Savanna Lizards as Pets

Savanna Lizards live near the end of a woodland, forest or at the edge of a desert.  They are places where the environment transitions. These areas are sparse and may have periods during the year where there is more rain and vegetation. There are many types of lizards found in this sometimes harsh, but vegetated environment. 


The terrarium should reflect this type of habitat. Note that many plants used in Savannah terrariums need to be periodically replaced. Substrate used at the bottom of any terrariums should be sandy humus and rocks. Plant life includes:

  • acacias (seedlings)
  • clumped grass areas
  • branches
  • cactus skeletons

Plants can be in pots. Use a cage with a screen top to keep humidity levels in the lizard cage, low. Note Savannah Lizards is the spelling used in the UK whereas Savanna is used in the U.S.

Savanna Lizard Species

Information on Savanna Lizards as Pets

  • Savanna Geckos: Savanna Geckos eat crickets that are powered with calcium. This supplement needs to be added to the diet 1x per week. They eat nectar. They will drink from a water dish, but these lizards must be misted every day. Keep plants in the terrarium moist to encourage Geckos to drink from the droplets.

    • Helmeted Gecko (Geckonia chazaliae): This Gecko breed is native to the west coast of Africa and grows to 3 to 4 inches in length. These Geckos prefer daytime temperatures of 85F to 96 F (29C - 25.6C) and nighttime temperatures of 70F (20C). Will drink from a low water dish. Lizard feed for a helmeted gecko includes butterflies, crickets, cockroaches, meal worms and beetles.  One month per year is the "winter rest" where the temperature is kept 10 degrees lower.  They live in the desert as well as the Savannah.

      helmeted gecko
      The Helmeted Gecko is a Savanna Lizard that is Bred for Captivity
      Source: Wikimedia, Gunilla

    • Tokay Geckos (Squamata Gekkonidae): The Tokay Gecko is a nocturnal lizard that grows to 10 inches to 1 foot in length and will live 7 to 10 years. This Gecko is from Southeast Asia and the Malayan Isles. They are found in many types of environments including tropical and subtropical areas, mountainsides, rocky outcrops and in deserts.  In the United States they are found in Hawaii and South Florida, and are found around buildings.

      These types of savanna lizards are characterized by a green/gray color and spots that are orange/brown. The "Tokay" name is based on the loud call or noises made by the lizard.They eat other lizards, insects (crickets, wax worms, wax moths, super worms, locusts, butter worms), frogs and pinkie mice. These lizards can also vocalize and bite.  Like other Geckos, they can climb walls. Tokay Geckos are nocturnal and are only for experienced lizard hobbyists since they do not like to be handled.  Download this PDF for more information on the Tokay Gecko.
      • Habitat: 10 gallon tank
      • Temperature: 85F to 90F during the day, 15F at night
      • Heat: Heat can be used.  The Gecko requires 10 hours of light per day.
      • Substrate: Potting soil and sand mixture, coconut fiber, fur bark, orchid bark
      • Humidity: Requires 70% to 90% humidity

        tokay gecko
        Tokay Gecko's make distinct noises that sound like its' name. They can change skin tone to blend into the environment. These Geckos are able to cling to surfaces, including the unique ability to walk upside down.
        Source: Petco

    • Indonesian Skunk Gecko: Kept in small 10 gallon terrariums, although more space is preferred. High terrariums are preferred, particularly in the dimensions of 48 inches long,x 30 inches wide, 66 inches high. Provide opportunities to climb.

      indonesian gecko
      Indonesian Skunk Gecko
      Source: Wikimedia, Humphrey Manusiwa

    • Australian Velvet Gecko: These savanna lizards very active. Kept in a vertical 15 gallon tank. Terrarium temperature of 80 to 90F (26.7C - 32C) is preferred. Drink water drops from plants and perches.

      australian velvet gecko
      Australian Velvet Gecko
      Source: Wikimedia, Peter Firminger

    • New Caledonian Geckos or Eyelashed Geckos as Pets: This is the type of Gecko commonly found in pet stores that sell savanna lizards. They grow to 8 inches. Caledoniam Geckos feed on insects and fruit. The terrarium should be a 30 gallon tank (24 inches long x 12 inches wide x 2 inches high).

      eyelashed gecko
      Female New Caledonian Crested Eyelash Gecko
      Source: Wikimedia, Margo226

  • Curly-tailed Lizards: These savanna lizards are 6 inches to 10 inches long. They eat insects and some plants. The terrarium should be dry with a sand substrate for burrowing. They can dart on rock surfaces, which are preferred in the terrarium.

