Collared Lizards as Pets
As far as lizard-keeping goes, collared lizards make some of the best pets. These lizards are very active and highly intelligent. They’re also docile for the most part although the desert phase sometimes has an ill temperament.
My background with keeping collared lizards
I dreamt of breeding collared lizards for many years. While I was successful at it, things didn’t go exactly as planned to leave me to eventually abandon the project altogether. Still, I’m proud of my accomplishment and hope to help you with your husbandry skills and breeding goals.
My interest in collared lizards goes back to my teenage years
I got a job working at a pet shop at the age of 16. While being introduced to several different species of reptiles, one particular lizard caught my attention.
Their coloring is magnificent and it looks like a ferocious little dinosaur. This Tyrannosaurus Rex impersonator was actually an eastern collared lizard. Back in the 1980s, we didn’t have the tools or products for keeping reptiles like we do today.
During a typically cold New York winter, the lizard was stone cold when I bought it. Apparently, in brumation, it wasn’t moving at all. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the collared lizard warmed up enough and it soon expired.
Many years later, I move down to Florida
When I bought my first house, I dedicated an entire room to reptiles. Keeping this separate room warm was easy. I quickly added several lizards and snakes to my new reptile room.
Revisited by nostalgia from the 1980s, I decided to give collared lizards a try. I decided, why stop there? I’ll try breeding them since it was something that I was unable to do when I was younger. I soon decided to mass-produce them and sell the surplus. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
At least six reptile distributors promised that they would be interested in buying any surplus that I produced. When the time finally came, none of them would return my phone calls. I had produced over 500 collared lizards. Luckily, I was able to sell them to a very kind reptile distributor in the Tampa Bay area.
By this time, I was really burnt out on keeping collared lizards. Although my days of keeping these lizards were over (for the time being), I’d like to share the knowledge that I have with you. Perhaps you’re interested in keeping and breeding this fascinating species of lizard.
Temperament and handling
Males can be frisky and pugnacious, especially during the breeding season. Babies and juveniles are a bit flighty but adults usually handle easily. There’s usually no reason to restrain a tame specimen while handling.
They usually sit on your hand with limited movement. The interaction between these lizards and their human keepers is something sought out among reptile enthusiasts. Collared lizards are also some of the easiest lizards to breed in captivity.
My setup for collared lizards
Collared lizards need lots of room because they’re very active and like to run. For this reason, I recommend no less than a 55-gallon fish tank for one male and two females. Never place two mature male collared lizards In the same enclosure. If you do, they’ll surely fight till death.
Seriously, they won’t stop until one of them dies. Males are extremely territorial. You could even squeeze three females with a single male in a 55-gallon tank. Just be sure not to add a second male to the enclosure. Luckily, collared lizards are easy to sex. They’re sexually dimorphic too.
Proper Lighting for collared lizards
I recommend full-spectrum lighting when keeping collared lizards. In the past, I either used a single dome with a mercury bulb or, two-bulb domes. The mercury bulb provides both heat and UVB/UVA lighting. The two-bulb dome consists of a fluorescent UVB bulb and a separate incandescent bulb which provides both heat and UVA.
I prefer two domes with separate UVB/UVA lighting bulbs over the single mercury bulb. Both have their advantages but the mercury bulbs are much more expensive. The fluorescent UVB bulbs last a long time while the cheaper incandescent UVA/heat bulbs tend to burn out quickly.
Automatic overload switch
The mercury bulb has an overload limit that safely shuts off if there’s a power surge. They last a decent amount of time but not as long as fluorescent bulbs. It’s recommended that you should change out UVB bulbs after a year because they’ll lose potency.
I never use a heat stone
I don’t recommend heat stones due to potential burns the lizards could develop. If using a heat mat placed under the enclosure, be sure to invest in a thermostat so you can control the temperature. The heating gradient is much more effective that way.
Collared lizards love light and heat. Every morning they crawl up from their burrow and sit on the ornamental cave placed directly under the dome light. After warming up, they relieve themselves and are ready to eat.
I couldn’t imagine having them set up without lighting. I can’t say for certain that UVB lighting helps with vitamin D3 absorption but I do think these lizards benefit from it mentally. Especially when it comes to breeding.
