The collared lizard, Crotophytus collaris
, is an 8-14 inch diurnal species and one of North America's most colorful lizards. They possess a distinct alertness and high activity level that makes them great terrarium subjects, and they may grow accustomed to gentle handling. The following information can also be applied to the closely-related leopard lizards, Gambelia spp.
The 6 subspecies of collared lizards inhabit rocky deserts and overgrown thorn scrub in the central and southwestern USA and can be found as far south as central Mexico. The eastern collared lizard, Crotophytus collaris collaris
, is the most common species kept in captivity.
Wild-caught lizards are difficult to acclimate, but captive-born individuals tolerate gentle handling. If threatened, they will not hesitate to bite, but this amounts to nothing more than a small pinch. Collared lizards can also rear up on their hind legs while attempting to flee from danger.
These lizards are very active: foraging, territorial displays, and digging occupy much of their time. They may refuse food during the winter months, but most begin feeding again without further problems with the return of spring.
Setting up the Terrarium
The collared lizard's active lifestyle demands a great deal of space. Juveniles can be reared communally in a 20 gallon aquarium, while a single adult may be kept in a 20-30 gallon tank. A 55 gallon tank will accommodate a pair or trio.
Due to the high basking temperatures required, large enclosures are necessary to establish a thermal gradient. This allows the lizards to regulate their body temperature by moving back and forth between warmer and cooler areas. Collared lizards are ground dwelling animals and use rocks as basking sites and perches from which to watch for danger. Rocks should always be placed on the terrarium floor. Stacked rocks should be fastened to each other with silicone to prevent collapses.
Sturdy live plants will add greatly to the display and provide security and sight barriers that help eliminate aggression. Useful plants include aloe, ox tongue, and snake plant. Artificial terrarium plants
can also be used to the same effect.
Air flow is especially important for animals from arid habitats, so your terrarium should be equipped with a screen top
A sand/gravel mix is the most natural substrate for collared lizards. Although impactions due to swallowed substrate are rare, it is best to provide most foods in a bowl
so that ingestion of substrate is limited. Hatchlings tend to swallow more sand, and can be kept on newspaper, paper towels, or washable cage liners until they are larger.
Light, Heat and Humidity
Collared lizards will not thrive without daily exposure to high levels of UVB radiation. Fluorescent reptile bulbs
should be positioned 6-12 inches from the basking site to allow adequate exposure to these rays. Mercury vapor bulbs
provide UVB and heat; these can be used in larger terrariums.
Collared lizards require a basking temperature of 95-100°F, but require an ambient temperature of 80-90°F. Temperatures can dip into the 70's at night. Ceramic heaters or black/red heat bulbs can be used if supplemental heat is needed at night.
Because collared lizards are found in arid habitats humidity should be kept low and the substrate should remain dry at all times. Water can be provided in a small dish.
Females and juveniles may co-exist, but groups must be watched for aggression. Dominant individuals may prevent others from feeding and basking. Males will fight and cannot be housed together.
These lizards are largely insectivorous. Their calcium requirements are high, and pinkie mice can be offered every week or two to adults as a calcium supplement. Insect prey should be coated with a powdered calcium supplement
, and a multivitamin
or mineral powder
should be used 2-3 times per week.
Roaches, waxworms, crickets, silkworms, mealworms, superworms, hornworms, and other feeder insects should form the bulk of the diet. Crickets are an excellent staple food provided they are given a nutritious diet for at least a day prior to feeding them to the lizard, but they must be supplemented by other insects. Canned insects and snails can also be offered via forceps or a shallow dish. Wild-collected insects can be used as well, but they must be taken from areas free of pesticides. Some insects are toxic, so it is important to identify common poisonous insects and avoid them. Wild moths, beetles, grasshoppers, etc. can be used.
Wild collared lizards consume some vegetation, but captive animals often ignore most plants. Kale, dandelion, and other greens can be offered occasionally. Mixing them in with live insects may encourage your lizard to eat some of the greens as well. Adults can be fed 5 times per week, while juveniles should be fed daily.
Daily Care and Maintenance
Check your lizard daily for signs of injury or disease such as missing toes, mites, abrasions, ulcers or blisters, and infections. Collared lizards should always appear alert and hold themselves erect when active.
Daily care includes feeding, replacing water, and removing uneaten food and waste.
Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations
for additional instructions.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1246 or [email protected]