Collared Lizard Care
The genus Crotaphytus is widespread. Collared lizards can be found all over the American southwest, as far east as Missouri, West into California, as far north as Oregon, and south into Mexico. They are also found on a couple of islands in the sea of Cortez. Most species of collared lizards are rock dwelling. They are found in mountain ranges, hills, canyons, rocky washes, etc. They conspicuously bask atop large rocks and boulders, keeping a constant lookout for food, predators, and other collared lizards. Collareds make interesting and rewarding captives. Wild caught animals do not always do well in captivity, but captive bred animals are typically quite hardy. There is a lot of variety within the genus Crotaphytus, but the basic care requirements are very similar for all. The following methods of collared lizard care have worked well for us, so these are the practices that we recommend.
Average Adult Size: 10"- 15" total length, 4- 5" snout to vent length
Life Expectancy: 6-10+ years
Handleability: Captive bred Collared Lizards are usually easily handled and can make good, bold pets. Each can have their own personality so to say, but on average if you start with a baby and handle it briefly a couple times a week and/ or offer some food by hand on occasion they can be quite hand tame (though still more active than say a Bearded Dragon). By nature they are active lizards, and once in hand, they may not be content to just stay in one spot. They will often leap from a hand to another near by perch, even onto their handler's head. This active behavior should not be seen as wild, flighty behavior, they just like to explore. Regardless, their keeper needs to be mindful of this active tendency, and keep them from leaping into trouble. Handle them in a safe area, close to the ground, and be aware of your surroundings. Also, it should be noted that bringing your collared lizard outdoors should be done with much caution. Many lizards, even captive bred ones, will act very wild and flighty when brought into natural sunlight.
Collared lizards are very active. Therefore, they require larger cages. In general, the bigger, the better. Even the biggest cage is small, compared to the space that they would roam in the wild. Collared lizards are very good jumpers. Whatever cage you choose must have a secure lid. Another important thing to consider is that adult males are very territorial, and will usually attack other males (even juveniles) in their cage. Never house two males together. The only time it is considered ok, is when raising a group of babies that are the same age/size. Keep in mind that this will only be acceptable for a short period of time, while the animals are still young. However, territorial aggression can begin quite early in some individuals. You will need to be vigilant, and separate if problems are seen. In certain individuals, we have seen territorial type aggression toward clutch mates, regardless of sex. Another common problem with communal housing of babies is that a hierarchy is usually developed, where more aggressive clutch mates will out compete their siblings for food, often resulting in slower growth and other problems for the less aggressive babies. This problem will grow exponentially, with time, as the size disparity between siblings increases. In this case, the clutch needs to be separated.
For hatchlings, we recommend a minimum cage size of about 2 or 2.5 square feet. If you use a glass aquarium, a 20 gallon (long) will be fine for a few hatchlings, though they will quickly outgrow such a cage. For as many as 2 or 3 adults, a glass 40 gallon (breeder) would be the smallest cage we recommend, though cages with 6-12 square feet of floor space are more ideal. We have used Vision and Showcase brand sliding front display cages (roughly 7-10 square feet of floor space with at least 18-24 inches of vertical space), stock tanks, or large plastic storage tubs.
Our preferred substrate is sand. We do not use or recommend calcium or vitamin sand, and believe these to be more harmful than real sand when swallowed. We spread a thin layer of sand over the entire bottom of the cage. We use real rocks, bricks and tiles for basking sites, as well as shelters. Like many other lizards, collareds will dig under rocks and other decor in their cage, which puts them at risk of being crushed. For this reason, all rocks and other heavy objects in the cage should be securely placed on the cage bottom or on other secure rocks, (NEVER on loose substrate). A good shelter that we use is as simple as stacking a flat piece of slate tile, flagstone or sandstone on top of a couple of small bricks, making kind of a small table. The lizards can dig under the flagstone without the threat of a collapse. Other rocks can then be placed on top of the flat piece, to create elevated basking sites. We recommend a minimum of 2 hides throughout the cage. A humid hide should be offered. This will be used as a shelter, and/or an egg laying area. If their shelter is moist and humid, (Not Wet) the lizards will be less prone to dehydration.
Collared lizards require relatively high temperatures on their basking sites. The temperatures for most types should range between 95 degrees (F) and 120 degrees (F) (surface temperature) across the basking site(s). The cool end of the cage should be in the mid 80s (F). This thermal gradient throughout the cage will allow the lizards to properly thermoregulate. For basking lamps, we use ceramic based brooder lamps with halogen flood bulbs. Higher wattages of bulbs produce more heat, so if you don’t get the ideal basking temperatures right away, increase or decrease the wattage of the bulb you are using. Another way to adjust basking temperatures is to move the lamp closer to, or farther from the basking site. Remember to keep the lamp out of jumping distance if you have to move it closer to the rock. Sometimes a secondary basking light is needed if you can’t get the temperatures right within the cage or if your cage is larger. We also use UVB lights on all of our cages. We use high output (HO) T-5 fluorescent 10-12% UVB bulbs (Zoo Med or Arcadia brand) on many of our cages. These bulbs are high intensity, and must be used with caution. It is highly recommended to consult the manufacturer’s recommendations and use a UVB meter to determine the safe mounting distance for each light. The high UVB output of these HO T-5 lights decreases the demand for additional vitamin D3 supplementation. “Daylight” compact fluorescent bulbs are also used in our collection if additional ambient light is needed. The use of UVB lights helps the lizards absorb calcium from their food. We put our lights on electric timers, and give the lizards about 10- 12 hours of light each day, during their active season.
