Last updated 2 July 2002: updated details for all species except G. multilineatus.

The archetypal




Gerrhosaurus lizards are the species most commonly associated with the name "plated lizard", and also the most commonly seen offered for sale in the West. They are variable in colour but all of a very similar body plan, and all have the very great attraction of becoming tame quite readily. Their care is also fairly straightforward. Most if not all so far offered are wild-caught: captive breeding is highly commendable, although there seems to be some debate about how easy or difficult this actually is. My own experience is that Gerrhosaurus major at least will breed readily if the environmental conditions (heating, lighting and space) are met correctly.

Of the six species listed below, only four seem to appear in the pet trade with any regularity: G. major, G. flavigularis, G. nigrolineatus and G. validus (in probably that order of descending frequency). G. major is fairly distinct and unmistakeable in appearance, as is G. validus (which could admittedly at first sight be confused with a Zonosaurus species), but G. flavigularis and G. nigrolineatus can be a little difficult to tell apart at first.

General Care

As a rule these are hardy lizards, especially if they can be treated for any parasites caught in the wild. Unfortunately, as with the common goldfish, it is partly this toughness that allows some uninformed or selfish people to mistreat them by not giving them the proper conditions. One of the most important requirements for Gerrhosaurus lizards is space. I firmly believe from my own experience and that of others that a terrarium of 4' x 2' x 2' is the bare minimum of space needed, either for a pair or even for one individual. A lady told me a horror story of one woman who took home one of these lizards in a 20-gallon tank. The suffering and cruelty to that lizard, not to mention the stupidity and selfishness of the owner, hardly bear thinking about it.

Other requirements are: UV light: a heat gradient from the mid-to-upper seventies to about 90 deg F at the hot end: and rocks and branches to climb on. Although these lizards are not arboreal they are in fact good climbers and jumpers. For a hidebox don't be afraid to use an ordinary cardboard box with a hole cut in one end, as the lizard(s) will use this as another climbing apparatus as well as somewhere to hole up for the night (even if they shelter behind it instead). For substrate you can use newspaper if you change it reasonably often (being omnivorous, Gerrhosaurus lizards can leave large faeces), or the mixture of sand and gravel that Rogner recommends, as some at least of this genus like to dig.

G. flavigularis, Yellow-Throated Plated Lizard G. major, Brown/Sudan/Tawny Plated Lizard G. multilineatus, Kalahari Plated Lizard
G. nigrolineatus, Black-Lined Plated Lizard G. typicus, Namaqua Plated Lizard G. validus, Giant Plated Lizard