The best substrate for collared lizards
These lizards prefer sand as their substrate of choice. They burrow every night. In fact, as soon as the lights get shut off, they disappear. I used to use only fine play-box sand which is both clean and sterilized. Today I recommend pulverized walnut shells as an alternative to sand. This is because it’s just like sand but kicks up less dust.
Both substrates are reasonably cheap, easy to clean and completely safe for lizards. When the substrate becomes soiled, simply take a sand-scooper and filter out all excrement. You’ll rarely have to change the sand with this method. I like to keep the substrate between six to eight inches of depth. This is plenty for them to burrow and lay their eggs.
The only drawback
To reiterate, the only drawback when using play sand as a substrate is that collared lizards kick up a lot of dust. Keep in mind that the lighting domes and any other nearby surfaces need cleaning from the dust at least once a week. Don’t worry, much less dust kicks up during the cooling period which gives you a seasonal break.
Feeding collared lizards
Collared lizards are omnivores leaning heavily towards insects. Ideally, such lizards should take some greens as well. This isn’t always possible as some won’t touch them. An easy way around this is to gut load your crickets and super worms with quality greens.
These include collard greens, turnip greens, or mustard greens. They’re cheap and readily available at the local supermarket.
Collared lizards have a fast metabolism. They need feeding on a daily basis to stay healthy. This becomes tiresome over time. You can keep crickets, roaches, and super worms in their own enclosures. In some cases, you can breed them for your needs.
Crickets and roaches are staples while super worms are a treat. Dust insects with vitamin D3 about four days a week. I never bothered with multivitamins because I gut-loaded their food. Nevertheless, I now recommend using a quality multivitamin once a week.
Watering collared lizards – let it rain
I came up with a nifty trick when it comes to watering collared lizards that also helps stimulate breeding. Water bowls and sand don’t make a good match. The sand always ends up in the bowls. Instead, I took ice cubes in the morning and strategically placed them on top of the screens.
Keep in mind that the room is quite warm. The ice quickly begins melting simulating rain in the enclosure. The lizards drink the water droplets as they drip down from the screen. Many species of lizards take rain as a cue for breeding. It often works like a charm. I don’t recommend doing this in a room when ambient temperatures are cool because the water will be too cold.
Crickets smell. In fact, they stink. I kept them in large plastic bins with steep, slippery sides to keep them from escaping. Even so, a few always manage to escape.
I used oatmeal as a substrate and offered tropical fish flake food and quality greens. Occasionally, I throw in different fruits and vegetables depending upon what extra produce I have available. Avoid carrots as beta-carotene isn’t especially good for lizards. It can cause vitamin A toxicity, especially in the form of a multivitamin.
Super worm care
Keeping super worms is far easier than keeping crickets. While they don’t smell too bad, they don’t smell especially good either. Still, they’re not nearly as offensive as crickets. I used a small plastic shoebox because they can’t climb the sides while in the larvae stage.
They can get out once they transform into beetles if left uncovered. Unfortunately, lizards don’t like the beetle stage of the super worm. I use oatmeal as their substrate as well. They’ll quickly burrow down into the oats.
I know utilize roaches as an alternative to crickets. These are becoming more and more popular and are becoming easier to get ahold of. Discoid and Dubia roaches include specific species. They smell far less and are much easier to keep. Set them up just like you would with crickets.
Water requirements for feeder insects
Crickets, roaches, and super worms get their water from the greens and other fruits and vegetables you offer them. Water bowls quickly get nasty and create more work and time spent with cage maintenance.
To be honest, dealing with crickets is one of the main reasons why I stopped keeping collared lizards. It seems like I was constantly having to track crickets down. The local pet shop always ran out of them and buying them directly from the distribution facility was also problematic.
For some reason, both UPS and FedEx seem to wait until evening before delivering perishable items. In Florida, you can’t have a box of 1000 crickets sit in a truck throughout the hottest hours of daytime. Picking them up directly from the hub also presented stress and challenges because of the distance.
Aside from constantly seeking crickets, keeping them alive was also a chore. Their enclosure starts stinking about 24 hours after being cleaned. Having oatmeal, tropical fish food, and fresh greens constantly on hand starts to get costly after a while too.
Super worms compared to crickets
Keeping super worms was a pleasure compared to crickets. The problem with super worms is that they aren’t as nutritious as crickets. In fact, they are junk food from a reptile standpoint.
