Caring for Collared Lizards – October 2013

By Anthony Neubauer

Introduction

The Eastern Collared Lizard, Crotaphytus collaris, is a hardy, medium sized lizard native to the deserts of the Southern United States. They are common in Arizona and Texas, but also range into neighboring states. They are a very active species that spend much of their day running, jumping, and digging throughout the terrarium. Captive bred specimens can be very tame and relaxed, and make much better captives than wild caught specimens. If you’re looking for something different to put in a desert setup that will tolerate occasional handling and make for an entertaining captive, look no further. Collared lizards are for you.

Housing

Collared Lizards are extremely active. Keep this in mind when selecting an enclosure. A tank measuring 12″ long x 12″ deep x 30″ wide can house up to 3 babies for the first 6-8 months of life, and could house a single baby for up to a year.

Once they reach adulthood at around a year to a year and a half, it’s time to upgrade to a minimum of a 16″ x 16″ x 36″ sized enclosure.

This allows for adequate space to run around, as well as some height for offering a deep layer of substrate to burrow in and sticks and rocks to climb on.

Collared Lizards will readily use any space given, so if more space can be provided, your lizards will appreciate it. Glass tanks manufactured by Creative Habitat and Exo Terra are preferable, as they provide adequate light and ventilation for this desert reptile.

Environment

When setting up an enclosure, the first decision you must make is to go naturalistic or simplistic. You could very easily throw in a dry bedding such as Sani-Chips, a couple rocks and or sticks, and a water bowl and your Collareds would survive just fine. However, many hobbyists take it a step further in creating a much more aesthetically pleasing setup, complete with sand, gravel, live or fake plants, and rocks and wood setup as natural as possible.

I highly recommend using a sand-like substrate that allows burrowing. When given the opportunity, Collared Lizards will create burrows and retreat to them at night for sleeping.

This keeps them occupied all day, and in the end leads to happier lizards. I prefer to use Excavator Clay by Zoo Med, topped with a thin layer of sand for added texture and looks.

When wet, Excavator Clay can be shaped and molded into any shape you can imagine. When dry, it becomes hardened enough to hold burrows, but still able to be dug into.

Succulents and some cacti can be used to add some color, as well as a few flat basking rocks and a piece of Manzanita or Grape Wood.

Water

These lizards hail from the harsh deserts of the United States, and so are adapted to a water preserving life style. I like to provide a shallow water bowl with clean water at all times, even though they rarely drink. I also very lightly spray the tank down once a week, mostly for the plants, although the lizards drink the droplets as well. Other than their weekly spray, they don’t need any added humidity.

Water

These lizards hail from the harsh deserts of the United States, and so are adapted to a water preserving life style. I like to provide a shallow water bowl with clean water at all times, even though they rarely drink. I also very lightly spray the tank down once a week, mostly for the plants, although the lizards drink the droplets as well. Other than their weekly spray, they don’t need any added humidity.

 

Heating and lighting

These guys like it HOT. The basking area should be 110-120 Degrees Fahrenheit during the day, with the ambient temperature ranging from room temp to 85 Degrees. I use and recommend a Halogen basking bulb, as they make it easy to achieve these hot temperatures, but in a small, concentrated area so the entire tank isn’t cooking. I position this light over a large flat rock, so the rock heats up providing belly heat similar to using a heat pad. They will move closer and further away from the hot spot to achieve their preferred temperature. At night time, your temperatures can drop pretty significantly, as long as it heats up during the day. Anything above 60 degrees is fine, although 65-70 Degrees is optimal. This is a truly diurnal species, so high intensity UVB lighting is absolutely necessary for them to thrive. The Zoo Med T5 High Output bulbs rated 10.0 is the way to go. I provide 12-14 hours of daylight, and 10-12 hours of darkness without the lights.

 

Feeding

Collared Lizards eat A LOT. This is especially true when growing, as they are using all nutrients towards their rapid growth. They should be fed daily for their first year, and then every other day once they’re close to adult size. They eat a variety of insects, and the more variety the better. I feed mine mainly appropriately sized crickets, with either Dubia roaches, wax worms and moths, and mealworms being offered with every other cricket feeding. Flying insects are cherished, and they can easily jump up and chase them down to get them. Adults can eat the occasional pinky mouse, and will even eat feeder lizards! It is to be noted that Collared Lizards have extremely large heads and throats in comparison to their size, so taking larger food items is no problem. They have a ravenous appetite, and the more you feed youngsters the better they’ll do. I have also witnessed mine eating the leaves of certain succulents, so it may be worth offering yours leafy greens or even fruit from time to time.  While some will readily consume plant matter, not all do, so don’t worry if yours do not eat vegetation.

