A Helpful Guide to Blue Spiny Lizard Care

The blue spiny lizard is the largest of the spiny lizard family. They’re found naturally in the dry desert environment of South Texas and Northern Mexico. I’ve kept these lizards on many occasions over the years and currently have six. They’re easy to care for and breed readily in captivity.

The blue spiny lizard (Sceloporus cyanogenys) is fairly active and fast-moving. The largest of the Sceloporus family, they closely resemble their cousins, namely the crevice spiny lizard (Sceloporus poinsettii) or crevice spiny swift.

Forward

The past

I’ve been very fond of these lizards since I was in my mid-teens. When I was sixteen years old and working at a pet store, I found a pair of crevice spiny lizards that I took home. Even though we didn’t have the right setups back in the mid-1980s, they did well and produced a litter of babies.

Blue Spiny Lizard Video

Granite Spiny Lizard Video

Both the crevice spiny and blue spiny lizard bear live young. Unfortunately, due to inexperience, I didn’t remove the babies from the enclosure right away. Instead, I went to school and to my horror, they were gone by the time I came home. These lizards don’t always eat their young. In retrospect, they were probably hungry and weren’t being fed enough.

Twenty years later

Fast forward twenty years later and I landed a half a dozen baby blue spiny lizards. I stumbled across these captive-bred beauties at a Repticon show about ten years ago. This time, I was much more experienced and we had come such a long way when it comes to heating, lighting, and cages since the 1980s. They were a breeze to keep.

I ended up selling them after my collared lizard breeding project was over and I moved to another house.

Opportunity calls!

Another five years later and I am finally settled in at what I believe is my “forever home”. I saw captive bred babies available online and I grabbed six of them. This time around, I’m going for a serious breeding project.

My husbandry skills improved even more by this point and I have a larger array of food items (bugs) to offer them thanks to the internet. They’re growing the fastest I’ve ever seen.

They also make good pets in my opinion. Skittish at first, they always tame down with regular handling. When holding them, they usually remain perfectly still. I’ve always felt lizards of the Sceloporus family were grossly underrated.

The present and future

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with these lizards again. They have become rare in the trade over the past several years. I hope to change that with my breeding program.

Based on my experience the following is a complete guide to blue spiny lizard care

This article can also be applied to the care of the crevice spiny lizard and other desert-dwelling spiny lizards. There’s only one difference between the blue and crevice spiny lizards and the granite spiny lizards.

The granite spiny lizards lay eggs while the lizards covered in this article bear live young. In the near future, I’ll also have an article on egg-laying spiny lizard’s. In the meantime, check out my collared lizard page. Caring for the eggs is nearly identical to that of the desert-oriented, egg-laying spiny lizards. Never allow the fact that a lizard lays eggs discourage you from breeding them. It’s not hard at all, but you have to know what to look for.

Blue Spiny Lizard Facts

  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Docile but flighty
  • Family: Phrynosomatidae
  • Scientific name: Sceloporus occidentalis
  • Average adult size: 8 to 14 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 8 years
  • Hardiness: Hardy under the right conditions
  • Stress level: Low
  • Food: Insects, berries, flowers
  • Reproduction: Livebearer
  • Breeding level: Beginner
  • Average Temperature: 85-95°H/74°L
  • Humidity: 40-60%.
  • Habitat: Terrestrial
  • UVB lighting: Full spectrum lighting is required
  • Enclosure size: Medium to large
  • Average price range: $30 to $80
A Helpful Guide to Blue Spiny Lizard Care
A baby blue spiny lizard.

Range and habits

The blue spiny lizard occurs naturally along the south Texas, northeastern Mexican border. They live among sandy, dusty substrate in hot, arid conditions. While I wouldn’t consider them completely arboreal, they do climb up and down the trunks of trees to either evade a predator or catch a meal.

They also perch themselves on top of large stones on the lookout for any moving insect prey. They eat just about any insect they’re able to catch.

Blue spiny lizards are fast 

Like other lizards of the Sceloporus family, these guys are fast, lightning-fast. Especially younger specimens. While wild specimens may bite upon capture, I find them to take the more common approach of “playing dead”. I’ve never been bitten by a blue spiny lizard and I’ve seen my fair share of specimens.

