Ameiva Lizards and Whiptails as Pets

Several of the Ameiva Lizards, such as the aptly-named Rainbow Ameiva, are among the Western Hemisphere’s most colorful lizards, while among the desert-dwelling Whiptails we find some of the reptile world’s swiftest runners. Nearly all Ameiva Lizards and Whiptails are alert, shy and averse to handling, and do best in large terrariums providing plenty of cover. Tegus, the group’s largest members, are treated separately on this site due to their popularity.


The Beaded Lizard has one close living relative, the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum). There are four subspecies of beaded lizard: the Mexican beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum horridum); Black beaded lizard (H. h. alvarezi); Rio Fuerte beaded lizard (H. h. xasperatum); and the Motagua Valley beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti).

Range and Habitat

Rainbow Ameivas are seen in from Southern California southward to Honduras. Their natural habitats are grasslands, desert flats, forest edges, and rocky areas.

The Giant Ameiva is a species of Whiptail lizard (Teiidae), which is native to a wide variety of habitats throughout Central and South America. They have also been introduced to Florida in the United States.

Appearance and Temperament

Ameiva Lizards and Whiptails tend to run away very swiftly when startled or threatened. They are never totally tame in a captive environment. They are essentially terrestrial but also enjoy climbing.

Ameiva and Whiptail Lizard Housing

Rainbow Ameivas are relatively small, and the best enclosures for them are 30-gallon desert-type terrariums. A 2-inch substrate together with sufficient climbing branches and hiding places should be provided. Day temp: 80-85F; basking temp: 90F; humidity: 65%; lighting: 12 hours; UV lighting required. Because they are sensitive to lack of humidity, regular misting is required to keep the levels at 65%.

The Giant Ameiva is an active lizard, and needs a relatively large 40-60 gallon terrarium. Also, as they burrow, they need a moist substrate which is 4-6 inches deep. Like Geckos, they can drop their tails as a defense mechanism if startled or threatened.

Giant Ameivas are best kept in rainforest type enclosures with plenty of hiding places like hollow logs, driftwood burrows, and cork tubes. The recommended substrate is moist and 4-6 inches deep to allow burrowing. Foliage helps simulate the rainforest environment, but potted plants are ideal because these Whiptails are relentless diggers that can uproot or undermine vegetation. Day temp: 77-90F; night temp: 68-71F; basking temp: 104-113F; humidity: 70-80%; lighting: 12-14 hours, UV radiation required.

Ameiva and Whiptail Lizard Diet

Rainbow Ameivas feed on insects including ants, beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. They also eat mealworms, waxworms, and superworms. Some will accept fruit and drink water from a bowl. In the wild, their staple diet is termites, which they love to dig for.

The Ameiva ameiva is omnivorous. It enjoys all types of insects, spiders, and small animals, including frogs. It also eats fruits occasionally.