Meet the Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris)

Common NameCollared Lizard, Eastern Collared Lizard, American Collared Lizard
Scientific NameCrotaphytus collaris
OriginSouthern USA, northern Mexico
Size8 – 12″
Lifespan5-8 years on average, with reports of up to 15 years in Captive Bred animals
HousingTerrestrial, 4ft or larger tanks
DietLive insects

The Eastern Collared Lizard is a beautiful, active, small lizard that comes from the southern USA and northern Mexico, where they live in rocky or desert scrub areas. Adult males are bright blue with yellow and white markings, whilst the females are usually a grey colour with a green tint – no where near as colourful, but still very attractive. Both sexes have the black and white bands around the back of their neck that give them their name.

They reach approximately 8 – 12″ in length and the Eastern Collared Lizard is one of 9 different species of Collared Lizard, and the most commonly kept and bred in captivity.

Eastern Collared Lizards are incredibly quick. They can run on two legs at great speed to escape predators! In captivity they calm down well, but wild caught individuals can often remain flighty. Luckily there is captive bred availability in the UK, which results in a healthy lizard who is more calm and happy to interact with humans.

There is some debate on their lifespan. You’ll find most care sheets list the lifespan as 5 – 8 years, whilst some claim that individuals life up to 15 years. I think there is a discrepancy between wild caught and captive bred, as many individuals, particularly in the USA, are wild caught.

Housing

Although Collared Lizards are relatively small, we’d recommend a large vivarium for them, such as a 48x18x18″ for a single adult as a bare minimum, or a 48x24x24″ as a more spacious home for a single adult, or suitable for a pair. The setup we recommend is a Bearded Dragon setup – which focuses on a dry environment with a high basking temperature and a high strength UVB. Although Bearded Dragons come from Australia, the environment that they live in is very similar to Collared Lizards.

Heating and Basking

Basking Temperature95F35C
Basking Spot Surface Temperature105 – 120F40C – 48C
Ambient Temperature75 – 90F23 – 33C
Night Temperature70F21C

The Eastern Collared Lizard comes from a dry, hot environment. They will bask in the sun on rocky outcrops during the day and as such need a basking spot of 95F (35C). This must be controlled by a dimming thermostat to avoid overheating.

The basking surface temperature can reach temperatures of 105 – 120F. This is not the air temperature, but the temperature detected with an infrared temperature reader directly on the surface that they will be basking at. Having a raised basking platform such as slate or rock simulates the natural environment and provides a surface that will absorb the heat. You’ll want to check the temperature of this rock as well as the air temperature, to ensure that there’s no risk of overheating / burns.

The ambient temperature of the rest of the tank can range from 75F (23C) on the cool side to 90F (33c) on the hot side.

Your basking lamp should be connected to a dimming thermostat at all times to avoid overheating.

Night time temperatures are around 70 – 75F (21 – 23C) and can be gained either through a ceramic heater bulb, or a heat mat on the hot side of the tank. This should be controlled by a temperature thermostat.

Measuring Heat – You should have a thermometer – either analogue, or digital – in the enclosure as it is possible for thermostats to be faulty and you want to double check that your temperatures are correct. Ideally having one on the hot end and the cold end, or having one with two probes provides you with the best information.

UVB Lighting

Eastern Collared Lizards are diurnal and as such need UVB for 10-12 hours a day. This is essential for the health. Research done by Arcadia Reptile suggests that Collared Lizards would get a UV Index of 3-4 in the wild.

If your main basking areas are 12-15″ away from your lizard, you should use an Arcadia T5 6% UVB or T8 12% UVB (or equivalent strength in different brands). If your enclosure is taller, and your Lizard is 15-24″ away, you can increase this to a T5 12% bulb. Bear in mind that this should the distance from the bulb to the areas that your Collared Lizard basks at, and not necessarily the height of the tank if you use a raised basking platform. In a 48x24x24″ tank, which is what personally recommend, we’d use the Arcadia T5 Pro 12% kit and this is what comes with our setup.

Your UVB lighting should be on for 10 – 12 hours a day, which you can set on a timer if you’d like. Always turn off your UVB lighting and your basking bulb at night time.

Water

Keep a small fresh water bowl in the tank.

