Common Collared Lizard Care: Beginners Need to Know This
The Common Collared lizard might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a pet lizard. I discovered that most people are not familiar with this specie, but, as you find out in this article they can be an interesting pet.
What is the Common Collared? The Common Collared is also known as the Eastern Collared. Its scientific name is "crotaphytis collaris". The first part of this name is derived from the Greek words "krotaphos" and "phyton." The second part of the name comes from the Latin word "collaris," which just means "collar."
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So we know a bit about this lizard, but what about their natural habitat, diet, how to care for them, or even to confirm if they should really be a consideration for you? If you are seeking these answers, please read on.
The Meaning of Their Scientific Name
The meaning of the name is a reference to the distinctive banded necks that are commonly seen in this species. "krotaphos" means "the side of the head," whereas "phyton" simply means "creature."
The second part of the name comes from the Latin word "collaris," which just means "collar." Fully translated, the name would mean "creature with a collar on the side of its head."
Honestly, I think they could have come up with something much better, considering all the unique qualities that this lizard possesses. However, science often makes its choices without any regard for aesthetics, and it's probably better that way.
What other names do they have?
The eastern collared lizard has a few other names. The most well-known of these names is "mountain boomer." The name originates in Oklahoma, where this creature has been named as the official state reptile.
Long ago, settlers to this region heard the wind whipping through the canyons and mistook the sound for the call of an animal.
Somehow, these sounds were associated with the little blue lizard that we now call the eastern collared lizard. Although the name was given in error, it has stuck fast and remains a common name for the creature.
As this species is found abundantly in Mexico, it has a few names in Spanish. One of these is cachoron, which translates as "puppy." This name suggests that the collared lizard might have a long history of being kept as a pet in Mexico.
Spanish writers have also referred to it as an "iguana," which is technically incorrect but still in the ballpark, since it belongs to the suborder iguana.
Where is Their Natural Habitat?
These lizards are native to the dry scrubland and semi-arid region of the American Southwest. In Mexico, the species is concentrated in the north-central area along the Texas border.
They are common throughout northern and western Texas, as well as most of Oklahoma. However, their habitat in Oklahoma consists of scattered pockets in semi-arid places.
These pockets (often referred to as "glades") are similar to a desert environment due to thin soils, high altitude, and rocky terrain. Research suggests that most (if not all) of Oklahoma's collared lizards are found in these "glades."
The collared lizard is common throughout all of New Mexico, which shouldn't surprise anyone. It is also commonly found in the western half of Arizona.
It should be noted that there are several subspecies of this lizard, and if we add their ranges, we see that the collared lizard and its variants can be found in Baja, Northwestern Mexico, most of Nevada, and Southern California.
How big is a Common Collared Lizard?
The eastern collared lizard has a maximum size of 15 inches. In practice, most of them do not get quite this big. 10 to 12 inches is a much more realistic number for males, while females will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 8-10 inches long. These measurements include the entire tail.
This medium size is one of the main positives of keeping this species as a pet. Overall, pet owners like a species that is large enough to be visually impressive. A larger lizard is also much easier to find if they should happen to escape.
However, a really large lizard can become a serious liability. Have you ever met a full-grown iguana with an attitude? It's not much fun. The largest iguanas can get up to six feet long, which means that they will require an entire room to themselves and a lot of food.
On top of that, their bites and tail whippings can be a little dangerous. Iguanas have even been known to bite off fingers in some cases. With a collared lizard, you get the same alert, feisty attitude but without the expense of feeding a small dinosaur or the pain of losing your fingers.
How long do they usually Live?
In general, collared lizards will live for 5 to 8 years. However, there are reports of these creatures living as long as 15 years.
While these reports are unverified, they do show that lifespan is largely determined by the quality of care. Females and males will typically reach sexual maturity after about two years.
What is the Ideal Housing for a Common Collared Lizard?
The ideal housing for a collared lizard is a vivarium which has been set up to mimic the deserts of their natural home. An aquarium is not preferred for several reasons.
One problem is the fact that aquariums do not hold heat very well. The glass panels alone provide very little insulation and thus are a poor choice for a desert creature.
If you don't know, a vivarium is sort of like an aquarium except that it is surrounded by wood on all sides except one (the front side). With the glass or clear plastic panel on the front, you can still view the animal easily.
However, being hidden on all sides except one gives the animal a sense of privacy. Remember, this is a creature that normally spends a lot of time in hiding.
How hard do you think it would be to hide inside a glass box? If you cannot afford a vivarium, I would recommend covering your aquarium walls with cheap plywood panels on three sides.
You will also need to make sure your vivarium is ventilated. This is usually achieved through a series of vents on the upper part of the back panel.
Will they Benefit From a Hide Box?
