Choosing and Caring for Pet Desert Lizards
Desert lizards an be kept in a variety of terrariums that mirror a
arid and low humidity environment. Popular species of desert lizards
include the Mali Uromastyx, Leopard Gecko and Bearded Dragon. In
general, these lizards grow up to 10 inches and larger, primarily eat
insects (insectivores), are nocturnal and live alone. As pets, these
lizards are appropriate, with supervision, for children age 10 and
older. The typical
terrarium is simple and includes sand as a substrate along with items
found in the
native environment such
as rocks and plants. Humidity levels are low, so aquarium tops should
be screened to allow for the release of any moisture.
The Texas Collared Lizard
(left) and the Leopard Gecko (right) are popular home pet lizards
Desert Lizards - Habitats
- Habitat Size: Pet lizards can be
kept in a terrarium
that is 12 in. x 30
in. or larger depending on size and activity level.
- Substrate: Sand is an acceptable substrate. The bottom layer of
the sand substrate should be moistened using a pipe
which directs water to the area.
- Furniture: Depending on the species, some need climbing objects
such as piles of flat rocks, while others such as Horned Lizards do not
need to climb. Other popular options include:
- Basking Rocks
- Potted plants that are at home in arid environments
- Cork bark for hiding areas
- Puntia Cactus Skeletons
- Temperature: The
terrarium should be kept at 105 to 110F (40.6 to 43C).
Lizard Desert Habitat Kit Like this one is an Easy Way for Hobbyists to
set up a Lizard Cage
Desert Lizards Species
As mentioned above, the most popular
type of desert lizard is the Leopard Gecko. Other popular pet
lizard species are the North African Lizard Dab Lizard and the Texas
Horned Lizards (phrynosoma, a desert
lizard) and Spiny Lizards
Source: Houston Zoo/Wikimedia
These desert lizards have similar characteristics (nasal psychology)
but are very different in behavior. The Horned Lizard is slow and
squat, while the Spiny Lizard or Swift is thinner and fast. The Fence
Swift and Horned Lizard are both popular among hobbyists.
Horned Lizard Habitat:
- Habitat: The terrarium size depends on the size of the lizard and
the number to be kept in captivity. Minimum dimensions are 12 in.
x 30 in.
- Substrate: Sand
- Furniture: Flat rocks
- Temperature: 105F to 110F (50.6C to 43C)
- Low humidity
- Lizard Cage Size: Depends on size of lizard
- Diet: Ants, which make this type of lizard difficult to care for
Swift Spiny Lizard Habitat
- Furniture: Limbs for climbing, flat rocks
- Lizard Cage Size: 12 inches x 48 inches
Desert Skink Lizards
Ocellatus Desert Skink
Skinks live in the Savanna
or Desert. Ocellated or Barrel Skinks are a popular lizard breed in
Europe. They are kept in a sand terrarium, but need to maintain the
sand/moisture balance. Sinks are small lizards that are not
commonly kept in home
can be kept in areas that are 12 in x 30 (20 gallon terrarium). Other
types of skinks include the Great Plains Skink, Schneider's and
Algerian Skink. The later is cold tolerant and eats insects.
Sandfish Desert Lizard
Another type of skink lizard is the Sandfish. These desert lizards
require a large terrarium with up to a foot of fine
sand at the bottom. Keep the bottom layer of sand moist with trickling
water fed via a PVC pipe. Keep one end of the terrarium at 110F (43C)
other end at 85F (29C).
Desert Geckos as Pets
Geckos are popular desert lizards as pets due to their small size
and ability to keep in a smaller aquarium. They are slower moving, and
relatively easy to care for.
Types of Desert Geckos:
Leopard Gecko is an extremely popular lizard commonly found in pet
stores. The lizard feeds on
crickets and mealworms. A leopard gecko can live as long as 15 to
22 years. These lizards are nocturnal, making them more active at
night. To observe their behaviors you may need a special red or night
- Habitats can be as small as a 10 gallon aquarium. An owner
can keep 3
females and one male in a tank. Place an inch of sand on bottom of
tank. Other acceptable substrates are small pebbles, ground oyster
shell. Like caves, cork bark tubes or curved pieces of pine bark.
clean water in habitat at all times in a shallow dish.
Juvenile Leopard Gecko
- African Fat Tailed Geckos:
Prefer that the aquarium be a bit
humid that an aquarium kept for leopard Geckos. Set up the aquarium in
the same way, but to raise the humidity, use bark nuggets in the
terrarium (they hold moisture). Also include un-milled sphagnum moss.
Keep a low water dish in the tank.
