Common Butterfly Lizard

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Species group:

Other common names: Butterfly Lizard, Butterfly Agama, Butterfly Runner, Smooth-scaled Agama

Scientific name: Leiolepis belliana

The basics: The eye-catching Common Butterfly Lizard ranges from Myanmar south and east through Laos, southern China Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to Malaysia and Indonesia. A breeding population has been established in southern Florida, USA, since the early 1990’s.

Two subspecies and 8 related species (several of which are parthenogenic) have been described.

This ground-dwelling lizard is adapted to arid, open habitats, and may be found among lightly-vegetated coastal dunes, brushy scrub, farm margins, back yards (Florida) and parks. A sandy or loose substrate is required for construction of the burrows that serve as shelters and egg-deposition sites.

Appearance / health: The Common Butterfly Lizard is spectacularly-colored, with a somewhat “flattened” build, and an average length of 13-20 inches. The tan to brown body sports black-rimmed cream to yellow ocelli. Alternating black and orange bars mark the flanks.

Extra-long free ribs allow the barred area to be flattened and extended outward from the body during displays, which brings to mind butterfly wings.

Temperament: Ever alert for predators and prey, Butterfly Lizards tend to remain high-strung in captivity, and are best thought of as pets to observe rather than handle.

Housing: Common Butterfly Lizards are active and will not thrive in close quarters. A pair requires a terrarium of 55 gallons at the minimum.

A sand/gravel mix or a commercial reptile “burrowing” (clay) substrate of at least 8 inches in depth should be provided. Self-dug burrows are ideal, but half-buried cork bark rolls and hollow logs may also suffice as shelters. Rocks or driftwood should be available as basking sites, but these should be placed on the terrariums floor, not the substrate, so that the lizards do not burrow beneath and become injured. The cage should be located in a quiet, undisturbed area of the home, as Common Butterfly Lizards are very aware of their surroundings and easily stressed by unexpected noises and movements.

Common Butterfly Lizards fare best when afforded a temperature gradient of 82-92 F; a dip to 70-75 F at night may be beneficial; Basking temperature: 95-100 F. UVB exposure is essential.

Common Butterfly Lizards produce very dry droppings – spot cleaning is sufficient to maintain cage hygiene. The substrate should remain dry, with a light misting being provided in the morning. Butterfly Lizards often drink heavily from water bowls, but this may vary with the diet.

Diet: Wild Common Butterfly Lizards feed primarily upon ants, beetles, spiders, scorpions and other invertebrates, with small crabs being taken in coastal regions; flowers and foliage are also consumed.

A varied diet comprised of roaches, crickets, hornworms, sow bugs, butter worms, lab-reared houseflies, silkworms and wild-caught insects, along with vitamin/mineral supplements, is essential to their well-being; crickets and mealworms alone, even if powdered with vitamins, will not provide adequate nutrition. A salad of kale, collard greens, dandelion and a variety of vegetables should be offered as well.

Breeding: Pairs appear to be monogamous, and in the wild will occupy the same burrow on a long term basis. The eggs, 3-6 in number, are usually deposited within the home burrow, and the youngsters remain with the adults for several months.

Pets do best when kept as a pair. In most terrariums, egg survival will be enhanced if the eggs are removed from the terrarium and incubated in slightly moist vermiculite. Captive breeding is not common; incubation temperatures of 85-88 have been suggested.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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