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
G. flavigularis
Yellow-Throated Plated Lizard Malawi, Mozambique, N. Zambia, Republic of South Africa, Upper and E. Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia 16" (av.10-14") G. flavigularis is seen in the pet trade on a fairly regular basis. In the wild it is found in a variety of habitats, including urban areas. It often lives in holes, under rocks, in big leaf piles or hollow logs [SKDA]. Diet is insectivorous and includes grasshoppers, termites and millipedes. Dorsal surfaces are brown, with two black-edged yellow longitudinal stripes running just above the sides. Belly is white. Scalation details (as per Branch): prefrontals in narrow contact or separated. Frontonasal and rostral separated by nasals. 5 supraciliaries. Dorsal scales: strongly keeled, 22-24 longitudinal and 54-64 transverse rows. Ventral scales: 8 longitudinal rows. Other: 11-17 femoral pores in males, none in females. Reproduction: During the breeding season the male's head, neck and chest turn yellow, orange or red. The female lays 3-8 eggs in a chamber dug in leaf litter or under a stone. In southern Africa hatchlings emerge in late summer, about 4" in size: in east Africa hatchlings have been found in July.
G. major
Sudan Plated Lizard (aka Tawny Plated Lizard, Rough Scaled Plated Lizard, Round-Nosed Plated Lizard, Great Plated Lizard) E. Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, N. Zambia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Togo, N. Congo, Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, S. Sudan, N. Zaire, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin 20-23" In my experience this is the plated lizard most commonly seen in captivity, at least in the UK. SKDA note that this species is tolerant of urbanisation and that "many coast resorts have a few living in their grounds". It is terrestrial, preferring rock piles for their crevices but also utilising holes in the ground: on the E African coast it hides in crevices in coral. In the southern subcontinent it is found on arid and mesic savannah. In E Africa it is found in coastal woodland, thicket, moist and dry savanna, often around hills, from sea level to about 1,700m (about 5,000 ft). Diet is varied: these lizards eat not only the usual arthropods but also soft fruit, flowers and smaller lizards (hence cage sharing with smaller species is definitely not advised!). It is slightly variable in colour: most G. major species are brown with pale brown/yellowish ventral surfaces, but some have two or three thin black longitudinal stripes. In addition some northern individuals have blue patches around their lips, throats and where the forearms join the body. Click here for EMBL's page which has a link to some photos. G. major tames very well in captivity, and both Branch and SKDA recommend it as a pet. See also my own experiences.Scalation details (as per Branch): prefrontals in contact. Frontonasal and rostral in contact. Dorsal scales: rough, 14-18 longitudinal and 31-33 transverse rows. Ventral scales: platelike, 10 longitudinal rows. Other: 9-13 femoral pores in both sexes, more prominent in males. Coloration: variable, although the overall ground colour is usually an earth brown. There may be a pale dorsolateral line, or the scales may be dark-centred, creating a speckled or striped effect: see also subspecies below. The chin and throat may be light straw to cream, while the ventral surfaces may be tan, yellow, brown or smoky-grey. Juveniles are black with yellow speckling. Reproduction: in S Africa, mating occurs in August. Breeding males often develop coloured throats, eg vivid pink in Kenya, blue in males from Nigeria. In October-November the female lays 2-6 eggs in moist soil in a rock crevice or under a stone, or in a deep damp hole. Incubation time is about 70-81 days. Hatchlings emerge in late summer, about 4½-7" in size.
G. multilineatus Kalahari Plated Lizard Angola, Zaire, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana 16-18" G. multilineatus is seldom seen in the pet trade, which is some ways is a pity as it is an attractive species. The body is a brown to ochre colour with two longitudinal thin white stripes edged either side with black running along the outer edges of the back from head to the base of the tail. There is a regular pattern of black and white fleckwork from the neck backwards, again disappearing at the tail base. It apparently lives in dry conditions (Walls) so would need a somewhat dryer terrarium than the other Gerrhosaurus lizards.
G. nigrolineatus Black-Lined Plated Lizard
(aka Lesser Black Plated Lizard, Striped Plated Lizard)
Gabon, Congo, Zaire, Angola, Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia 18" Dark brown to black with narrow bright yellow longitudinal stripes and a regular pattern of lighter flecked scales on its sides, which are often a reddish colour. Quite agile and a digger (Kaplan). Scalation details (as per Branch): prefrontals in contact. Frontonasal and rostral separated by nasals. 4 supraciliaries. Dorsal scales: strongly keeled, 22-24 longitudinal and 54-64 transverse rows. Ventral scales: 8 longitudinal rows. Other: 16-18 femoral pores in both sexes.
G. typicus Namaqua Plated Lizard NW Republic of South Africa 8-9?" This is a comparatively rare species and listed in the South African Red Book [Walls, Branch], hence is rarely seen in captivity. The only picture I have, from Walls' article, shows a tapered head with white-cream ventral surfaces and dark brown upper body. The two longitudinal stripes and the pale flecks common to many of the other Gerrhosaurus lizards are also present, in this example being the same colour as the belly. Scalation details (as per Branch): prefrontals usually separated (sometimes in contact). Frontonasal and rostral in contact. Dorsal scales: keeled, 22-24 longitudinal and 56-58 transverse rows. Ventral scales: 10 longitudinal rows. Other: 15-20 femoral pores in both sexes. Reproduction: breeding males turn red on the base of the tail and undersurfaces of the limbs: no other information available.
G. validus Giant Plated Lizard
(aka African Plated Lizard, Rock Plated Lizard)
Southern Africa 28" Largest of the Gerrhosaurus genus, eats large proportion of plant material. In the wild they are found in arid or mesic savannah: as such areas receive little rainfall, a low humidity in captivity is indicated. For actual habitat hey prefer the upper slopes of granite outcrops. Branch notes that they are shy and difficult to approach, squeezing themselves into crevices and inflating their bodies. However, in captivity they do tame down and can be quite persistent for their food. In the wild they eat mainly invertebrates and vegetable matter (flowers, leaves, figs and soft fruit) but will also take small lizards and even baby tortoises [Branch]. In captivity I have found mine will take the usual diet of crickets, herbivorous matter (papaya, kale or greens, cress, some mango and small amounts of strawberry or banana) and an occasional pinkie. Scalation details (as per Branch): prefrontals in contact. Frontonasal and rostral in contact. Dorsal scales: small, 28-34 longitudinal and 52-55 transverse rows. Ventral scales: 12-16 longitudinal rows. Other: 18-25 femoral pores in both sexes. Reproduction: the female lays a clutch of 2-5 (usually 4) eggs in soil-filled crevices in midsummer: hatchlings are usually 6-7" [Branch].
G. v. validus S Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia Subocular does not border lip: 14-16 ventral scale rows: 18-24 lamellae under 4th toe.
G. v. maltzahni C & S Namibia as far as S Angola Subocular borders lip: 12-14 ventral scale rows: 15-17 lamellae under 4th toe.

For bibliography, please refer to the main Gerrhosauridae page.

Back to Gerrhosauridae | Lizard Families | Main Lizards Page | Reptiles | Home Page