Feeding an insectivorous lizard super worms as their main staple eventually leads to nutritional deficiencies. They’re also harder to digest. Waxworms are even less healthy than super worms but come in handy when you need to fatten up a skinny lizard.
Roaches are the greatest alternative to crickets
Roaches are much easier to keep and breed. Their enclosure doesn’t smell nearly as bad and they’re equally as nutritious.
Sexing collared lizards
Besides being sexually dimorphic, collared lizard gender is easily identified by their vent area. Males have noticeably larger scales right above the vent. Females usually have black dots on either side of the vent.
You can also easily sex hatchlings with this method. There’s never a need for probing.
Breeding collared lizards
If you’re anything like myself, you tend to overthink things. Try to relax and keep it simple. Breeding them is easy when they’re set up correctly. When summer changes to autumn, begin to gradually decrease the hours of the lamps. You can decrease a half-hour of light every week until you reach six hours a day. Then, keep them at six hours a day for another three or four weeks.
When the cooling cycle is complete, restart the photo-period. Gradually leave the lamps on longer until you get up to fourteen hours a day. After summer, start back down the ladder. You can imitate the natural photoperiod of the year or speed things up a little. Don’t speed things up too quickly though.
Breeding season begins
The lizards should start breeding long before you get to the fourteen hours of daylight. Repeat this cycle every year and remember to always increase and decrease the photoperiod gradually.
Remove the male once breeding is complete
Gravid females become plump and display bright orange and red colors. Keep one corner of the enclosure damp and she’ll lay her eggs there.
Check back several times a day until she looks deflated. Then, carefully run your fingers through the damp sand until you feel the eggs. Pick them up without turning them over and place them in the incubation box.
Continue to feed gravid females throughout the entire time
Increase vitamin D3 supplementation while gravid and after she lays her clutch. Females often produce a second clutch a few months later. You’ll have an overabundance if you’re not careful. Make sure you have a way of selling them when the time comes. This is where I ran into problems.
Incubating collared lizard eggs
I was lucky to have my collared lizards set up in a room that was always warm. The temperature ranged from 85 to 90° during the day and dropped to 79° at night.
This was perfect for incubating collared lizard eggs and I always got a perfect mix of males and females. I placed the eggs in small plastic shoe boxes. Instead of vermiculite, I used a product called HatchRite, which I applied two to three inches deep.
From there, I simply added the eggs in the same position that I pulled them. I then placed the shoebox on a shelf and my job was complete until they hatched. With HatchRite, you don’t need to add any water like with vermiculite. Although I didn’t use any other forms of heating, remember that my reptile room was always warm. I don’t remember having any eggs that didn’t hatch.
Caring for young collared lizards
Caring for baby collared lizards is really quite straightforward. Place them in a 20-gallon tank with the same lighting as the adults. Use only paper towels as substrate. Sand can cause impaction with such small lizards. Feed them gut-loaded pinhead crickets and/or roach nymphs supplemented with vitamin D3 daily.
Babies grow quickly, reaching sexual maturity by the following season. At this point, you can keep males and females together. To avoid toe nips, always have some fresh greens in the tank and remember to feed them pinhead crickets every day. When they get bigger, separate them as you would adults.
Collared lizard facts
- Collared lizards and iguanas are from the same family
- These lizards don’t drop their tail like many other lizards
- They make great pets and tame easily
- Collared lizards have super-fast metabolisms and need to eat live insects every day
- They’re easy to breed
- Being sexually dimorphic makes them easy to sex
- These lizards can deliver a painful bite as adults
- Collared lizards need spacious enclosures
- They need warm temperatures to thrive
- Collared lizards are prolific when they’re set up correctly and breed like mice
Collared lizards make great pets! They ‘re highly underrated. These lizards do well in captivity when set-up correctly and they’re easy to breed. Collared lizards are also easy to handle, (usually). I find only the desert collared lizards to be nervous. Other members of the family easily acclimate to gentle and consistent handling.
One must remember that these are not low maintenance lizards like leopard geckos. They need a large enclosure and eat live insects daily. If you’re okay with that, keeping a collared lizard or two might be the perfect pet for you.
Successfully breeding captive lizards brings a great sense of accomplishment. Happy breeding to you!
Do you have experience keeping and breeding collared lizards? If so, we’d love to read your comments in the section below. Tell us about your experience with keeping collared lizards as pets.