What It's Like to Live with a Famous Giant Lizard

Broadly's resident reptile enthusiast talks with the couple behind an Instagram celebrity tegu lizard named MacGyver. He's "small enough to carry, but big enough to cuddle."

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Jun 10 2016, 6:00pm

Screengrab via Instagram

Lizards are probably the most impractical pet. I own a veiled chameleon, and I had no idea what I was getting into when I bought him at my local pet store while very stoned. All I knew—after watching a viral video of a baby chameleon popping bubbles with her silly little hands—was that I was in love with the reptile and had to have one. I would soon learn that chameleons definitely don't feel the same way about me. Still, I'm obsessed with my little green guy, whom I named Drake. Though he takes up a lot of time and money, and each morning I have to feed him live bugs and make sure his expensive habitat maintains the climate of Yemen, it's somehow a rewarding experience. Even when he screams and recoils at my touch.

That's why I freaked out when I came across a dog-sized Argentine red tegu lizard on Instagram that appeared to happily submit itself to cuddling with its owners, Scott, 34, and Ice, 38. His name is MacGyver and he has more than 12,000 followers. Scott and Ice have had MacGyver since he was three weeks old and could fit in the palm of their hands; now he's a massive 16.5 pounds and will be four years old on the fourth of July. I talked with the two San Diego–based lizard parents about what it's like to live with a giant reptile.

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BROADLY: Can you tell me the story of how you ended up as lizard parents?
Scott: From the age of eight or so, I've been a huge lizard fan, and I've had a variety of lizards as pets over the years. I can't imagine ever not having a giant lizard around.
Ice: My first lizards were a pair of bearded dragons that we got when Scott and I lived in Shanghai. They were so cute. I've been in love with lizards ever since.

Was it a surprise that he got so big?
Ice: No, we knew exactly what we were getting into. Scott originally wanted a different species of lizard that gets up to 60 pounds, but that was too big for me. I wanted something that I could still carry, and MacGyver is the perfect size for that: small enough to carry, but big enough to cuddle.

What is MacGyver's temperament like?
Ice: He's very friendly and loves hanging out with people.
Scott: He's not quite as trainable as a dog. He won't do tricks, but he is trained to come when called and to go to the bathroom on command outside in the yard.

What does he eat?
Scott: He will eat pretty much any meat or fruit, but his favorite foods are salmon, cherries, and grapes. His main diet is a mush of ground whole chicken wings (including the bones), salmon heads, whole tilapia, beef liver, chicken gizzards, and hearts, mixed with a variety of fruit.

How has your life changed to accommodate MacGyver?
Ice: The biggest change has been having to watch where we walk. He's big, but not very tall, so you have to make sure not to step on him. It was even harder when he was a little baby.

I see that MacGyver is a Bernie Sanders fan. Does he feel that Bernie supports the most lizard-friendly policies?
Scott: Mac supports Bernie because of Bernie's human-friendly policies, especially his stance on campaign finance reform. He thought about supporting Hillary or Trump, because rising global temperatures and the extinction of humans might benefit his cold-blooded brethren, but he finally decided to give humans a second shot.

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Who makes the political memes on MacGyver's Instagram?
Ice: Scott does the memes, with Mac's oversight, of course.

I have a pet chameleon, and I so wish that I could sleep next to him and cuddle him like you do with MacGyver. But chameleons basically hate human touch. Can you describe what it's like to cuddle with MacGyver?
Ice: MacGyver is like my baby. It just makes me happy to cuddle with him. I also love to listen to his cute little breathing sounds when he sleeps with us.

What should people know before deciding to get a lizard?
Ice: Big lizards are very time consuming. You have to spend a lot of time with them, be patient, handle them a lot, and talk to them in order to get them very friendly.