I always keep a shallow water bowl in my blue spiny lizard enclosure. In the wild, they get their water from their prey, and occasionally from berries and vegetation. Most desert-dwelling lizards drink rainwater as it flows down on them. Replicate rain with either a spray bottle or by leaving a few ice cubes on the screen top, allowing them to drip into the enclosure.

Disposition and handling

Although not a bullish and burley as the desert spiny lizard, the blue spiny lizard is also more robust than most of the Sceloporus family. Still, I don’t find them particularly aggressive towards handling. Defensive methods are more along the line of playing dead. This makes them extremely easy to handle.

Once they’re on your hand or arm, they usually stay somewhere on your body. However, they tend to run up one’s arm to the shoulders eventually ending up on your back. This makes them difficult to catch although they usually won’t jump off your body.

When they do make it to the floor, wild-caught specimens quickly run off while captive-bred ones simply sit there, apparently waiting to get picked up again.

These lizards drop their tails

These lizards drop their tails when grabbed whether they’re captive-bred or wild-caught. Never grab your blue spiny lizard by the tail. While the tail does eventually grow back, it doesn’t usually look as good as the original one. Sometimes two tails freakishly grow back in place of one. It’s really not necessary to grab these lizards by their tail.

Try to cuff your hand and place it in front of the lizards head in times when the lizard must immediately be subdued. Otherwise, allow the lizard to jump on your hand so it feels it has the control. In time, you’ll condition it to gentle handling and it’ll know when to climb on and jump back off into its enclosure.

Feeding

As babies, feed blue spiny lizards appropriately sized insects daily. As adults, they might also want to eat daily or choose to eat every other day. 

Technically, the highly insectivorous blue spiny lizard is actually an omnivore. In captivity, they tend to lean more towards meat, mainly insects and appropriately sized arachnids. Nevertheless, I offer them a small dish of berries, greens, and small seeds at least three days a week. In nature, they gravitate more heavily towards meats as well.

Vegetation as a water source

It’s also possible for them to get their water through vegetation in the wild. After all, they live in a rather arid and inhospitable range. Always keep a shallow dish full of water in their enclosure.

I have yet to catch them eating vegetation but sometimes it’s scattered around the dish I offer it in. Use a good multivitamin once a week to make up for anything they might be missing from the wild. They also eat some flowers. 

Offer a variety of insects

As far as insects go, the more variety provided, the better. As a general rule, two insects consist of their staples. These include gut-loaded crickets and/or roaches. You may choose one of the two staples, you don’t necessarily have to give both.

I switch from one to the other but I’m moving more towards roaches for several reasons. They’re easier to keep, easy to breed, and they don’t smell anything like a nasty cricket enclosure.

Using roaches as a staple food source

Roaches are also much hardier and they’re far fewer die-offs. In fact, it’s rather difficult to kill them. Dubia roaches are the most popular roach but discoids are legal in Florida. I go with the discoids, there’s really not that much difference between the two species.

Example of reptile feeding dishes
Handy reptile feeding dishes.

Feeding dishes 

I started a new way of feeding my insectivorous lizards recently. Now we have the option of buying plastic feeding dishes which have plastic tops which prevent most bugs from escaping. They work with every kind of feeder insect except for crickets which can jump out of them.

Still, it usually takes a while for the crickets to figure out how to get out of them. 

I use them most for roaches and various worms. It’s more convenient to place the feeder insects inside the dish and leave them in the enclosure for the day. The lizards dine on them at their leisure from the morning until early evening.

Quick tip

Cut a small piece of carrot and place it in the middle of the feeder dish. This keeps roaches and worms from drying out and dying at some point in the day. It also keeps them moving which triggers a food response from the lizards.

Blue spiny lizard

More variety for your blue spiny lizard 

I’d argue that black soldier fly larvae could also be considered a staple food for various insectivorous lizards. These maggots are extremely nutritious and naturally high in calcium.

