Summary of The Diet of Argentine Tegu Diets

as presented in

The Diet of Adult Tupinambis Teguixin(Sauria: Teiidae) in the Eastern Chaco of Argentina,” A Study Performed by Claudia Mercolli and Alberto Yanosky

*NOTE: This study was conducted in 1994. In 1995, the Tupinambis genus was restructured at the prompting of Avila-Pires. Pre-1995, the Colombian tegu went by the species name Tupinambis nigropunctatus and the Argentine black and white tegu went by the name Tupinambis teguixin. However, post-1995, the Colombian and Argentine species names were changed to Tupinambis teguixin and Tupinambis merinae, respectively. Therefore, this is a study of Argentine black and white tegus, not Colombians despite the name.

Image: Courtesy of Chris Allen; Thank you for letting us use this, Chris.

Background: In the Herpetological Journal, Vol 4. , pp 15-19 (1994),Claudia Mercolli and Alberto Yanosky, published the results of their study of the digestive tracts of 77 Argentine Tegus near El Bagual Ecological Reserve. This was done to identify what food they eat and what their ecological impact is.

The study contained a chart of food items that were found in the stomachs of these tegus, and each food item was broken down by the number of tegus who ate that number, the overall mass that item comprised across all food found in all the tegu stomachs. We have included a summarization of that chart below.

Why We Care: As responsible pet owners, we need to know how our animals would be living if they were in their natural habitat. What would they eat? What is their habitat really like? How humid is it? This is essential to allowing them to thrive in our care as we can emulate their wild counterparts as much as possible. We can use this study to see exactly what they eat and how much of it they are eating.

Overall Findings:

the food items revealed the species to be a widely-ranging opportunistic omnivorous forager. Tupinambis consumed a large proportion of fruits, invertebrate, and vertebrates. The species forages in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats, but no evidence was obtained for arboreal feeding habits.
(Note- I rounded the percentages that are contained below)

General Findings On Diet - summarized:
  • The diet of the tegus was comprised of 67% plant matter and 33% animal matter
  • Plant material (all kinds) was found in 90% of specimens.
  • Snails were found in 69% of the tegus studied.
  • Beetles (Coleoptera) were found in 53% of tegu stomachs.
  • Pindo fruits (we think this is Queen Palm fruits) were found in 33% of tegu stomachs.
  • Anura was found in 27% of the tegus studied. (We are not sure what anura is)
  • “For total biomass consumed, vertebrates were more important than invertebrates.”
  • “At our site, Tupinambis teguixin is 71% herbivorous and 29% carnivorous”
  • “Principal food items were fruits, snails,coleopterans (beetles), lepidopterans, anura, and rodents.”

Plant material (stems, leaves, and vegetation remains) was the most frequent item recorded (90%), followed by snails (69%),Coleoptera [beetles] (53%), pindo fruits [Queen Palm fruits] (33%) and anura (27%). Weight values revealed that pindo fruit were most important with 27%, followed by palm fruits (12%), anura (11%), and mora(8%).
At our site, Tupinambis teguixin is 71% herbivorous and 29% carnivorous
Behavoral Notes:

These are things that the researchers noticed about the tegus:

  • Tegus are not arboreal, even when feeding:
    • fruit consumed is the type that is dropped from trees
    • birds consumed are of the type that are terrestrial and poor fliers
    • Although the tegus eat flying insects like locusts, based on their stomach contents, they ate them when they landed on the ground

  • Tegus will enter shallow water to eat fish, crabs, and snails.
  • Tegus do not chew their food as full snail shells were found.

Habitat Summary:

This is general information that the researchers provided about the habitat of the tegus:

  • Flooded savannas and forests subject to cyclic fires and flooding
  • Soil is made of volcanic ash and have poor drainage
  • Average ambient temperature is 22 degrees Celsius/72 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Maximum ambient temperature 27 degrees Celsius/80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Minimum ambient temperature is 17 degrees Celsius/63 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Annual rainfall of 1200-1900 mm (48-75 inches)

Chart: The Stomach Contents of 77 Argentine Tegus

= The number of tegus who had this item in their stomach
Volume = Percentage of volume this food item comprised across all tegu stomach contents

(This chart was included within the findings published. I added and removed columns to make it more customized for the type of information we need. For example, I added the English column and the additional information column. I removed some quantitative columns)

Our Suggestions on Feeding Captive Argentine Tegus Based on this Study and Member Experience:

It is hard to find exactly the same foods in the developed world. The key to a healthy tegu's diet is variety, especially since Argentine Black and White tegus are omnivorous. Try to feed whole prey where possible to maximize the amount of nutrients that your tegu consumes. However, this is not to say that they should be fed mice or rats all the time. In fact, this should only be done occasionally as it can lead to a tegu who is overweight and can lead to other internal problems. A good alternative, for example, would be whole insects such as roaches.

Suggested Food Items:

*Note, some tegus are going to be fussier about eating their greens than others. For example, you can use this caresheet and apply it to Blue Tegus, a type of Argentine tegu, but they are mostly carnivorous and will rarely eat fruit or greens.

  • Dark, Leafy Greens:
    • Collard Greens
    • Mustard Greens
    • Turnip Greens
    • Dandelion Greens

  • Vegetables:
    • Butternut squash
    • Green Beans
    • Yellow Squash
    • Zucchini
    • Spaghetti Squash
    • Snow Peas
    • Okra
    • Parsnip
    • Carrots
    • Alfalfa (Lucerne)
    • Peas
    • Frozen Mixed Vegetables

  • Other:
  • Fertilized eggs (if possible) - *Note: Eggs should be served cooked. Raw eggs contain avidin which can cause skin irritation in pets. (Source:
  • Roaches - Dubia, lobster, etc
  • Occasional thawed whole mice or rats
  • Locusts/Crickets - Adults are less likely to eat these than juveniles
  • Small Whole Fish like Silversides, Sardines, etc. - *Note: Do not buy these from a pet store. They may contain any number of chemicals and may not be safe. Buy small fish intended for human consumption.
  • Worms: Silkworms, Hornworms, Mealworms, Superworms, Earthworms - *Note - do not feed worms found in the yard or sold for bait. These can contain parasites and have been exposed to chemicals such as weed killer and other toxic substances.
  • Snails - Land Snails (if you can find them in your state/country), Periwinkles
  • Freshwater shrimp
  • Chicks
  • Occasionally you can feed non-whole prey items. It is recommended that you add calcium, multivitamins, or even bone meal to these items. These items include:

  • Fruit:
    • Papaya
    • Mango
    • Prickly Pear
    • Figs
    • The occasional banana
    • Strawberries
    • Cherries
    • Grapes

Note: Tegus require a substantial amount of trial and error and because they will not accept all fruits and greens. Keep trying different healthy choices and try to offer as much variety as possible.

Lighting, Humidity, Housing:
You can follow the same as that of Colombian tegus:

For more information on Colombian tegu diets:

Blue Tegus: Blue tegus are a type of Argentine tegu (Tupinambis merinae) that appears to be mostly carnivorous. While you can try to get them to eat the fruits and veggies noted above, it is unlikely that they will. For food items, follow the "Other" section above. For Lighting, Humidity, and Housing, refer to the same link noted above.

**Posted for use both by Reptile-Parrots and Chris and Ash's Adventures of Exotic Species (blog)