African Fat Tailed Gecko
- Collared lizards in the wild are found near boulders. These
lizards should be kept only one to a tank. The minimum
habitat size is 18 inches x 48 inches. Basking area should be kept up
to 115F (46C). Also provide a cooler area for resting. Nighttime
temperatures can be 60F (18V). This species is best know for showing no
fear. The Texas collard lizard is a popular choice due to its stunning
colors and ability to adapt to captivity.
Collared Lizard is found along
roadsides often sitting on top of a boulder as shown here
Source: Wikimedia, Daniel Schwan
Chuckwallas are large desert lizards that are not very
active. When grooming, one Chuckwalla will bite the skin off of
Chuckwalla Desert Lizard Photographed
in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Source: Wikimedia, Azhikerdude
Desert Iguana (Dipso)
Source: Wikimedia, Ekeb
As the name implies, this type of Iguana prefers a desert
terrarium. In terms of habitat, create a hot spot
and use a firm substrate be burrowed, such as rocks. They are
herbivores ixed greens (avoid oxalic acid), shredded carrots,
blossoms and dandelion leaves. Desert Iguanas can live 15 years or
These lizards require high levels of UVB
lighting and a sand/clay
substrate. They like to burrow. They will drink from a flat dish.
They prefer to eat tough and non succulent leaves and blossoms of
Spiny Tailed Agamid photographed in
the Kuwaiti desert
Source: Wikimedia, Maj Kathleen A Hoard, US Marine Corp
Night Desert Lizard
Source: United States Geological Survey
Like others on this page, create a desert terrarium to house this
lizard. They like to bask
underneath a warm rock or
bark. They eat small crickets, mealworms, beetles, grasshoppers and
other small insects.
Bearded Dragons or Beardies as they are affectionately called can be
found in a variety of habitats including
everything from deserts to heavily forested areas. The lizard
originally comes from Australia, but can now be found in other regions.
There are eight recognized species
which grow to no more than 2 feet in length (most grow to between 6 to
12 inches), making them a popular pet
lizard. Baby bearded dragons cost between $25 and $35 dollars. Adults
can cost several hundred dollars. Inspect the baby when purchased in a
pet store for appetite (ask it to be fed), and check that eyes are
clear, and all toes are in place.
Australian Bearded Dragon
Source: wikimedia, Steve Jurvetson - Menlo Park, USA
- Diet: Bearded Dragons are easy to feed. They eat plants,
animal and can be coaxed into eating specially formulated pellets.
- Vegetables: Diced carrots, collard greens, dandelion
flowers/leaves, frozen mixed vegetables, kale, mustard greens
- Insects: Gut loaded (pre-fed with nutrients) crickets, mealworms
- Rodents: Small mice
- Commercial Diets: Pellets
- Handling: This might be the easiest lizard to handle. They
sit still in palm (out of fear) and will not bite or scratch.
- Habitat: Glass terrarium with a mesh screen top.
- Juveniles: lizard cage with is 3ft to 4ft in length.
- Adults: 6 ft in length, 16 in to 20 in wide.
- Substrates: Print free newsprint in first layer, topped with
either sand or Calci-Sand which generally considered safe and
digestible, although others believe that it can lead to an impaction
or gastrointestinal blockage problem.
- Furniture: Some type of branch or shelter
box or reptile cage to perch on top of or to sleep inside.
- Diurnal: Bearded Dragons are awake and active during the day.
- Appeal: The lizard makes a waving motion with an arm that
delights owners and visitors.
- Temperature: Like other lizards, bearded dragons require a cool
zone and a hot zone. Daytime temperatures should range from 80F to 85F.
Basking areas should be at 90F to 93F. At night, the entire terrarium,
hot and cold, can be set to the same temperature which is 65F to 75F.
- Lighting: Bearded dragons require 10 hours of sunlight per day.
Use natural unfiltered light or full spectrum lighting.
- Water: Clean water provided in a dish.
Have a Lizard Related Question for our Vet? We Will Answer it for Free!
Do you need some pet lizard advice? Just ask a question and our Vet will answer it as soon as possible.
If your question is medical or behavior related, please include information such as species, age, diet, habitat and anything related to the medical history of your lizard.
Please upload a picture of your lizard, especially if you believe it will help the Veterinarian. Please know that we receive many questions and answer them on a first come, first served basis. If you need an immediate response, we suggest you use this online veterinary service that is available now to answer your questions.
Care from A to Z
(highly recommended book)
by R.D. Bartlett and Patricia Bartlett
Gecko, Your Happy, Healthy, Pet
by Frank Indiviglio
The Bearded Dragon, Your Happy, Healthy Pet
by Steve Grenard
Manual for Pet Health
Like this page? Please share it with your friends: