Last updated 21 July 2008: updated several sections.


LEVEL 3: Tricky, time-consuming or best left to the experts

Prehensile-Tailed Skinks (Corucia zebrata)

Also known as Monkey-Tailed Skinks owing to their tails (obviously) and their arboreal habits, these highly intelligent skinks are found only in the Solomons Islands of the South Pacific. This rareness, probable over-collecting and a very low reproductive rate rightly ensure that these skinks remain expensive - if anything they are underpriced in the US (see deVosjoli). They are mainly if not exclusively herbivorous, have an interesting social dynamic with others in their group or cage and also with their human keepers. These relationships to be constantly monitored as they can change. Corucia can on occasion also be quite aggressive and leave vicious scratches or bites. In view of the imperative need to raise more captive young to reduce collecting, ownership of these interesting animals should really be left to those who have the time, facilities and patience to interact with them on a daily basis and encourage breeding.

Chameleons (Chamaeleo, Furcifer, Bradypodion, Calumma, Triceros and others)

Until recently, any chameleon bought from a shop could be guaranteed to be dead within a matter of weeks. Nowadays the situation is improving thanks to experience and more captive-bred stock, but even so chameleons are very demanding subjects. They need tall cages that are humid and yet well-ventilated and planted with plenty of branches, plus a very varied diet of insects. Chameleons also get stressed very easily, so need to be kept out of the way of frequent human contact and other animals. In addition, it is conjectured that even in the wild these creatures may be short-lived compared to other reptiles. Much depends also on which species is chosen: a few are definitely more adaptable to captivity than others.

Nile Monitors, Water Monitors and other large monitors (Varanus spp)

While I think monitors are fantastic creatures, I cannot recommend the above to most British lizard-keepers simply for reasons of space alone, if nothing else. Nile Monitors grow up to 6ft and would thus require a roomy vivarium of at least 10-12 ft, which is about the size of a normal room in most British houses. In addition they are known for their fierce temperament, at least initially (read: highly aggressive towards human interference). Water monitors are better in terms of temperament once calmed down and are highly intelligent, but unfortunately grow even bigger and also need access to a large pool of water: again, something that most UK keepers are not in a position to provide. It's a pity, but that's the way it is. Other large monitors have similar requirements. Prospective buyers thinking "when it grows too big I'll sell it" should beware that there is not much of a market for these beasts, especially if cramped quarters have given them a bit of a chip on their shoulders.

Tegus (Tupinambis spp)

See the above remarks on large monitors. Tegus grow to about 4 ft and are attractive and intelligent animals, but have a similarly aggressive nature. Cleaning out the habitat of one of these has also been described as "messy". Much depends on which species of tegu is chosen, as some are more adaptable than others.

Gila Monster & Mexican Beaded Lizard (Helodermum spp)

These are the only two venomous species of lizard in the entire world. For that reason alone, you would be unlikely to find them in a pet shop. They are also considered threatened over their native ranges (Arizona and Mexico respectively) and are protected under CITES. Some captive breeding is being done, but the price of the animals is likely to remain high. They require large, desert-type vivaria and like a dish of water, in which they will sit soaking for hours. In captivity the Gila Monster is normally quite docile, but unfortunately it takes only one accident or mistake and you will suffer months of pain and ill health, if not a very painful death, as there is as yet no known antivenin to the poison of these beautiful lizards. For dedicated, specialist breeders with the right facilities only.

Emerald Green Tree Monitor (Varanus prasinus and related spp)

You're not likely to see one of these beautiful medium-sized varanids in the shops, but if you do, don't be tempted as a first-time buyer. The tank needs to be large and quite thick with a rain-forest type setup, and these monitors themselves have a reputation for being difficult. The price tag may also be fairly high.


Chinese Crocodile Lizard (Shinisaurus)

Very little is known about this enigmatic, medium-sized lizard, and very little has appeared in print about it. What is known is that the Shinisaurus prefers cooler temperatures to most lizards and needs a moderately large aquatic setup to survive. It apparently is also a loner, having a tendency to attack its conspecifics within the same enclosure (although it normally leaves other species alone). Diet consists mainly of invertebrates found by streams in its native habitat, eg insects and molluscs. These rare lizards are on CITES II and are too specialised to be a household pet. Until more information (and captive-bred specimens) is available, these lizards should be left to experts. The same would probably also apply to the Mexican Xenosaur, the Crocodile Lizard's closest relative, which you are unlikely to see outside of Mexico..

Chilean Swifts (Liolaemus spp)

While most swifts are fairly easy to care for, those of the Liolaemus species have uncertain and often tricky requirements. This is because they come from the mountainous west and south of South America, where the temperature can drop to extreme lows (in reptile terms). Many are beautiful, but until more is known about their care in captivity, best left to experts.

Leaf-Tailed Geckos (Uroplatus spp)



These smallish geckos from Madagascar are only just beginning to enter the UK. They have evolved camouflage for their native environment to such a degree that their tails do indeed resemble flat, dried leaves, and seen against the right plant or tree they seem to merge into the bark. Unfortunately their requirements for captivity are still a bit uncertain. As their homeland is under threat of ecological destruction (like most of Madagascar's wildlife), these delicate geckos should be left to those specialists who are trying to set up breeding programmes.

Flying Dragons (Draco spp)

I have never seen any of these small agamid lizards for sale, but they have a reputation for being difficult to keep alive, apparently requiring a regular diet of ants. If you want a lizard that glides or parachutes, you will probably find one of the "flying geckos" (Ptychozoon species) easier instead. None of these reptiles actually fly as birds do, by the way: they just have means of gliding or braking their descent.


Horned Toads and the Moloch (Phrynosoma spp and Moloch horridus)

The horned toad is a member of the iguanid family, while the Moloch is a member of the agamids. They both look very similar, are very rare outside of their harsh natural habitat (hot desert in the USA and Australia respectively) and are considered impossible to keep alive in captivity for various reasons, mostly involving their diet of ants. The Moloch is supposedly eats hundreds of ants in one mealtime, so unless you're living on top of an inexhaustible anthill then providing a natural diet is impossible. I have never seen one of these in captivity at the zoo, let alone for sale, and the relevant literature seems to indicate near total failure. Horned Toads are supposedly somewhat more adaptable but even this is relative, and again most writers recommend not keeping them in captivity. In the UK you are unlikely to see Horned Toads for sale and will almost certainly never see the Moloch.

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