MacGyver's Pet Parents Told Us What Makes the Insta-Famous Lizard So Special
MacGyver, the Argentine red tegu lizard, may not be your typical furry pet, but his chubby cheeks and silly antics have helped him grow his Instagram audience to more than 120,000 followers.
We got the opportunity to chat with Ice and Scott, who lovingly call themselves "MacGyver's lizard parents," to find out what it takes to care for a large lizard and what makes MacGyver so special.
Sweety High: How old is MacGyver?
Ice: He's 4½ years old, and was born on the 4th of July, 2012. We've had him since he was just three weeks old. He was really small back then and could easily sit on your finger, so it was a very different time. We had to spend a lot of time making the house safe for him so he couldn't get stuck in any small cracks anywhere, or go inside furniture and stuff like that. It also took a few months to train him and get him completely comfortable around humans.
SH: How did he get his name?
Ice: We named him after the original 1980s TV series MacGyver because he's really smart and clever, just like the TV show character.
SH: How would you describe MacGyver's personality?
Scott: He's super friendly. He's always happy to just curl up by your feet and take a nap. His funniest quirk is probably how he always goes the long way and never in a short straight line. There are some paths that he really likes to take—like around or under tables—that don't seem to be very efficient, but he goes the same way almost every time he walks around the house. This is in complete contrast to how he makes U-turns. Rather than just walking a tiny little circle, he must make as tight a U-turn as possible, and he always looks like he is going to break himself in half.
SH: MacGyver seems really smart—what are some things he does that demonstrate his intellect?
Ice: He is really smart. He will respond to your calling his name—but only when he wants to. He understands that you want his attention, but sometimes he'll just open his eyes and go back to sleep because he's very content being lazy.
The best example is probably how he comes back into the house by himself. He spends the day basking in the sun in the yard, where he also is trained to go to the bathroom, and when he is done for the day he will climb up the porch steps and scratch on the front door to be let in the house. He can actually find his way home from anywhere on our block.
SH: How big is MacGyver and what does he eat?
Scott: He's just under 17 lbs. He will eat pretty much any meat or fruit. He does need a balanced diet with bones for calcium and organ meat for other nutrients, so we use a meat grinder to grind up whole chicken wings, whole tilapia, salmon heads, beef liver, chicken gizzards and other goodies into a custom diet for him. Then we add fresh fruit and some diced veggies. It's definitely more complicated than most pet diets.
SH: What goes into caring for MacGyver?
Ice: A lot. It's kind of like having a dog with special needs who requires a custom diet. He has specific temperature lighting and humidity requirements. The toughest part is probably maintaining his temperature and humidity requirements when he's indoors. The most rewarding part is definitely all the adorable lizard cuddles.
SH: MacGyver is an Argentine red tegu. How is he different or similar to other lizards in his species?
Scott: Argentine tegus are highly intelligent animals, so given enough human interaction they do tend to be very friendly and docile. It does take a lot of time though, and is easier if you can start working with them as babies. It's not an animal that you can just spend a few minutes a day with and expect to be tame. It takes a serious commitment of time. MacGyver is so friendly because he's had pretty much constant human attention since he was three weeks old.
SH: What have you learned taking care of him that you didn't know about lizards before?
Ice: It's really surprising how friendly and affectionate giant lizards can be if raised with love.
What are some things that people should definitely know before they commit to getting a pet like MacGyver?
Scott: It's a huge commitment, both in time and in money. The initial price of a baby lizard is not very much—$100 to $200—but those prices can be misleading. They eat a lot. Be prepared to spend nearly $100 every month on food.
There are also a lot of other upfront costs related to housing and special lighting—they require basking spots with full spectrum lighting that mimic the sun and you can't just use standard light bulbs. They also need a high-humidity environment.
On top of all that, exotic vet visits are expensive, and it can be hard to find a good vet that has the required knowledge on giant lizards in some areas.
SH: When did you start posting MacGyver on social media, and has his popularity surprised you at all?
Ice: We started posting YouTube videos of him as soon as we got him, but they were really low quality, unedited videos that we never expected to be popular. We were just doing it to compare his taming and training process and growth with other tegu owners.
We never imagined that non-lizard owners would be interested—but it pretty soon became clear that tons of people were, so we started putting a little more time into nicer pics and videos and started up a Facebook page within a few months. We just started his Instagram account about 12 months ago, and his popularity there definitely took us by surprise. Instagram is now his largest and fastest growing audience with more than 120,000 followers already.
We're very happy to have changed so many people's minds about lizards. They aren't mean, scary, or gross—they are just different. We see lots of comments on Instagram and Facebook that are like, "When I first saw this thing I thought it was creepy, but now I think it's the most adorable thing ever and I love it." We love seeing those.
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