Vitamins

On top of a varied diet, I still use a few dietary supplements. Once a week I dust their crickets with RepCal Calcium with D3 mixed 50/50 with Repashy SuperPig pigment enhancer. I also use RepCal multivitamin once a month, also mixed with SuperPig. This is essential in making your Collared Lizards as bright and healthy as possible.

Adult Size and Sexing

Collared Lizards are sexually dimorphic, meaning you can tell them apart just by looking at them. Males will have more blue and green on their body, and females will have more tan and red. Males also get a little larger, have bulkier heads, and an overall heftier build. Adult size on these guys is around 12-14 inches, with males being toward the larger end, and females being on the smaller end.

They can reach adult size in a year to a year and a half with proper feeding, food, and nutrition as well as heat.

Conclusion

The Eastern Collared Lizard is a fun one to keep. They are always doing something, and are very inquisitive. They are quick, but can be tamed down with frequent calm, confident handling. Care for them is pretty straight forward, and they have few to no health issues as long as their heat and feeding requirements are provided. Overall a fascinating desert captive that is sure to become a favorite in any hobbyist’s collection.

Breeder’s Spotlight: Breeding Fire Skinks – March 2013

 

By Jennifer Greene

Breeding the Fire Skink

Step one:  Breeding

In writing this article, I will be making the basic assumption that you, the fire skink keeper, are already familiar with the care and husbandry of successfully maintaining your fire skinks.  Breeding is the natural next step in husbandry once you have successfully established your pair or group of skinks.  Sexing Fire Skinks is at best an exercise in educated guesswork, especially if you have young or lean skinks.  Most skinks available at pet stores are not old enough or established enough to develop the very subtle characteristics that allow for an attempt to be made at sexing them.  For this reason, I highly recommend feeding your skinks well for at least a month before attempting to guess at the gender of your pets, as all fire skinks generally look like females when they are first acquired.  Females are slightly more slender in the head and body than males, and lack in anything resembling hemipenal bulges.   Males have a slightly broader head and are built a little more “beefy” than females of a similar size and age, and develop very slight jowls with age.  When mature, breeding adults are compared side by side, a careful eye can distinguish the genders, but even an experienced keeper can find it difficult to accurately sex fire skinks.

On the left, you can see the female, while on the right is the male skink.

Feeding your skinks well will result in a healthy, robust pair that breed easily and often.  My adults feed on large crickets, superworms, giant mealworms, dubia roaches, hissing cockroaches, and pinky mice once the female has laid eggs.  They also eat canned insects with gusto, with canned caterpillars being a particular favorite of my pair.  I emphasize again that a good diet is a major part of successfully breeding your skinks and getting multiple, fertile clutches.  Healthy, well fed skinks can and will lay between 3 and 5 clutches of eggs a year without any problems whatsoever.  However, a malnourished or underfed skink may experience egg binding, parasite blooms, or crash from lack of calcium or other nutrients used to make her eggs.

This male Fire Skink does not look markedly different from the female – but he does exhibit great body condition!

Alright, so your skinks are eating a varied diet and are as fat and chunky as the ones you see pictured here.  Great!  They will take care of the rest.  You may not see actual copulation, but it will take place without any encouragement from you as long as temperatures are warm enough.  Fire skinks tend to breed whenever ambient temperatures stay above 75, and daylight hours last longer than 12 hours.  This means their breeding season starts in the early spring, and can last until mid-autumn.   Females are capable of retaining sperm, although they do not seem to lay more than one clutch when they do so.

Step Two: The Gravid Female

Once your skinks are breeding, and your female is starting to look even plumper than before, it’s time to make sure you are diligent about keeping up on a nice, varied diet and providing her with adequate supplementation.  Your female skink may appreciate a slightly warmer basking area if yours is typically only about 85 to 90 degrees.  When my skinks are breeding, I offer them a basking zone with the warmest area reaching temperatures of about 95 degrees.  The female will seek out the warmer temperatures to grow and develop the eggs within her, and this also helps to ensure her appetite stays up – she’ll need lots of food to grow all the eggs she’ll be laying!

