah Monitor 94-100ºF
Savannah Monitor 84-92ºF
Argentine Tegu 95-110ºF
Argentine Tegu 75-85ºF
UV lighting bulbs are only effective for 4-6 months. It is very
important to have a UV meter in place. The bulb will continue to
give off light/heat, but will not emit UV. Also make sure there is
no glass or plastic between the bulb and the animal, as these
can prohibit the transmission of UV light. Tube-style UV lighting
can be used instead of mercury vapor bulbs, but these do not
provide heat.
Light/heat should be provided for approximately 12 hours per
day. Night time temperatures for these lizards can be 70-75ºF.
Lower temperatures may lead to hibernation.
Argentine Red Tegu
(Tupinambis rufescens)
Humidity
Juvenile Savannah Monitor
Different types of carnivorous lizards have
different requirements for environmental
humidity dictated by their natural
environments. Savannah Monitors come
from the arid regions of central and subSaharan Africa, and thus require relatively
low humidity in their captive environments.
Argentine Tegus are from forest-edge savannahs
and adjacent rainforests of South America, so their
humidity requirements are higher. Tegu captive
humidity should be 60-80%, which should be
monitored by a humidity gauge within the enclosure.
Some ways to increase humidity include using
humidity-promoting substrates, misting the
substrates in the enclosure multiple times per day,
or providing a ‘humidity box’ – a hide box lined with
damn, clean sphagnum moss. Tegus are prone to
skin problems if the humidity in their environments
is not appropriately maintained.
Diet
These lizards should be fed daily if less than one year old, or several times a week as adults.
Prey items should be small, such as crickets, mealworms, or pinky mice. Occasionally you can
feed a larger item such as a frozen, thawed rodent of appropriate size to the lizard, or cooked
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Carnivorous Lizard Care and Husbandry –
Savannah Monitor/Argentine Tegu
| Page 3
whole eggs. Overfeeding and obesity is common in
these species so be careful to monitor your lizard’s
weight carefully. Feeding insects like crickets will
encourage more chasing/foraging activity for your lizard,
which may help maintain a healthy weight.
Savannah Monitors are obligate carnivores,
whereas Argentine Tegus are primarily meat-eaters
but will also eat some fruits and vegetables. Try
offering small amounts of blueberries, strawberries,
melons, bananas, or grapes. Tegus are also less
able to digest fur when compared to monitors, so it
is wise to limit the amount of mice/rats fed.
Adult Savannah Monitor
Fresh water should be available at all times. The bowl should be large enough for the lizard to
soak its entire body. Some lizards prefer to defecate in the water, so daily water changes are
often necessary.
Considerations for other types of
carnivorous lizards
Adult Argentine Black and White Tegu
This information sheet is intended to provide guidelines
for Savannah Monitors and Argentine Tegus. These
are two of the more common varieties of carnivorous
lizards kept as pets. However, there are many other
types available, and each has its own unique
husbandry requirements. For other types of monitors
and tegus, please discuss a more specific husbandry
plan with your veterinarian.
Veterinary Care
Yearly examinations are important in this type of lizard.
Many of these species are caught in the wild so
internal and external parasites are common. Stress
from being transported is common and contributes to
poor health and disease. As mentioned above, obesity
is frequently seen in monitors and tegus so nutritional
counseling is helpful to new lizard owners.
If you have any questions or concerns about your pet lizard or would like to schedule an
appointment for your pet, please call VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital at 310-473-2951.

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