Some years ago, while I was out for a late walk with the dogs over the dunes, I came across a lizard’s head. It was extremely beautiful (I rather like lizards), black and white pattern and a slightly jewelled sheen to it. I assumed from the size (about 8cm long) that the rest of the body must have made up a fairly big lizard.
I would have liked to have brought it home to ask my father in law which type it was but for the fact that it stank a bit, having obviously been detached from the poor lizards body the previous night or earlier in the day. As I had nothing to carry it in and the dogs thought it would be a nice addition to their diet, I had to leave it where it was.
My father in law said it sounded like a Tejú-guasú which is the local name for the lizard (Salvator Merianae) known in English as a Tegu or an Argentinian black and white tegu. He said there are many of them in the woods and that they are quite common in the village as they come to the gardens to eat fruit and chicken’s eggs which make up a part of their diet. He said it was possible someone had killed it to eat, they apparently taste a bit like chicken.
Over the years I have seen the tracks of them. Although non of us have ever seen it, we find the tracks of one very large one which regularly wanders through my father in law’s garden and has a nose around the chicken coop. Finally a few days ago I got my chance to get up close and personal with a baby one.
Neu was over at his parents house when, according to him, there was a bit of a commotion involving the young cat, they found it had caught a young Tejú-guasú by the leg. The cat was surprised by the arrival of Neu and his dad and let the tegu go, only to catch it again by the end of it’s tail. We don’t know if the tegu is able to lose it’s tail as some reptiles do, or if the cat bit through it, but the tegu, minus a bit of tail was off and running, leaving the stunned cat behind.
Neu saw the lizard run into a storage area and came to tell me. Luckily for me it was still there, hiding inside the rim of an old tyre. I was able to get these photos before it leapt out and passed me in a flash. They can run very fast, so by the time we got outside, it was long gone.
The name Tejú-guasú comes from Tupi-Guarani (South American Indian language family.) and from what I can work out simply means Black lizard.
These forked tongued lizards are the largest in South America and can grow to about 1.80 meters in length, weighing up to 5kg, though the females are generally smaller than the males. They are omnivores, enjoying eggs, fruit, insects and unfortunately for them, food waste left about by humans, meaning they will eat stuff that isn’t at all good for them.
As defence they can use their large and powerful tail like a whip and have small pointed teeth with which they can give a nasty bite, if you are stupid enough to corner one, but they are fast runners and if at all threatened they prefer to run. Young lizards will climb trees, adult lizards though, due to their size and weight, tend to stay on the ground. They lay roughly 30 eggs at a time, which incubate for 2 to 3 months and shed their skin as they grow. They can live for 20 years in the wild and possibly longer in captivity.
Apparently they make good pets, (no mother, they are lovely but I won’t be getting one) they can be house trained, become very attached to their owners, some will even come when called, but as the man in the video below explains, it is illegal to take them from the wild, or to buy from an unauthorised seller (the one he is holding was born in captivity, is microchipped and is used by them as a teaching aid). Their pooh stinks (lets be fair so does a dogs or cats) they are difficult to feed in captivity, need an adequate environment, so you need to think long and hard before getting one.
The man in the video talks of the Tupinambis teguixim which is known at the Gold tegu, is smaller and, as it’s name suggests, gold ish. I’m a bit confused over whether he is holding a black tegu or a gold one, or whether what I have photographed is a black or a gold one, my father in law doesn’t differentiate between them, they are all Tejú-guasú to him. It seems that the Black tegu was originally classed as Salvator merianae then as Tupinambis teguixim, then Tupinambis merianae and now back to Salvator merianae and you have to counts scales on their heads or something to tell them apart, not something I was in a position to do.