    curly tailed lizard
    Curly Tailed Lizard
    Source: Wikimedia, Lanare Sevi
  • Skinks: This Savanna lizard is found in tropical and temperate regions. They can be a few inches to 2 feet in length. The terrarium should have a floor space of 36 inches x 24 inches and a height of 15 inches. 2 inches of each substrate plus dried leaves and small dried palm fronds. Also include a few layered rocks and limbs. They will drink from a low dish.
    • Fire Skinks: same care as described above.
    • Broad-headed Skinks: Do well on vitamin dusted insects. Will eat canned cat food.
    • Larger Australian Skinks: Requires large enclosure with multiple rock piles.
    • Spiny-Tailed Skinks: Will eat canned cat food. Requires large cages and rock piles.
    • Pink Tongued Skink: Will eat fish flavored cat food.

      savanna lizards skinks
      Pair of Savanna Skink Lizards
      Source: Wikimedia, PFLY

  • Alligator and Glass Lizards: These Savanna lizards superficially look like snakes and are legless lizards. Characteristics that separates them from snakes include external ear openings, small scales, movable eyelids.  They grow in size between 18 inches to 42 inches long, most of which is tail (head to body grows to 12 inches). These lizards eat mostly insects (spiders, earthworms, snails).  Hard to capture in the wild without breaking the lizard's tail.  May bite a handler.  They are called glass lizards due to the likelihood that the tail will break off if a predator grabs the tail. The glass lizard tail will keep on moving after it breaks off. This lizard's lifespan is 15 years. Download a Glass Lizard fact sheet here (PDF Download).
    • Slow Worm Lizards: Eats insects such as slugs, earthworms, centipedes. 
    • Alligator Lizards: Kept in a dry substrate, and must have fresh water. Will eat canned cat food.
    • Glass Lizards: Large size lizard that eats insects and mice. Will also eat cat food.

      savanna glass lizard
      The Savanna Glass Lizard will break off if grabbed by a predator or human
      Source: Wikimedia, FI295

  • Girdle Tailed Lizards: These savanna lizards are between 4 inches and 18 inches. They eat insects and some rodents.  They will also eat leaves and blossoms.  They will drink from water dishes. They prefer hot, dry, low humidity habitats. 
    • Sungazer: 13 inch long type of Girdle lizard.
    • Armadillo Lizards: 4 to 6 inches in length. Feed on insects, like termites in particular.
    • Other types:
      • Flat Lizards
      • Warren Armadillo Lizards (Ouroborus cataphractus): Native to South Africa. Characterized by rows of sharp spines covering the back of the tail and can grow to 5 to 8 inches in length (150mm to 200mm).  Found near termite mounds, their food source. For more information download this fact sheet on the Armadillo Girdled Lizard.

        girdle tailed lizard
        Girdle Tailed Lizards
        Source: Wikimedia

  • Plated Lizards and Zonosaurs (Gerrhosaurus)
    • Over time, these savanna lizards will get used to a handler and will become tame. They are originally from Southern and Eastern Africa. The name is from the thick scales on their body. Download this sheet on caring for plated lizards (PDF download).
      • Home Habitat:
        • These Savanna lizards require 50% humidity
        • Day temperatures are 90F with cool areas at 75F. Night temperatures should be 70F to 75F. Use a reptile heat mat for 24 hour ground heat in a terrarium.
        • Basking areas are required on logs or rocks
        • Furniture should include a hiding area, such as one made out of cork bark
        • Substrate: Potting soil mixed with orchid bark or beech chips
        • Clean the terrarium 1x per week using a 3% bleach solution (remove lizard before cleaning).
        • Diet: These savanna lizards are plant and meat eating omnivores. Feed every day. Preferred foods include:
          • Insects (crickets, locusts, mealworms, waxworms
          • Rodents: Pinkie mice
          • Fruit: Papaya, banana, strawberry, melon
          • Plants: Dark greens, broccoli, spinach, carrots, turnips, dandelions (leaves, flowers), green beans, sprouts
          • Provide a multi-vitamin supplement 1x or 2x a week
          • Water: in dish changed every day
        • Species:
          • African Plated Lizards Can live 10 or more years. Eat insects and some rodents, blossoms, vegetation.
          • Zonosaurs (Malagasy Smooth scaled plated lizards): Topical lizards that also live in the forest. Rarely bask. Eat insects, anelids, canned cat food, canned dog food, fruit. Prefer daytime temperatures of 77F to 90F (25C to 32C).

            four lined plated savanna lizard
            Four Lined Plated Lizard
            Source: WikiMedia

  • Lacertid Lizards:
    • Jeweled and Green Lacertas: These savanna lizards grow to 18 inches to 32 inches in length. Lacertid lizard diet is small insects, rodents and small birds. Will eat fruit and blossoms. Require large cages since they like to move and climb.

      lacertid lizard
      Lacertid Lizard Climbing Tree
      Source: Wikimedia, SpiderOne

  • Frilled Lizards (also called Frilled Dragons) and Bearded Dragons: These are big 32 inch lizards.  Adapt well to captivity.