Fortunately for the fire skink keeper, care for gravid females is not much more difficult or different than for non-gravid females.  More care needs to be given to ensuring that she is eating a rich diet that is well supplemented, but for the most part she will take care of her needs on her own.

This female is most likely gravid, but it can be hard to tell!

Part Three: Egg Deposition and Incubation

After about 30 days, the female will look fat enough to burst, and at this point her appetite is likely to be next to nothing.  She’ll start digging and exploring throughout her cage for a suitable place to lay her eggs, and it’s at this time that you need to pay close attention to the cage to make sure you catch when she lays her eggs.  You’re extremely unlikely to actually see her laying the eggs, as they are very secretive about it, but you should be able to notice when she has suddenly lost a significant amount of weight.

Once you notice that the female seems to have abruptly lost half her body weight, carefully dig through the cage to find the eggs.  They have excellent taste in nesting sites, and will select a nice moist (but not wet) area to lay their eggs in.  Most often, mine laid their eggs under their water bowl or under cork rounds on the humid side of the cage.

Clutches range in size from 3 to 6 eggs on average, with clutches of up to 9 eggs not being uncommon.  If you maintain your cage well with bioactive substrate (see The Art of Snake Keeping for information about bioactive substrates), you can actually leave the eggs in the cage until they hatch.  I did this the first time entirely by accident, not realizing my skinks had already begun laying eggs – the first set of babies were a very pleasant surprise!  Adults can and will cannibalize the offspring, so do not leave them in the cage once they hatch.

To incubate your eggs in a somewhat more professional manner, remove them carefully from the substrate once you have found them.  Marking a dot on them with a permanent marker can help you ensure you keep them oriented upright in the position they were laid.  From there, place them in your preferred incubation medium.  I use Hatchrite, as it’s a nice, clean looking material that holds moisture well, comes pre-mixed, and I’ve had good success with it.  I keep my clutches in the incubator in 4.5” deli cups with lids, and write the date I found the clutch on the lid.  Bury them about halfway into the incubation material, and then leave them for as long as it takes to hatch!

When incubated at 84 degrees, most clutches hatch at 55 to 65 days after being laid.  I leave the babies in the cup until they’ve all hatched.  While I have not seen a study on fire skinks in particular, I know for other species of lizards it has been shown that the activity of the first babies to hatch climbing over the eggs of their unhatched siblings encourages the babies still within their eggs to hatch.  It does not hurt them to remain in the incubation cup for a day or two while their siblings hatch, so leave them in the cup and let them do their thing!

Part Four: Caring for Neonates

Set up the new hatchlings in a cage similar to the adults, just on a smaller scale.  My adults are in a 36” x 18” x 24” terrarium, and I raise babies in a 36” x 12” x 12” terrarium.  I provide my babies with a 100 watt powersun to bask under, which results in healthy, fast growing and chunky little babies.  Humidity is important for babies, and I highly recommend providing them with a thick layer of substrate you can easily add moisture to.  I often pour water directly into the substrate, especially directly under the heat light, to ensure that the babies are able to burrow at the moisture level they prefer.

Diet for babies is simple to start with, as there are not many prey items small enough for hatchling fire skinks.  Small crickets 1/8” of an inch to ¼” of an inch are small enough for them, and once they are a couple weeks old they are usually big enough to start eating regular sized mealworms as well.  Waxworms can also be added to their diet, which can help keep them full if you notice your babies are nipping at each other’s tails.  Hungry babies will consume the tails of their clutchmates, and the easiest way to prevent tail nipping is to simply keep them fed!  I always leave a dish of regular mealworms out for my hatchlings, and offer 5 to 10 small crickets per baby every other day.  On this regime, your hatchlings will be large enough to go to a new home within the first month!

 

Mountain Horned Lizards: An Introduction to Acanthosauria in the Terrarium

Mountain Horned Lizards

By Jonathan Rheins

MEET THE DRAGON

Mountain Horned lizards (Accanthosaura sp.), or Mountain Horned dragons, as they are sometimes referred, are moderately sized tropical lizards belonging to the family Agamidae.    They have an extensive range throughout much of South-East Asia, the Malay Peninsula, and adjacent island chains.  Locally abundant, these lizards are common in the pet trade, and make for incredibly fascinating and entertaining terrarium subjects.