In fact, vitamin D3/calcium supplementation isn’t necessary when feeding your lizards black soldier fly larvae. They’re also high in protein. The problem is, they’re usually not most lizards first choice in food.

Since they’re much lower in fat than mealworms or waxworms, they probably don’t taste as sweet to the lizards. Sometimes it just takes a little tough love. If you only offer them soldier fly larvae, they’ll take it by the second or third day. Once they start eating them, they usually continue to do so readily.

Other foods available

Other foods available at reptile shows or through the internet include silkworms, hornwormsbutterworms, and superworms. I find them not to like silkworms very much. All these worms are nutritious and make a great side course for your lizards.

Be careful not to offer mealworms or waxworms excessively. Mealworms are difficult to digest and offer less nutrition.  Waxworms are awfully high in fat. Stick with moderation with these to supplement staple feeders. 

Supplementation

As I alluded to earlier, the blue spiny lizard may not take in as much vegetation in captivity as they would in the wild. To account for the difference, offer a quality multivitamin made specifically for insectivorous lizards once, or twice a week. Don’t go overboard with it and avoid multivitamins high in beta carotene.

Diets high in phosphorous is also bad because it blocks calcium absorption. This is why we supplement feeder insects with vitamin D3 powder four times a week. I use calcium powder for babies daily. This is a vital time for the lizards to thrive. I’ll talk more about it in the breeding section.

A Helpful Guide to Blue Spiny Lizard Care

Lighting and heating 

These lizards like it warm. Offer three areas which include a basking area, a warm area, and a cooler area. In my experience, these lizards don’t spend much time in the cooler zone. Nevertheless, be sure to have one, it’s good lizard-keeping etiquette.

Avoid heat stones

Instead, under-the-tank, adhesive heat mats work great. Use them with a thermostat. I like to peel the glue off the heat mat and use foil tape to adhere it to the bottom of the tank. This way, it’s not stuck to the tank for its entire life if you decide to get a different one or use it for another enclosure. 

Full-spectrum lighting is vital

That means both UVB and UVA. You can do this with separate bulbs or with a single mercury bulb which offers both UVB and UVA simultaneously. Even when I use a single mercury bulb, I also use another UVB bulb for the cooler area. I prefer domes over horizontal lighting hoods. It doesn’t matter which you choose as long as everything is included.

If you live up north where the weather gets cold, you might also need a ceramic heat bulb in a separate dome. Especially during the night. Keep the basking spot at around 100°F. Keep the ambient temperature in the mid to upper 80s and they’ll be fine. The cooler area can drop down to the 70s or more, especially at night.

Humidity 

These are desert-dwelling lizards. Keep humidity between 40 to 60%. Go for the higher end if your lizard is going into shed. Shedding usually isn’t a problem with these guys. I’ve had agamas and bearded dragons which needed a moisturizer on their tails so the old skin would come off. I use all-natural mineral oil or organic coconut oil for this. If left unchecked, the lizard tail eventually falls off.

I never had to do this with blue spiny lizards or any other member of the Sceloporus family. Misting the cage occasionally is fine. You can also gently mist the lizard directly. They sometimes drink water this way. Leaving a few ice cubes on top of the screen is a great way to simulate rainfall. Rainfall often stimulates breeding in several species of lizards. This includes desert dwellers.

Enclosure size

For a single baby blue spiny lizard, I recommend no less than a twenty-gallon-long tank. These measure out to two and a half feet. You can keep up to four or five babies in this enclosure until they start growing. I wouldn’t recommend a ten-gallon tank, even for a single lizard because it’s not enough room for them to properly thermoregulate.

You need a warm spot, a basking spot, and a cooler area. A ten-gallon tank is too small for this. As the lizards start growing, you’ll find a twenty-long isn’t going to cut it. The lizards start scratching at the glass and become stressed because there’s simply not enough room. 

Housing adult blue spiny lizards

For an adult blue spiny lizard with two or three females, I recommend nothing less than a forty-gallon breeder tank. If you can go bigger, great! The general rule of thumb when keeping most lizards is the larger sized enclosure you can provide, the better. Fifty-five gallon tanks aren’t especially wide but they’re long which provides plenty of room for these lizards. Go for an enclosure that’s at least three feet long by two feet wide for adults.