    • Frilled Lizards:
      • Origin is Australia and New Guinea
      • Named for the "frill" around the neck, the frill can expand to 14 inches
      • The Frilled Dragon can grow to 3 feet long
      • These lizards primarily eat insects, but will eat small rodents and birds.
      • Diet: Omnivore that requires 70% insects (gut loaded or recently fed crickets, mealworms, was worms), 30% mixed fruits and vegetables, sprinkle food with a calcium supplement
      • Lizard Feeding Schedule: 3x to 5x per week, younger lizards are fed every day
      • For babies, 20 gallon terrariums are fine.  Adult lizards require an enclose that is no smaller than 75 to 100 gallons (378.5L) or 4 ft square/wide x 3 feet high
      • Temperature: Warm basking area of 100F, cool area not less than 70F.  Supply radiant heat using a ceramic heater or incandescent light bulb.

        frilled lizard
        Frilled Lizard

    • Bearded Dragons (pogona vitticeps):
      • Native to central Australia, beard refers to skin slap under the chin.  Skin flap expands when disturbed.
      • Can make excellent pets
      • Can grow to 15 inches to 2 feet in length
      • Tolerates human interaction.
      • Grows to 12 to 18 inches
      • Lizard lifespan is 7 to 10 years
      • Habitat: 75 or 120 gallon tank is best. Measurement should be 48 in x 24 in x 18 in high.
      • Substrate: Do not use sand or small particles. Best choice is newspaper, repti-carpet or sterile potting soil.
      • Lighting: UVB light from a fluorescent bulb that has at least 5% UVB. Bulb should be more than 12 inches from basking area.  Provide 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness per day.
      • Temperature: Daytime is 80F-85F.  Basking area is is 88F to 95F. Night temperature is 70F - 75F.  Under tank heater can maintain minimum night temperature if necessary.
      • These lizards like to bask in the sun to generate heat.
      • Diet (Omnivorous, insect/meat, plant): Feed a varied diet.
        • Plants/Vegetables: Pumpkin, winter squash, snow peas, turnips, sweet potatoes, lentils, green beans, carrots, butternut squash, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, acorn squash
        • Occasional Feed: Cabbage, kale, chard, spinach, broccoli, parsley
        • Fruit, no seeds or pits: apples, apricot, banana, berries, cantaloupe, figs, grapes, mangoes, oranges, papaya, peach, pear, plum, tomatoes
        • Insects (70% of diet): Gut loaded (pre-fed) crickets, mealworms
      • Juveniles require Require calcium supplements (no phosphous or vitamin D) 3x per week, and a reptile multivitamin 1x per month

        Download this free fact sheet on bearded dragon care from USC (PDF Download).

        bearded dragon
        Bearded Dragon Savanna Lizard
        Source: Petco

  • RaceRunners and Whiptail Lizards (also called Jungle Runners): The Racerunner and Whiptail savanna lizards are very nervous and will run away from any threat
    • Must be in a warm environment with a basking area at 105F, hiding areas, dry substrate
    • Will eat a variety of foods

      whiptail lizards
      Whiptail Lizards
      Source: US Forestry Service

  • Savannah Monitor Lizards:

    The African Savanna Monitor (varanus exanthematicus) is a popular lizard and can be found in many pet stores. The lizard is native to Sub-Saharan Africa and north of the Congo River. It is gray in color with markets and tough scales. The lizard is stocky in appearance and grows to 2.5 to 4 feet in length (1.52m) - 5 feet is rare, depending on the type of Savannah monitor lizard.

    • The Savannah monitor lizard can puff up its body when threatened.  When they do this they are preparing to lash the threat with their tail. They also have claws and the ability to create a bad odor in defense.
    • Habitat: As a large lizard, the cage will need to be at least 6 ft. x 6 ft. x 10 ft. (1.83m x 1.83m x 3.05m). Do not use wire mesh, preference for glass or Plexiglas to maintain humidity
    • Substrate: Use a deep 2 foot substrate such as dirt.  The monitor likes to create tunnels and burrows.
    • Temperature: Cool size of lizard cage between 75F to 80F. heated area to 90 to 100F.  Basking area heat to 11`0 to 130F.  Night temperature can fall to room temperature.  Heat basking area with rack of 3 to 4 flood lamps at 60 to 120 watts.
    • When held in captivity for many years they can become over weight, and may require that food be limited.
    • Lizard lifespan is 10 to 15 years
    • Diet: Insects (large roaches), small rodents. Feed a variety of foods daily.
    • Supplements: Dust insects with vitamin and mineral powder
Click here to download a summary of Savannah Monitor Care (PDF Download).

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References for Savanna Lizards:

Lizard Care from A to Z (highly recommended book on lizards, home and outdoor habits and caring for lizards)

North Carolina Wild Profiles

Cape Nature

Tampa Estuary Program

Merck Manual for Pet Health

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