Creature Feature: Tegu

Tegu

Tupinambis teguixin

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Reptiles Alive Name: “Tupinambis”

Hissstory: Tupinambis was an unwanted pet that came to live at Reptiles Alive in 2005.

RA Diet: We feed him mostly dead mice, but he also gets some fruit, eggs and occasionally, a giant cockroach.

Natural Diet: Tegus are opportunistic omnivores, which means they eat almost anything!  Fruit, insects, invertebrates, eggs, small mammals, snakes, fish, and carrion could all be eaten by a hungry tegu.

Range: Northern South America, including the Amazon Rain Forest.

Habitat: The forest floor of tropical rain forests where they spend a lot of time hiding in burrows.

Size: Adults reach between 3 and 4 feet in length and usually weigh about 8 pounds.

Lifespan: Can live 10-20 years.

Reproduction: Females will lay 30 – 50 eggs which hatch in about three months. Hatchlings are a beautiful jade green. This color fades as they age.

Conservation: Some people hunt these lizards for their meat and skin. Other tegus are captured for the pet trade and many tegus you might find in a pet store are wild caught.  Tegus do not make good pets.  In south Florida, unwanted pet tegus have been released into the wild and are now becoming a problem species.  Never release unwanted pets into the wild – you never know what damage can occur.

Cool Facts: Tegu scales are round in shape making the animal feel like it is covered in beads. Tegus fill the same ecological niche as monitor lizards do in the Old World, (monitors don’t live in the Americas).

Creature Feature: Uromastyx

Uromastyx

Uromastyx maliensis

Reptiles Alive Name: “Mali”

Hissstory: Mali was donated to us by former RA staff person Jennifer Rafter in 1999.uromstyx8

RA Diet: Greens, vegetables, and zoo herbivore lizard food.

Natural Diet: Greens, grasses, flowers, seeds, and occasional insects.

Range: Northern Africa

Habitat: Rocky deserts.

Size: Can grow to 15 – 17 inches.

Lifespan: 20+ years

Reproduction: Females lay about 15 eggs that will hatch in 60-70 days.

Conservation Issues: Captive breeding has proven difficult for this lizard, most uromastyx in the pet trade are wild caught.  Many people still capture this lizard for food throughout its range.

Cool Facts: These lizards sleep in their burrows with their spiny tails closest to the opening.  If a predator gets too close, the Uromastyx will whip its spiny tail in defense.

Pet Reptiles for Christmas

Are reptile pets for Christmas a good or bad idea?  For most people, a pet reptile is probably not the greatest idea for a variety of reasons.

Two reasons not to get a pet reptile are:

1.  Reptiles require specialized care that changes with the species being kept.  For instance, green iguanas require huge (4′X4′X6′) enclosures that can be heated to 80-100 degrees F with high humidity, good ventilation, and full spectrum lighting.  Iguanas also need a specialized diet of calcium rich leafy greens and other vegetables fed to them every day.  A red-eared slider turtle will need a 75-150 gallon aquarium with clean water, a dry basking area, and full spectrum lighting.  Many people don’t think of the space and cost of housing a pet reptile until it is too late.

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2.  Reptiles will never become a companion like a dog or cat will.  Dogs and cats are part of the family.  They liked to be petted, played  with, and cuddled.  Even the friendliest reptile pet will not ever play with you, go for a walk with you, or want to cuddle with you.  Some reptiles will even become ill with stress if they are interacted with too frequently.  So many reptiles become unwanted simply because they are seen as objects that require time and money as opposed to loved members of the family.

More great information to consider before getting ANY pet at Christmas, or any other time, can be found atOrlando Sentinel – Pets as presents: Think long-term

So what to do if your child loves reptiles?

You have many options for budding herpetologists on your Christmas list.  There are some very cool reptile toys out there that I would have LOVED to get at Christmas.  Remote control cobras, anatomically correct rubber reptiles, plush and wooden reptiles and more can be found at many zoo gift stores, nature specialty stores, and science related stores.   Books featuring cold blooded critters are also a huge hit with reptile loving children.

Other exciting gift ideas include:

  • Zoo “adopt and animal” programs.  These programs offer people the chance to sponsor a zoo animal.  Most programs will send you pictures, updates, and natural history information about the animal you “adopted.”  You can also take your child to the zoo (always fun!) to visit his or her animal.
  • Give you child “coupons” for reptile-related family field trips.   Trips to the zoo, nature center, museum, aquarium or park where you can search for reptiles and amphibians in the wild can all be part of the coupon book.  Remember to take pictures of animals you see, but not to touch or bother wild animals. You can then add these experiences and pictures into your nature journal.
  • Subscriptions to reptile magazines and journals or a membership in a nature or reptile related club or society is a great gift for young herpetologists.  Most states and some local jurisdictions have herpetological societies that anyone can join.
  • A gift of a live reptile show performed for your child at a holiday party is a great way to give your child the opportunity to safely interact with live reptiles.  Most areas have at least one professional traveling animal show company, and if you are in the DC area, you should, of course, hire Reptiles Alive!

Merry Christmasssssssss and have a sssssssuper New Year!

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