All mountain horned lizards are of the genus Accanthosaura.  Species accounts vary from one publication to another, but it is safe to assume that as many as 10 described species exist within the genus.  Despite such a taxonomically diverse family tree, only a handful of species are ever encountered in the U.S pet trade. The most common is A. capra, with the occasional A. crucigera making its way into the hands of American hobbyists.

The vast majority of Mountain Horned lizards are collected in Asia and shipped to various markets throughout the world.  However, A. capra have proven to be quite prolific in captivity, and private breeding efforts have increased the number of domestically produced dragons available.

NATURAL HISTORY

All species of Accanthosaura are highly arboreal in nature, spending much of their time high in the dense canopies of both primary and secondary rainforests within their range.  They are almost always encountered near permanent sources of running water.

Accanthosaura capra, the most often encountered species, seldom attain sizes of more than 12”, total length.  Their arboreal nature dictates that the tail length is often equal or greater to snout-to-vent (SVL) length.  While little is known about the longevity of wild individuals, captive born and raised animals can be expected to live in excess of 8 years, with 5-10 years being a reasonable goal.

Mountain Horned lizards typically perch motionless in the treetops, waiting for various invertebrate and vertebrate prey to cross their paths.  Insects make up much of the diet in the wild, with earthworms being a favorite food, both in nature and in the terrarium.  Some wild individuals have been reported to stalk and prey upon fish from overhanging perches.

When startled, these lizards will remain motionless until the threat has passed.  If they continue to feel threatened, they will dash to the forest floor (or bottom of the terrarium) as a last resort to evade the perpetrator.  As terrarium subjects, this behavior correlates to a very mild-mannered, easy to work with species.

Mountain Horned Lizards

“Accanthosauria capra”

HOUSING

There are many suitable enclosure types for Mountain Horned lizards.  The most important aspects to consider are enclosure height and the ability of the enclosure to maintain adequate heat and humidity within.

All-glass terrariums with sliding screen lids work well, although the front-opening terrariums manufactured by Zoo Med and Exo Terra may be preferable.  Front access tends to reduce stress of the inhabitants, while making feeding and maintenance less difficult.   Molded plastic enclosures with sliding glass fronts (such as those made by Vision Products shown below) are simply the best at keeping heat and humidity at optimum levels.

Although not terribly active, size should still be a consideration when selecting a Mountain Horned lizard enclosure.  A single adult should be allotted space equal to that of a standard 20-gallon “tall” terrarium, or front opening enclosure measuring 18x18x18”.   If multiple animals are to be housed together, terrarium size should be increased.

Care should be taken to avoid housing multiple mature males together.  They can become territorial overtime, which can lead to stress, lack of appetite, and occasional physical altercations.  Male-female pairs are communal, as are harem-type groups consisting of one male and multiple females.

Vision Cage

A well-designed habitat suitable for a pair or trio of Mountaini Horned Lizards

FURNISHINGS & DÉCOR

Designing any reptile habitat should be fun and exciting.  It is our opportunity to be creative and recreate a small piece of nature in our own homes. Mountain Horned lizards are not terribly picky about their surroundings, so long as multiple horizontal and vertical perches are provided.

Large pieces of grape wood, mopani wood, and vines should make up the bulk of the climbing structures within the terrarium.  These most closely mimic the natural habitat of these lizards.  Additionally, a multitude of both live and synthetic plants should be included, creating a dense, “canopy” feel in the enclosure.

The substrate used should be one that both promotes humidity and inhibits the growth of molds and fungus.  Coconut husk beddings and cypress mulch are among the best for this type of application.  Both products are available in a variety of forms and graded sizes, and both are excellent for maintaining the high levels of humidity required by these animals.

The use of planted vivaria has proven a highly successful and aesthetically pleasing means of keeping Mountain Horned lizards.  The inclusion of multiple live plants, mosses, and a significant drainage layer produce high levels of humidity as well as an environment that is as close to nature as a lizard can get!

vivarium

Creative “living vivaria” are suitable for Mountain Horned Lizards of all sizes

In addition to being quite beautiful to look at, living vivaria are also much easier to maintain than standard bedding-and-water bowl setups.  When properly constructed and maintained, this type of habitat can go months, even years, without a total overhaul and cleaning.  Furthermore, a nicely put-together vivarium can easily rival any tropical fish tank as a stunning living room center piece.