Like virtually all reptiles, collared lizards require a hiding spot. This can be a simple rock cave that you piece together, a small hut made from sticks, or a plastic facsimile of some kind.
Your options are very extensive here, but you should keep safety in mind when making or choosing a hide box. I recommend taking three flat rocks from your yard, washing them thoroughly, and gluing them together with pure silicone.
The top rock can slope downward to the floor of the enclosure, with the sides glued in place. You could also use a little bit of padded wire to hold it together.
It is very important to avoid using any glue other than 100% silicone, as these other glues will contain substances that are toxic to your lizard. It is also important to stress-test the hide box by slapping it with your hand and making sure it does not collapse. If you can't slap it apart, your lizard can't knock it apart.
What Is the Ideal Substrate for Them?
As for substrate, a mixture of sand and small rocks is the most natural choice. However, you should not put their food in the sand because they will end up ingesting small amounts of sand.
Over time, this can lead to an intestinal blockage (impaction) which can be fatal. Some people prefer to use bark chips as a substrate, but I would recommend against this.
Bark substrates can be great for tropical lizards that require high humidity but are a poor choice for desert lizards who require a dry environment. Another option is to use a piece of reptile carpet.
I prefer this option because you don't have to worry about sand impaction and cleaning is easy. You just remove the items from the cage (other than your lizard, of course), pull out the mat and throw it in the washing machine.
Naturally, you want to rinse the carpet off in the yard beforehand so that you don't end up with little bits of lizard scat in your laundry.
What Lighting and Heating do they need?
It is important to remember that this lizard thrives in very hot temperatures. During the day, they need a basking temperature of 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
This should be provided via a UVB heat lamp. At night, they require darkness and a colder temperature. This lighting scheme will mimic the natural climate of the desert, which is burning hot during the day and cold at night.
That being said, they cannot be allowed to get too cold at night. Therefore, a ceramic bulb is a good way to give them some heat at night with almost no light. There are also special dark-light bulbs that can be used.
It is of the utmost importance to provide a temperature gradient for your lizard. They must be able to move from hotter areas to cooler areas whenever they wish.
This is one of the main ways in which lizards regulate their body temperature. As such, make sure that your enclosure is equipped with two thermometers; one at each end. In this way, you can make sure that the temperature is controlled with a proper gradient.
One final word about light: Make sure to take your lizard outside once they are properly socialized, as natural sunlight is very good for them.
What are Their Water Requirements?
Being a desert creature, these lizards do not require a great deal of water. In fact, leaving a large amount of water in their enclosures can be a bad idea because it may raise the humidity of the environment.
You will need a small humidity meter for the tank so that you can monitor this. This is not desirable at all. The recommended method is to spray their enclosure with a water bottle, allowing them to lick the droplets from every surface.
This is how they normally drink in the wild since their habitats have so little water. Another issue is that, if you give them a large water bowl, they will frequently walk through it and splash the water everywhere.
This will turn your sand into mud, and raise the humidity even more as the sand dries out. If you have a difficult case, you can drip some water directly onto their lips. Just make sure you don't drip it into their eyes, as it tends to make them very mad.
What Can You Feed a Common Collared Lizard?
The collared lizard is a high-energy animal with a fast metabolism. As such, they need to be offered food every day, unlike some other lizards. If your lizard refuses food on a particular day, it isn't really a cause for alarm, but make sure you at least offer it to them.
This lizard is technically omnivorous, like most lizards, but its diet in the wild consists primarily of insects and other reptiles. Crickets are a good staple food for your collared lizard, but make sure you diversify!
A limited diet can literally be a death sentence for a reptile. I learned it the hard way with my poor departed pet alligator, may he rest in peace! Other than crickets, good choices for insect foods include waxworms, mealworms, dubia cockroaches and grasshoppers. You should also occasionally give your lizard a pinky mouse or two.
The collared lizard also has a very high calcium requirement, even as lizards go. Whenever you are about to feed some bugs to your little friend, be sure to put them in a bag and dust them with calcium and/or vitamin powder.
These supplements help to ensure that your pet has all the nutrients he requires. It's kind of like "shake and bake", except that a human would never want to eat it.
How Often Should You Clean Out Their Housing?
Cleaning is not a difficult matter with this species. They are not large enough to produce large, disgusting piles of scat. In fact, most of their excrement tends to be hard and solid, making it easy to remove.
I would recommend cleaning the enclosure on an "as-needed" basis. The exact method used will depend on your substrate. If you are using sand, you can easily use a slotted scoop to remove the scats while removing only minimal amounts of sand.
If you are using a piece of reptile carpet, the method has already been explained above. For other substrates, I can't offer you advice because you shouldn't be using them.
Are there any known health issues they may get?