Collared lizards are opportunistic little predators, taking advantage of a wide variety of animal prey. In the wild, they have been known to eat grasshoppers, flies, beetles, bees, spiders, lizards (even smaller collareds), and rarely, plant matter. There have even been reports of them eating small snakes. Variety is just as important in a captive setting. We feed our collared lizards gut loaded items from the following list.
Crickets (should be a staple in their diet)
Grass Hoppers (if sourced from an area known to not have pesticides or herbicides on the vegetation)
Red Racer Roaches
Waxworms and their Moths
Hornworms and their Moths
Black Soldier Flies and their Larvae
Pinky Mice (optional and only occasionally)
Small Feeder Lizards (optional, but appreciated)
You can offer small amounts of chopped greens and edible flowers. (Some enjoy them, some won’t.)
We usually like to feed the collareds about one or two hours after the lights come on. This gives the lizards time to wake up and bask for a while, so they have enough energy to chase food. This also seems to be when the lizards have the best feeding response. Collared lizards get food stressed easily, and you should never put more food in the cage than the lizards will eat in a day. We will usually not even put that many in the cage at once. We drop insects into the cage one or two at a time (per lizard), then wait until these are eaten, then we drop a couple more in. In cages with multiple lizards, offer several prey items simultaneously, to reduce the risk of two animals fighting over the same meal. Our collareds are offered food every day, since they would usually eat every day out in the wild. Generally we will offer babies and juveniles food twice a day. When collared lizards are housed indoors, food items should be dusted with a good calcium supplement containing vitamin D3 2 times a week, but this number depends on the quality of the UVB lighting. The other 5 days we use calcium without D3. We use and highly recommend Sticky Tongue Farms’ Miner-All indoor formula and outdoor formula. We use large plastic cups, to put feeder insects into prior to feeding them to lizards. A small amount of calcium is added to the insects, and then the cup is shaken, until all of the insects are lightly coated with the white powder. Collared lizards kept indoors must have their food supplemented with calcium and vitamin D3 to avoid Metabolic Bone Disease, which can cripple or kill collared lizards. With UVB lighting, and periodic calcium supplementing, Metabolic Bone Disease is easily prevented. However, once symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease appear, the affected lizard usually can’t be fully cured.
Many collared lizards are from arid or semi-arid habitats. Regardless of their species’ habitat, good hydration is essential to the long term health of captive collared lizards. This is especially the case with lizards maintained indoors. The lizards consume a lot of extra minerals from calcium and D3 supplementation. The lizards need to be well hydrated to properly expel these excess minerals. Dehydrated captives are more susceptible to a type of gout. We have spoken to a few veterinarians that have seen this, and there is a good chance that many cases go undiagnosed. It’s also said that feeding a diet lacking in variety (like only super worms or roaches) might also lead to similar problems. Some collareds will drink out of a shallow water dish, while some simply don’t recognize standing water as a source of hydration. In either case, it is a good idea to provide a shallow water dish AND lightly mist the rocks and the inside walls of the cage with a spray bottle every few days. You can also set a drip cup on top of the cage. We use a deli cup with a pin hole in the bottom, and set it to drip onto a rock, or into a dish within the cage. Collareds will see the dripping water and drink. As was discussed in the caging section, humid shelters help prevent collared lizards from dehydrating as quickly as they might in a very dry substrate. They more closely mimic the shelters or burrows that they would utilize in the wild.
There are several types of collared lizards available in the pet trade. The most common two are Eastern (Crotaphytus collaris) and the Mojave or Great basin (Crotaphytus bicinctores). C. collaris in the hobby are quite varied in their origins depending on where they are from. Most of the C. bicinctores in the hobby were commercially collected from the wild in Nevada. Recently commercial collection has been prohibited in the state of Nevada.
Some of the other species seen in the pet trade include the Sonoran Collared (C. nebrius), the Baja Collared (C. vestigium), and the Dickerson’s Collared (C. dickersonae). The other species of collared lizards do not usually make it into the pet trade (antiquus, insularis, grismeri, and reticulatus).
The Eastern collared lizard was formerly divided into 6 sub species: Eastern (C. collaris collaris), Western (C. collaris baileyi), Chihuahuan (C. collaris fuscus), Mexican black spotted (C. collaris melanomaculatus), Sonoran (C. collaris nebrius) and Yellow head (C. collaris auriceps). Sonoran collared lizards were found to be distinct enough to be elevated to species level, no longer being considered a sub species of C. collaris. They are now officially Crotaphytus nebrius. The remaining (former) subspecies of C. collaris are now recognized only as pattern classes by hobbyists and are not recognized scientifically. Many breeders, including ourselves still refer to, and market them as their former subspecies. This makes descriptions more specific, though it can cause some confusion. Some breeders will include a locality name, telling where the founding stock was from (we do not disclose locale information). Since taxonomy is ever changing, it is always best to keep breeding groups locality specific, or at least within the same pattern class.
Captive bred collared lizards make great pets and interesting breeding projects. As with many reptiles, wild caught collareds often do not thrive easily in captivity, but captive bred animals can be quite hardy. Captive bred collareds will usually stay tame, and allow handling, despite their tendency to wander and jump around. It can be very entertaining to sit and watch them interact socially with each other, though juvinle and adult males should never be huosed together. These little dinosaurs have long been a favorite of ours, and will always have their share of enthusiasts in the hobby.