Last updated 16 February 2003: updated text in Introduction.

The Malagasy




Zonosaurs are also reasonably well represented in herpetoculture in the West, though not quite to the same degree as Gerrhosaurs. With a great deal of interest now being shown in the unique wildlife of Madagascar (due partly, unfortunately, to the threat of deforestation), a number of Zonosaurus species have been discovered quite recently. R D and P Bartlett cover their basic care in their book Lizard Care from A to Z and note that on the whole they are fairly undemanding in captivity. There is still a good deal to be learnt about them, however, and this is where serious amateur keepers can make a contribution.

Apart from their varied colouring, zonosaurs are very similar in appearance. All have a body plan similar to that of the Gerrhosaurus plated lizards but somewhat more flattened and with longer, more pointed snouts, making them look somewhat streamlined. The main differences between the two genera are that in Zonosaurus species the external nostril is bounded by the frontmost shield on the snout, and the ventral scales overlap rather than being smooth as in Gerrhosaurus. These are very attractive creatures. Interestingly, as with many geckos, some have adapted quite well to human intrusion and are often seen within the vicinity of human habitation.

I am extremely indebted to Rogner's book Echsen [Lizards] 2 for information on the individual species described here.

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
Z. aeneus   Madagascar, esp. in East and Nosy Bé 8" Very similar to Z. madagascariensis, including the yellow stripes where the back joins the flanks. It is an adaptable lizard and not shy of human habitation. Care in captivity is roughly as for Z. haraldmeieri (Rogner).
Z. boettgeri   N. Madagascar 8" I have not yet been able to find any further data on this zonosaur, although it is not a recently defined species (1942) and I do have a list of bibliographical references. Care in captivity may be roughly as for Z. haraldmeieri, but I would not like to say for certain. If anybody has any further information on this species I would be most grateful.
Z. brygooi   N. Madagascar 8" This species was only defined in 1990. Please see the EMBL database entry. It is apparently found in forest areas, and is threatened by habitat destruction. Click here for a picture and a brief description. Other than that, see my tentative suggestion for Z. boettgeri as to possible care for this species.
Z. haraldmeieri Green Zonosaur N. Madagascar, esp. Diego Suarez area, poss. elsewhere also 16-17" A very attractive lizard and one that has recently been kept quite favourably in captivity. The colouring of Z. haraldmeieri is a beautiful metallic yellow-green on the back, blending into brown-pink and silver grey on the sides, with squarish black flecks in a regular pattern following the scales laterally from the neck to the tail. The head is more of a yellow-brown sheen with a few black flecks. Males can be distinguished by their larger femoral pores and broader tailbase. The young have a pale longitudinal line on each flank. Rogner recommends a 90 x 50 x 50 cm (36" x 20" x 20") terrarium for a pair of these lizards. Substrate should be a mixture of sand and earth at a depth of 2-4" with one third kept moist, an undertank heater to raise a temperature gradient of 22-28 deg C, as well as a bulb over the highest point in the cage to create a hot spot of 40 deg C. Other cage furniture should include a few roots or hollow bark, etc, which the zonosaurs will use for climbing and burrowing, particularly towards evening.
Z. karsteni Karsten's Zonosaur SW 16" The markings of Z. karsteni are quite distinctive: the overall pattern is a coffee brown colour, with two yellow stripes outlined either side in a darker brown running the length of the lateral edges of the dorsum. The flanks below the stripes are a darker brown to wine red in colour, regularly flecked with square scales the same colour as the stripes themselves, while the legs are similarly flecked but less regularly and lightly. The head and snout may be a lighter shade of brown. Males, as often is the case, are distinguishable by their broader tail base and more prominent femoral pores. The natural habitation of these zonosaurs is dry forest, semi-desert and thorny scrubland, so the cage should not be too humid, although a water bowl must be provided. Rogner notes that at night they have a tendency to dig to a depth of about 2½" into the earth without leaving noticeable traces, and accordingly recommends a substrate of an earth and sand mixture to the same depth. Roots or similar dried wood pieces provide shelter and climbing facilities. In addition to the usual cricket-based diet he also recommends pea-sized pieces of minced beef and occasional small pieces o apple. I have found no details of temperature recommendations so far, but assume they would be fairly similar to those for Z. haraldmeieri.
Z. laticaudatus Wide-Tailed Zonosaur S. & NW 20" Z. laticaudatus can be distinguished visually from the other zonosaurs by its longitudinal stripes, as these grow wider towards the neck and fade into it, ending where the head distinctly joins the neck, rather than directly behind the eyes as in the other species (Rogner). They also extend beyond the base of the tail. Overall background colour appears to be a dark brown with pale yellow flecks and a cream-yellow underneath. Males can be distinguished by the bright red markings on the throat and sides of the neck and head. They have been observed in very moist as well as very dry habitats. Rogner recommends care similar to that as for Z. haraldmeieri and Z. karsteni and commends Z. laticaudatus as a fairly undemanding species.
Z. madagascariensis madagascariensis Malagasy Zonosaur Mainly east coast between Maroansetra and Tamatave as well as Nosy Bé and the mainland opposite. A few have been found in the west. 15-20" Z. m. madagascariensis can be distinguished by their pale yellow stripes which do not extend beyond the base of the tail but which do end upon reaching the eye. The background colour is brown to reddish brown with darker flecks and with small light flecks on the limbs, sometimes dark-edged (Rogner). They are apparently among those lizards that have grown used to human encroachment and are often spotted in the vicinity of human habitation. Interestingly, one field researcher says he saw an individual Z. madagascariensis predate a Mantella frog in the wild, although none of the sources I have seen recommend frogs as part of a captive diet. Rogner recommends care as for Z. haraldmeieri and Z. karsteni.