One problem that can sometimes occur is the development of bone disorders. This is usually the result of insufficient UVB light exposure. It's very simple; Collared lizards use calcium to build and repair their bones, just as we do.
However, their bodies use vitamin D3 to facilitate the process, and they can only synthesize vitamin D3 by converting it from direct sunlight.
Glass from a tank or window will actually filter out the UVB light, and many people do not understand this. If your lizard's heat bulb is not providing the UVB levels that are needed, such disorders will inevitably result.
These animals are also very vulnerable to mold and fungi. Coming from a desert environment, their bodies are not well-equipped to handle the kind of bacterial and fungal infections that can result from a wet, humid environment. This is why you must keep these lizards and their enclosures dry. This is also why your humidity meter is so important.
Are they a Good Pet for Beginners?
This question is a difficult one because there are large differences in behavior between wild-caught collared lizards and captive-bred specimens. Wild-caught specimens usually have a wild and aggressive attitude.
Your chances of being bitten when you first pick them up would be fairly high, but captive-bred collared lizards tend to be much more docile toward humans.
In some ways, this is an easy species for beginners because of their simple diet. Some lizards require a complex mix of plants and live food, but this isn't one of them.
Overall, this would not be the best choice for a beginner, in my opinion, because of the specific climate requirements that are necessary for their continued health.
How many eggs do collared lizards lay?
On average, a female collared lizard will lay about six eggs. These will be deposited in soft, moist sand in the wild.
When breeding them in captivity, many breeders will construct an egg-laying box filled with a mixture of soil and vermiculite that is kept slightly wet. When the eggs dry out completely, the little baby lizards inside will probably die.
With such exact moisture requirements, it is a wonder this lizard has thrived so well in the wild. Sometimes, the female will lay two clutches at once.
Most of the time, the female will be noticeably larger if she has become double-pregnant. Yes, that's right...these lizards can become double-pregnant. And sometimes, the female will become double-aggressive as well, so be careful when you remove those eggs for incubation.
Is a collared lizard a herbivore?
Technically, these lizards are omnivores, but the majority of their diet consists of live prey. That being said, they will eat plant material both in the wild and in captivity. If you are dealing with a wild-caught specimen, you may very well find it more difficult to get them to eat plants.
However, this can be remedied by sprinkling the vegetables with a handful of their favorite insect prey. Once they get a taste of the plant material, you can watch their reaction and find out if they like what they have tried.
If they show signs of disgust, or if they pointedly avoid coming anywhere near the food again, you have chosen the wrong plant. I recommend things like mustard greens, curly kale, and (naturally) collard greens.
Are they fast runners?
The simple answer is "yes. Extremely." These are some of the fastest lizards known to man. Their speed is a natural defense mechanism that allows them to avoid most predators. Because of their bright coloration, these creatures stand out like a sore thumb in the muted colors of the desert.
As such, they would never have survived without the speed to evade their enemies. Collared lizards are one of the only species that can run on two legs, though they cannot run across the water like a basilisk. When they are running at their fastest, they can reach speeds of up to 16 mph.
One of the reasons for this is that they have a stride that is nearly three times the length of their body. Like most lizards, they cannot maintain this great speed for very long, but it is generally more than enough to get them under a rock and away from predators.
how big does a common collared lizard get?
As stated earlier, the average collared lizard will reach a maximum of 15 inches, with most topping out at 10-12 inches. Naturally, there are exceptions in both directions.
Where Can I Buy a Collared Lizard?
There are many options for buying a collared lizard, but I would recommend looking for a breeder. Whether you are dealing with a small hobby breeder or a large-scale operator, you should stick with captive-bred animals because they will be much easier to tame and far less likely to bite you.
They may not be large enough to do serious damage with a bite, but you still don't want to take a bite if you can avoid it. More importantly, a captive-bred animal is a lot less likely to jump off your hand or shoulder and go darting across the yard at 16 miles per hour. Just try catching one of these little guys when they seriously don't want to be caught!
Their extreme speed and feisty nature make it a good idea to avoid pet shops. Most pet shops don't carry this breed anyway (at least from what I've seen), and even if they do, it's a risk because you have no way of knowing where the animal came from.
All too often, pet shops get their stock from dealers without knowing very much about the animal. In most cases, it will be difficult if not impossible to determine if that lizard in the pet store window is wild or captive. If you do see one in a pet shop, and you are thinking about buying it, your best bet is to disregard whatever the shopkeeper says and judge by the behavior of the animal.
What do female collared lizards look like?
Female collared lizards do not have the same colorful appearance that the males do. Their color is usually a yellowish-brown, but they can still be identified by the characteristic neck bands. However, when the female is ready to breed, she will often develop a brighter color with bright orange bands. Of course, this is how she signals to the male that she is ready to breed.