HEATING & LIGHTING

Compared to other tropical herps, Mountain Horned lizards seem to be less tolerant of extreme heat.  Because they are found at high elevations, and often near bodies of water, they may simply be better adapted to cooler, more humid environments.

Ambient air temperature within the Mountain Horned lizard terrarium should be between 75 and 85 degrees, with 80 degrees being an ideal temperature.  Under tank heat pads, infrared bulbs, and ceramic heat emitters are all excellent choices for maintaining a comfortable background temperature for these animals.

A basking bulb or spot light should be positioned over a section of the enclosure to produce a basking spot of approximately 90 degrees.  This should be the absolute hottest part of the enclosure, and should not be allowed to climb much above that temperature.  A series of analog or digital thermometers within the enclosures will prove an invaluable resource when keeping this, or any species of herp.

A moderate drop in temperature at night is acceptable, and is easily achieved by shutting off the basking bulb, while leaving all other heaters as-is.  Temperatures dipping into the low 70’s or high 60’s should be considered a minimum nocturnal temperature.

In addition to being kept warm, Mountain Horned lizards also require full spectrum lighting if expected to thrive long-term.  Full spectrum lighting, specifically light in the UVB wavelength, is produced naturally by the sun.  As reptile keepers, we must rely on specially designed bulbs to mimic the sunlight.  Linear fluorescent bulbs, as well as compact fluorescent bulbs work well in this capacity.  UVB lights should be on during the same time as any light-emitting basking bulbs.  10-12 hours of daylight is recommended for these lizards year round.

Mountain Horned Lizards

“Mowgli” – a captive-hatched Mountain Horned Lizard, surveys his domain.

WATER & HUMIDITY

Proper hydration is paramount to the successful maintenance of Mountain Horned lizards.  Like many other arboreal herps, these lizards prefer to drink water directly off of leaves and other foliage, rather than seeking a pool of standing water.  That said, a large water bowl should be provided for soaking, and also for producing added humidity within the enclosure.

In addition to a water dish, mountain horned lizard terraria should be misted heavily 2-3 times daily to ensure high levels of humidity (60-80%) as well as ample drinking water.  Automated misting systems, waterfalls, and foggers all work well if manually spraying each enclosure becomes too tedious or timeconsuming. These alternate methods of providing moisture can be extra helpful if you live in an excessively hot or dry climate.

NUTRITION

Mountain Horned lizards are not difficult to feed in captivity.  They readily accept all manner of commercially produced crickets, mealworms, superworms, and cockroaches.  Like true chameleons, these lizards have been known to become “bored” when provided a monotonous diet.

To avoid this issue, provide these lizards with the widest variety of foods possible.  In addition to insect prey, many Mountain Horned lizards will relish the occasional pinky (newborn) mouse, handful of earthworms, or even minnows and goldfish!

All food items should be “gut-loaded,” that is fed a highly nutritious diet prior to being offered as food themselves.  This maximizes the nutritional value of each individual food item, which helps to offset the relatively limited diet made available to most terrarium lizards.

In addition to variety and gut-loading, all food items offered to Mountain Horned lizards should be lightly dusted with an appropriate calcium and vitamin supplement. A high quality calcium powder with added vitamin D3 should be used at every feeding for young and growing lizards, or those suspected of carrying eggs.  This will ensure proper bone growth and skeletal integrity.

In addition to calcium, a reptile multi-vitamin should be used as well, about once a week for animals of all ages.  These products ensure that the animals are receiving all of the necessary fat and water-soluble vitamins they would normally encounter in their wild prey.

IN CLOSING

Mountain Horned lizards are in a class of their own when it comes to prehistoric-looking, yet readily available saurian companions.  They are just different enough looking to catch even the seasoned herper off guard, but easily obtained and cared for.  Their gentle disposition, range of colors, and inexpensive price make them one of the best choices for lizard keepers of all levels of experience.

When properly acclimated and housed, these lizards will no doubt provide endless hours of enjoyment and entertainment, whether it’s your first lizard, or your 50th!