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Alligator Lizards as Pets

Large, thick, square-shaped scales lend these stout lizards their common name, but at 12-14 inches in length and with calm temperaments, they are a much better pet choice than their giant namesakes!

North America’s Alligator Lizards are poised for a rapid gain in popularity as pets. Once kept only by lizard enthusiasts living within their native range, the hardy, long-lived Alligator Lizards are now being given some much-deserved attention by lizard enthusiasts.

Alert yet slow-moving and calm in demeanor, with proper care, Alligator Lizards adjust well to handling and can live well into their teens and beyond.

Classification

The 13 Alligator Lizard species are classified in the family Anguidae and the genera Elgaria and Gerrhonotus.

Range and Habitat

The Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria caerulea) ranges as far north as southern British Columbia, Canada. In common with several other snakes and lizards that have adapted to cold regions, the Northern Alligator Lizard bears live young (its relatives produce eggs). Other species of Alligator Lizard are found from Oregon through the American Southwest to southern Mexico and the tip of Baja California, and on several offshore islands.

Alligator Lizards occupy wooded valleys and brushy grasslands within drier habitats such as desert edges and arid, rocky scrublands.

Appearance and Temperament

Stoutly-built and with somewhat flattened bodies, Alligator Lizards average 12- 14 inches in length. The legs are reduced in size, which limits their speed but suits them well to moving through heavy ground cover and burrowing. The closely-related American and European Glass lizards have taken this trend a step further, and are legless.

Most are clad in various shades of brown or gray, but the Madrean Alligator Lizard (Elgaria kingii) is reddish brown and sports rusty-orange markings.

Most Alligator Lizards offered in the pet trade are wild caught. Although they usually take well too gentle handling, Alligator Lizards need to be handled with care, as their snail-crushing jaws are very powerful.

Alligator Lizard Housing

Alligator Lizards make interesting, long-lived pets if they are provided with proper housing.

Pet Alligator Lizards should be housed in at least a 10 gallon habitat, which provides a dirt substrate and rocks and logs where they can hide.

Alligator Lizards should be provided with suitably high temperatures (basking sites should be kept at 95-100 F), and abundant UVB exposure. Fluorescent UVB Bulbs simulate daytime sunlight, and produce both UVA (ultraviolet A), and UVB (ultraviolet B) light, which many reptiles require to metabolize calcium.

A large terrarium is essential if a healthful temperature gradient (areas of hot and cooler temperatures) is to be established.

Alligator Lizard Diet

In the wild, Alligator Lizards feed upon beetles, spiders, locusts, scorpions and other invertebrates. Snails are a great favorite of several Alligator Lizard species. Large Alligator Lizards may occasionally take small snakes, lizards and nestling rodents.

Pet Alligator lizards favor snails, and many will accept canned snails sold for human or pet-reptile consumption. In addition, a varied diet comprised of roaches, locusts, crickets, hornworms, sow bugs, butter worms, lab-reared houseflies and wild-caught insects, along with vitamin/mineral supplements, is essential to insure proper nutrition.

Crickets and mealworms alone, even if supplemented with vitamins, will not provide adequate nutrition for an Alligator Lizard.