Tupinambis is a lizard genus which belongs to the family Teiidae and contains eight described species. These large lizards are commonly referred to as tegus (teiús in Portuguese). T. merianae (Argentine black and white tegu), T. rufescens (red tegu), and T. teguixin (gold tegu) are popular in the pet trade. They are primarily found in South America, although T. teguixin also occurs in Panama.

Goldteju Tupinambis teguixin.jpg
Gold tegu (Tupinambis teguixin)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Teiidae
Genus: Tupinambis
Daudin, 1802

In 2012, a number of tegu species were reclassified from Tupinambis to the previously used genus Salvator. The newly proposed classification comes from a restructuring of the family Teiidae based upon the study of 137 morphological characteristics. The new classification is as follows: Salvator duseni (yellow tegu), Salvator rufescens (red tegu), Salvator merianae (Argentine black and white tegu), Tupinambis teguixin (gold tegu), Tupinambis longilineus (Rhondonia tegu), Tupinambis palustris (swamp tegu) and Tupinambis quadrilineatus (four-lined tegu).[1]


Tupinambis lizards are called teiú in Portuguese. The lizards are also called tishiriú in the extinct Tuxá language of Bahia, Brazil,[2] and dzižuảsu in the extinct Potiguara language of Pernambuco, Brazil.[3]

As with many other animals from tropical South America (e.g. the Cariamae), Tupinambis owes its scientific name to the pioneering accounts given by Piso & Marcgrave in their Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (1648). However, a misinterpretation (by Linnaeus) of the Latin text occurred, which reads "TEIVGVACV [...] Tupinambis", 'to the Tupinambá [Indigenous group] TEIVGVACU'. Tupinambis was merely a metalinguistic term meaning 'to/for the Tupinambá,' whereas the intended, indigenous name for the animal was teiú-guaçú [lizard-big]; lit. 'big lizard'.[4]


The Tupinambis species have heterodont dentition consisting of four different types of teeth.[5] Incisor-type—tricuspid—teeth reside at the tip of the mouth.[5] Recurved canine-type teeth occur further back on the tooth row.[5] Behind those reside a separate set of incisor-like teeth (though flattened in a perpendicular plane to the first set of incisors).[5] The rearmost teeth are blunt, rounded, peg-shaped teeth.[5] The rearmost two tooth classes only occur in sexually mature individuals, thus indicating an ontogenetic shift in tooth morphology.[5] Along with changes in tooth type, the frequency of each tooth type also changes with ontogeny, without an overall change in tooth count (approximately 70 teeth).[5] Rather than increase tooth count, the teeth themselves increase in size as the jaw grows from hatchling to adult.[5] This ontogenetic shift in tooth morphology suggests a shift in diet with age; however, few dietary studies have been done to support this claim and limited stomach content observations do not show much variability between hatchlings and juveniles.[5]


Species listed alphabetically by specific name.[6]


Mitochondrial DNA analysis indicates a deep divergence between a northern clade (containing T. teguixin, T. palustris and T. quadrilineatus) and a southern clade (containing T. duseni).[9] The northern and southern clades are morphologically distinct, with the northern clade possessing a single pair of loreal scales between the eye and the nostril and a smooth texture to the scales on the body and the southern clade possessing two pairs of loreal scales and a bumpy texture to the scales on the body.[10] At least one review of the morphology of the family Teiidae has placed the tegus of the southern clade in the genus Salvator.[11] Subsequent studies support the paraphyletic status of Tupinambis, though further research will be necessary to determine if the split will gain wider acceptance among the herpetological community.[12] Comparative analysis of hemipenial anatomy also provides support for the split between Tupinambis and Salvator.[13]

Tegus probably originated sometime during the Cenozoic era. Tupinambis fossils from Argentina date back to the Late Miocene.[14] Fossils of the extinct tegu Paradracaena can be found in earlier Miocene deposits.[15]


  1. ^ Harvey, MB; Ugueto, GN; Gutberlet, RL (2012). "Review of Teiid Morphology with a Revised Taxonomy and Phylogeny of the Teiidae (Lepidosauria: Squamata)". Zootaxa. 3459: 1–156. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3459.1.1.
  2. ^ Pompeu Sobrinho, Thomaz. 1958. Línguas Tapuias desconhecidas do Nordeste: Alguns vocabulários inéditos. Boletim de Antropologia (Fortaleza-Ceará) 2. 3-19.
  3. ^ Meader, Robert E. (1978). Indios do Nordeste: Levantamento sobre os remanescentes tribais do nordeste brasileiro (in Portuguese). Brasilia: SIL International.
  4. ^ Cf. 'Etnolingüística' discussion list; 2/22/2012; http://lista.etnolinguistica.org/3167
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dessem, D (1985). "Ontogenetic Changes in the Dentition and Diet of Tupinambis (Lacertilia: Teiidae)". Copeia. 1985 (1): 245–247. doi:10.2307/1444823. JSTOR 1444823.
  6. ^ Tupinambis, The Reptile Database
  7. ^ Silva, Marcélia B.; Ribeiro-Júnior, Marco A.; Ávila-Pires, Teresa C. S. (2018). "A New Species of Tupinambis Daudin, 1802 (Squamata: Teiidae) from Central South America". Journal of Herpetology. 52: 94–110. doi:10.1670/16-036. S2CID 90826104.
  8. ^ "Tegu - Tupinambis - Overview - Encyclopedia of Life". Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  9. ^ Fitzgerald et al., 1999
  10. ^ "Salvator merianae". The Reptile Database. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  11. ^ Harvey, MB; Ugueto, GN; Gutberlet, RL (2012). "Review of teiid morphology with a revised taxonomy and phylogeny of the Teiidae (Lepidosauria: Squamata)" (PDF). Zootaxa. 3459: 1–156. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3459.1.1.
  12. ^ Pyron, R. A.; Burbrink, F. T.; Wiens, J. J. (2013). "A phylogeny and revised classification of Squamata, including 4161 species of lizards and snakes". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 13 (1): 93. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-93. PMC 3682911. PMID 23627680.
  13. ^ Da Silva, M; Filho, G; Cronemberger, Á; Carvalho, L; Manzani, P; Vieira, J (2013). "Description of the hemipenial morphology of Tupinambis quadrilineatus Manzani and Abe, 1997 (Squamata, Teiidae) and new records from Piauí, Brazil". ZooKeys (361): 61–72. doi:10.3897/zookeys.361.5738. PMC 3867120. PMID 24363597.
  14. ^ Santiago Brizuela. "New Tupinambis remains from the late Miocene of Argentina and a review of the South American teiids". Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  15. ^ Pujos, F.; Albino, A.M.; Baby, P.; Guyot, J.L. (2009). "Presence of the extinct lizard Paradracaena (Teiidae) in the Middle Miocene of the Peruvian Amazon". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 29 (2): 594–598. doi:10.1671/039.029.0227. S2CID 86362708.

Further readingEdit

  • Boulenger GA. 1885. Catalogue of the Lizards in the British Museum (Natural History). Second Edition. Volume II. ...Teiidæ ... London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, printers). xiii + 497 pp. + Plates I-XXIV. (Genus Tupinambis, pp. 334–335).
  • Daudin FM. 1802. Histoire Naturelle, Génerale et Particulière des Reptiles; Ouvrage faisant suite à l'Histoire Naturelle générale et particulière, composée par Leclerc de Buffon, et rédigé par C.S. Sonnini, membre de plusieurs Sociétés savantes. Tome Troisième [Volume 3]. Paris: F. Dufart. 452 pp. (Tupinambis, new genus, pp. 5–6). (in French).

External linksEdit