This article is based on notes sent to a lady who had recently acquired a specimen of L. stellio but who was uncertain of its requirements in captivity. It is included here for the benefit of others who are interested in this hardy lizard.
Although sometimes known as a European agamid, this is somewhat misleading as there are several subspecies of L. stellio, only one of which is found on the European mainland. The species is distributed as follows:
|Species name||Common Name||Distribution|
|Laudakia stellio||Hardun (aka Sling-Tailed Agama, Painted Agama)||Greece & islands (inc. Cyclades, Rhodes & Corfu), Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia|
|L. s. stellio||Saloniki, Cyclades (Mykonos Islands, Delos, Paros, Antiparos, Naxos), Sporades, Rhodes, Corfu|
|L. s. brachydactyla||N Saudi Arabia, S Israel, Sinai Desert|
|L. s. cypriacus||Cyprus|
|L. s. daani||Salonika, many Aegean islands|
|L. s. picea||SW Syria, S Lebanon, N Israel, NW Jordan|
|L. s. vulgaris||N Egypt|
Older literature refers to this species as Agama stellio: the genus Agama was however reduced in size some years ago and many species, including the Hardun, reassigned.
This lizard is a maximum of 12" (28-30cm) in total length: adults vary between 8-12". This is a somewhat flattened looking lizard with a rather triangular head, large tympanum and gular fold. There is no dorsal crest (unlike many other agamids). Males can be distinguished by thickened preanal and ventral scales. Both sexes, but expecially the male, can change colour as a result of mood change or excitement, a capability found in many agamas.
In the wild these agamids are quite timid, but when accustomed to captivity become quite tame and used to a routine. Righetti-Montelongo relates how one captive Hardun used to perform a sort of running ritual around the cage every morning at a certain time: he would then be fed, after which he did not repeat the ritual that day.
In the wild, regardless of their actual country, they prefer living in stone walls or among rocks. Manthey and Schuster note that where in low density populations, the agamids may form pair bonds, but otherwise they are solitary. Their retreat is usually a pile of stones or a rodent burrow. Harduns greatly enjoy sunshine and bask on stone walls, rocks and buildings, and also on trees.
A desert-style vivarium setup is ideal for these agamids. Use sand and stones for the substrate and some rocks for the lizard(s) to climb on, making sure of course that the rocks cannot fall onto the inmates. For shelter and sleep a purpose-designed shelter for reptiles or a cork bark section may be used. Heating and lighting are also necessary for these agamid lizards. During most of the year the temperature at the warm end of the tank should be 80-90 deg F with a basking spot of up to 100 deg F (you may need to experiment a bit). In the wild many lizards in desert or arid areas actually retire to the cool of their burrows or crevices, so a temperature gradient with shelters at both ends is essential. Put the heat lamp on a timer and give it 12 hours a day. In cold climates or during the winter you should also use an undertank heat mat to provide gentle background heat at night, after the heat lamp has gone out. However, if your room temperature without reptile heaters is already fairly warm, then you may not need the heat mat. Across much of the Hardun's range, and certainly in those desert areas of North Africa and the Middle East which provide most of the wild-caught captives, the high daytime temperatures drop considerably at night, and a captive environment ought to reflect this within the bounds of safety. Righetti-Montelongo suggests that the temperature can be allowed to fall to the 60s (F) but no lower. UV light must also be provided, again for 12 hours a day.
These agamids are insectivorous. Crickets are easiest to use as a staple diet, but this can be varied with fruitflies and the odd helping of mealworms if the agama is big enough. Try offering food once every other day to begin with, about 6-8 crickets to start with, and adjust the numbers and frequency of feeding according to how the agama reacts. Although Laudakia stellio will drink from a water bowl, it comes from areas of low humidity, so a small bowl of water should be kept at the cool end of the tank. During this time of year (Dec-Jan) in the wild they hibernate, and this has also been reported among captive specimens. It is usually a good idea to drop the heat for these two months to no more than 60 F at the warm end and reduce the photoperiod of the UV light from 12 to 8 hours a day. Righetti-Montelongo suggests that the agamas can be kept at 50 deg F for a period of 45-90 days, while other comments I have read suggest this drop in temperature for at least the months of December and January. During this time the lizard may appear to be very inactive and spend a lot of time in the shelter. This is normal, but keepers should observe their pet to make sure it is drinking. At the end of January heat and UV light should be returned back to normal levels, which should induce a return to normal activity in L. stellio. This "hibernation" is part of their life cycle. Recently purchased specimens, or the young or unwell, may not be ready for hibernation, in which case they should be kept as normal and allowed to hibernate the following December.
In the wild these agamids breed in March-April, the females laying in June and the eggs hatching in August-September. If captive breeding is to be attempted then the winter cooling period mentioned above is probably essential. L. stellio is an egg-layer, the females laying a clutch of 5-15 eggs up to twice a season after a gestation period of 1-2 months. Clutches from the European subspecies tend to be smaller, about 6-8 (Arnold et al). Righetti-Montelongo recommends providing an "egg chamber" (plastic box filled with moistened sand for the females to lay in), and incubation of the eggs at 80-85 deg F, at which temperature they should hatch within 65-80 days. It seems little captive breeding has been achieved so far (at least none that I have heard of), which is a pity as wild-caught imports should not be the sole, or even main, source of these interesting agamids.
Agamid Lizards, Ulrich Manthey and Norbert Schuster, TFH 1996 (originally published in German, 1992, as Agamen).
Collins Field Guide: Reptiles & Amphibians of Britain & Europe, E N Arnold, J A Burton and D W Ovenden, HarperCollins 1978.
Terrarium and Cage Construction and Care, R D and Patricia Bartlett, Barron's Pet Series, 1999. Section on L. stellio brachydactyla.
"The Painted Agama, Acrobat Saurian", Carol Righetti-Montelongo, Reptile Hobbyist 2:10.
"Little Wonders", Terry Thatcher, Pet Reptile 37 (Oct 2000) (covers Orange Spotted Agama, L. stellio picea).
The EMBL database has taxonomic information, a bibliography and links to pictures.
http://www.biol.lu.se/zooekologi/jon/b37.htm (shows pictures of male and female for contrast)
http://www.nfds.net/~bmyers/melissk/agamas.html - strongly recommended as this is by Melissa Kaplan who knows what she is talking about. The advice covers several agama species including A. stellio.
Terry Thatcher has done a lot of work with agamids and has a nice picture of a male and female L. stellio pica.
Dutch speakers may find http://www.terravzw.org/nederlands/dier_vd_maand/Laudakia_stellio.htm helpful.
Biotoposkos also has a nice photograph of L. stellio in its natural environment.
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