Z. m. insulanus Glorioso and Cosmoledo Islands. ?"
Z. maximus Giant Zonosaur Central eastern Madagascar along the rivers Faraony, Matitana, Mananara and Tolongoina 28" Z. maximus is somewhat different in appearance from the other zonosaurs, being both considerably larger than the other species and also rather less colourful, being grey in background. Juveniles have a lighter colouring with some dark spots and yellow points: these grow darker and fade and disappear with age, especially among males (Rogner): the grey flanks and lower neck may be sprinkled with small dark spots. However, males can be distinguished by reddish or yellowish colouring on the lower flanks. The ventral area is greyish yellow and the throat may have dark flecks. An interesting aspect of Z. maximus is their adaptation to living near water: the tail is laterally flattened (rather like that of a crocodile), they are good swimmers and can remain underwater for some minutes, and they live in waterside burrows. In fact Rogner cites one source who notes that he never found any individuals further than 6ft (2 metres) from the water. However this does not apparently translate into an aquatic or even semi-aquatic setup in captivity. Rogner is quite clear about this: although he provided his captive Z. maximus lizards with a large basin of water, he reports that they only used it to drink from, and if he placed them in it they leapt out straight away. This is not unusual for captive reptiles who in the wild live near water: garter and ribbon snakes (Thamnophis species) usually live close to water but fare badly if kept too damp in their cages. Apart from this observation, Rogner recommends a large terrarium for one male and two females (140 x 80 x 80 cm, or about 4½' x 2½' x 2½') with a substrate of sand about 6" deep and a 'burrow' made of pieces of dried root and bark, etc. He placed the heat lamp above, and the heat cable below, this hiding place, turning them on with the daily photoperiod. He reports that in the evening the lizards would usual climb the Ficus benjamina in the cage and spend the night there. Other than that he recommends care as for Z. haraldmeieri and Z. karsteni, but notes that in contrast to these latter species, Z. maximus is active virtually all year round.
Z. ornatus Jewelled Zonosaur Central E. Madagascar, eastwards as far as the rain forest belt on the east coast 11-12" Z. ornatus seems to derive its common name from its colouring and stripes: the usual two that run down the back are golden yellow, and in between them there are two dark and one light longitudinal stripe. The head is dark brown and may be flecked with black (Rogner). The ventral surfaces are whitish gray, and flank colouring is variable in a similar manner to that of Z. karsteni and Z. madagascariensis (Rogner). Apparently they can occupy a variety of habitats, including forest. Rogner recommends keeping them in the same way as Z. haraldmeieri. Click here for a brief French summary of care (in English) and a photograph.
Z. quadrilineatus Four-Lined Zonosaur Tuléar region of Madagascar 14-15" The Four-Lined Zonosaur cannot be mistaken for any other species of the genus. It has a striking black background colour with four longitudinal white stripes, two of which extend over the head to meet at the snout, and two of which may extend the length of the tail or merge behind the tail base. The lower flanks are liberally distributed with white flecks forming an irregular "chessboard" pattern, and the limbs are also flecked with white. The undersurface is coloured in a shade between pink and cream (Rogner). This may be one of the less simple zonosaurs to keep in captivity, since the region of Tuléar is subject to a wide range of temperatures and heavy rainfall throughout the year. Rogner recommends captive care as for Z. karsteni but with at times higher temperatures and a pattern of temperature and moisture to replicate the conditions found in the zonosaur's native habitat. He also notes that Z. quadrilineatus is not found near human habitation.
Z. rufipes Red-Footed Zonosaur Madagascar: endemic to Nosy Bé 8" Rogner notes that due to its smaller size the Red-Footed Zonosaur could easily be mistaken for a juvenile of one of the other Zonosaur species. While it might be confused with a young Z. maximus, the photo in Rogner's own book shows a fairly distinctive lizard thanks mainly to the rust colouring on its flanks, which are lightly flecked with lighter scales, and on its feet. There are two lines running down the back, but these appear to be broken and made up of individual yellowish scales. Ventral colouring may be grey, yellow or red. The natural habitat is forest away from human habitation. Rogner recommends captive husbandry as for Z. haraldmeieri.
Z. subunicolor   N. Madagascar 8" Once defined as a species by Boettger in 1881, this lizard was later considered a subspecies of Z. rufipes but then given full species status again in 1996. Please see the EMBL database entry. See also "You win, M.; J. M5uller-Jung, F. Glaw and W. Böhme. 1996. Review of the Zonosaurus aeneus species group, with resurrection of subunicolor Zonosaurus (Boettger 1881). Biologica Senckenbergiana 76(1/2): 47-59" (thanks to Spanish site Library of the AHA for that information). Care presumably should be as for Z. rufipes (which is as for Z. haraldmeieri!).
Z. trilineatus Three-Lined Zonosaur Madagascar from Fort Dauphin as far as N. of Ampany 18" According to Rogner these are substantially similar to Z. quadrilineatus in appearance, habitat and care, except for the obvious fact (from their species name, "three-lined") that there are only three longitudinal lines on the back, as opposed to the four of the Four-Lined Zonosaur. If you go to the link below that shows a Three-Lined Zonosaur, however, you should be aware that the brown zonosaur in the picture is rather duller than Rogner's picture of a shiny black Four-Lined Zonosaur.

Click here for pictures of Z. aeneus, Z. madagascariensis, Z. ornatus, Z. rufipes and Z. trilineatus. This site is particularly good as it shows all five photographs together so that the reader can compare the different zonosaurs themselves.

For bibliography please refer to main Gerrhosauridae page.

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