Large South American lizards, the Colombian tegus live mostly on the ground and in burrows in a variety of habitats. These omnivorous lizards prey on smaller animals, but even as adults they're food for large birds and snakes. Tegus are New World counterparts of monitor lizards, similar in appearance, size and ecological role. But, like monitors, they aren't quite large enough to dominate their ecosystems.
The Colombian tegu (Tupinambis teguixin) grows to 3 or 3.5 feet, rarely 4 feet, including the tail. Adults weigh around 8 pounds. Although they look similar, they’re smaller than Argentine tegus, which can be around 4.5 feet. In captivity, a tegu should have an enclosure that's twice as long as the lizard itself and as wide as the lizard's length -- so an adult Colombian tegu probably needs a tank that's 6 or 7 feet by 3 or 3.5 feet.
Colombian tegus usually have stripes and sometimes spots that are black and white, pale yellow or gold. Their bodies are shorter than their tails. Like their Argentine counterparts, they’re stocky with blocky, triangle-shaped heads. Colombian tegus have more aggressive temperaments, though, and they defend themselves both by biting and by whipping their tails at threats. Their tails consist of a series of fracture planes, or segments that break easily, helping them escape from predators.
Colombian tegus hatch in trees and sometimes remain arboreal as juveniles. This helps them avoid some predators, such as large lizards, although they’re still vulnerable to birds and snakes. Adults remain primarily on the ground. They begin their day by basking, and when they’re warm enough, they hunt for insects, small mammals and reptiles, and even snails. They also forage for honey, fruit and eggs. Often, the larger the tegu, the larger the prey he seeks. One of these creatures' especially quirky behaviors is rolling in feces. Scientists don’t know why they do this; they might be looking for flies and other insects that congregate in manure.
As their name indicates, Colombian tegus do live in Colombia -- but their distribution is much wider. They range throughout the Amazon basin and surrounding areas, and have been found in Brazil, Guyana, Panama, Suriname and Venezuela, and even on islands such as Trinidad. An introduced population also exists in South Florida, thanks to escapees from the pet trade. Colombian tegus live in a variety of environments, including forests, coasts, riverine areas and grasslands.