I offer a rock/stone cave which the lizards hide in, especially at night. Place the heat lamp directly over the cave so it contracts heat. The lizards also bask under it. For better UVB absorption, I place one or two pieces of wood pointed upwards. This is so the lizards can climb to the top and be closer to the UVB lighting. Provide a shallow water dish at all times. 

Substrate 

The blue spiny lizard is basically a desert lizard. Clean play sand makes an excellent substrate for adults. Pulverized walnut shells is another good option. I don’t like calcium sand, it’s just not a good idea. Use paper towels for babies to prevent impaction. I’d avoid cypress, aspen, coconut, mulch, and just about all other forms of commonly available substrate for these lizards.

Those substrates are great when you need high humidity levels for tropical or subtropical lizards. That’s not the case here. Adults can also be kept on paper towels. If you double or triple layer them, the lizards hide within them instead of burrowing. It’s a viable option that offers a quick clean up. These lizards burrow less than collared lizards.

Breeding

The blue spiny lizard along with the crevice spiny lizard are two of the easiest lizards to breed. Most of the time they’ll breed on their own without much effort from the keeper if their enclosure is large and set up correctly. Nevertheless, I have some extra tips.

First, keep only one mature male per enclosure. Males fight, sometimes to the death, especially during the breeding season. Still, never keep two males together no matter what time of the year it is. Keep one male with one to three females. Make sure the enclosure is large enough if you choose to keep four blue spiny lizards in it. Usually, one male to two females is best. Females also get stressed with limited room. 

The photo-period – shortening and lengthening of days 

First, the changing photoperiod (hours of daylight) stimulates breeding activity. Follow whatever season you’re in. Keep the lights on longer in the spring and summer. Decrease them in the autumn throughout winter.

Also, let temperatures cool down considerably for two or three months during winter. Then, as spring approaches, start leaving the lights on longer each day, just like outside. Allow the enclosure to start warming up again. They’ll breed during this time if conditions are suitable.

Misting the enclosure with water also stimulates a breeding response

Alternatively, you can place a few ice cubes on top of the screen enclosure in the morning. The melting water simulates rain. Do this only after the enclosure has reasonably warmed up. 

Caring for the young

These lizards bear live young. You’ll have no eggs to incubate. Remove all babies from the parent’s enclosure a soon as you find them. Set them up in a twenty-gallon long tank and use paper towels as a substrate to prevent impaction.

Use the same lighting and heating formula as with the adults. A smaller tank requires a less powerful heating bulb and a smaller under-the-tank heat mat. Avoid heat stones, especially when dealing with babies. They could literally get fried. 

How long to keep babies together

You can keep males and females together when they’re first born up to several weeks depending on how fast they grow. Once they get bigger, separate them into appropriate groups of one male per enclosure.

These lizards outgrow a twenty-gallon long and need a forty-gallon breeder tank at the very least. Go bigger if you can. Especially if you’re serious about breeding them. 

Conclusion 

Don’t underestimate the blue spiny lizard as pets. No, they don’t handle as easily as bearded dragons, blue tongue skinks, or the uromastyx but if you allow them to think they’re in control, they’ll sit on your hand, arm or shoulder. It takes a little time and patience. Personally, I prefer them over blue tongue skinks and bearded dragons but we all have our own taste. Hopefully, these lizards will grow in popularity.

Set them up in a desert styled terrarium, much like you would a bearded dragon or uromastyx. Feed them a variety of bugs daily although adults may feed every other day. Their main staples are preferably gut-loaded cockroaches or crickets. Offer them some greens and berries at least three times a week. Full UVB/UVA is a must. Give them a multi-vitamin once a week while vitamin D3 powder daily to every other day. They should thrive under these conditions. 

If you have experience with the blue spiny lizard or any other members of the Sceloporus family, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. They’re probably my top favorite family of lizards.

Related video: Side-Blotched Lizard Care

A Helpful Guide to Blue Spiny Lizard Care

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