Humidity

Collared Lizards need a dry enclosure, to simulate the rocky, desert scrubland that they come from. 50-60% humidity is fine for Eastern Collared Lizards. To keep humidity down, keep your water bowl on the cold side of the tank and do not let your substrate get damp.

Decor, Substrate and Bioactive options

You may want to keep your hatchling or juvenile Collared Lizard on a substrate such as Cage Carpet for the first few months, to ensure that they’re eating well and to lower any chance of substrate being ingested. For older Collared Lizards or those you’re already confident are eating accurately, you’ll want a dry sand based substrate such as Habistat’s Desert Sand which is a fine natural sand, or Bearded Dragon Bedding which is a blend of sand, soil and grit.

You should decorate the enclosure in natural decor that would be found in a desert scrubland. That can include low lying plastic plants, rocks, cork bark and slate.

Social Needs and Housing Together

Eastern Collared Lizards can live quite happily alone for their entire lifetime, but can also be kept in groups of one male and one or more females. You should never keep two males together as they are territorial and can fight. If you are keeping a male with females look carefully at the females health during the breeding season. Males can be very aggressive during breeding, resulting in lacerations to the females back and neck. These may need to be treated and the female separated to heal. In the wild the female would be able to get far away from males; she cannot do that in captivity, so do not keep a male and female together unless you’re prepared to mitigate this risk.

Sexing Collared Lizards

Sexing hatchlings can be challenging, but can be done by an experienced eye looking at femoral pores and vent size. The older the lizard get, the more reliable the sexing is. Both male and female have a line of femoral pores on the back legs. Black markings either side of the vent can also be present or missing in both males and females. On the tail, below the vent, males will have a larger row of scales compared to females. As he matures, the male may also have bulges at the base of the tail.

Male Collared Lizard:

Female Collared Lizard (not showing full mating colours):

Once your Collared Lizard is approaching adulthood – sexual maturity is reached at around two years – it is easier to tell males from females due to colour differences. Babies tend to be grey and white, but adult males grow into vibrant blues and yellow highlights. Females can also have a good amount colour on them and during mating season these colours will become more vibrant, particular their yellow and orange colouration, but females lack the blues of an adult male.

Adult males are also larger than females at full maturity.

Diet

Collared Lizards are big eaters and will actively hunt all live insects. In captivity they will eat a range of hoppers / locusts, crickets, mealworms, waxworms, dubia roaches, silk worms, earthworms etc.

They will also eat some small amount of vegetables – but in the wild would only eat brightly coloured flowers that grow on bushes and cacti. As such they tend to ignore green leafy vegetables, but you may have luck with brightly coloured fruits and flowers. Things such as grated carrots or crated squash, chopped strawberries, chopped grapes, and edible flowers such as Nasturtium or Dandelion. You should always try to offer a varied diet of different livefoods and fruit / vegetables where possible.

Livefood should be kept in cool, well ventilated containers and gut loaded with fresh dry vegetables, or a pre-made mixture such as our Livefood Care Pack which comes with both nutrients and hydration. Don’t use a water bowl with livefood, the humidity will cause them to die and they’re prone to drowning.

Supplementation

Food should be dusted with a multivitamin D3 supplement once a week and straight calcium on all other days.

Handling

Collared Lizards can move at extreme speeds if threatened – in fact they’re one of the fastest species of lizard in short bursts. In the wild they can disappear from their basking spot into crevices and hiding holes in the time it takes you to blink. Baby Collared Lizards or those who are wild caught may be extremely flighty. You can give them confidence around you by starting interactions inside the vivarium. Having such a voracious appetite helps as they’ll often hand feed. Once they don’t view you as a threat Collared Lizards can often be handled gently outside the vivarium, but are never as calm or handleable a species as Bearded Dragons.

They have a strong jaw, although extremely small teeth. Wild caught Collared Lizards will bite if they feel threatened, but this is rare in captive bred individuals who don’t have the same experience of predators.

Breeding Collared Lizards

Breeding Collared Lizards in captivity is a little harder than some lizards as it requires brumation, but two healthy individuals who have been brumated will usually readily breed. You will first need to make sure that you have mature individuals in the very best health; in particular the female needs to be large enough to thrive through both brumation and egg laying. You’ll also need to have an incubator for your eggs, and a tank – potentially several tanks – to raise your young in before they’re ready for new homes.

Additionally it’s worth noting that males can be heavy handed with females during breeding season. He will bite her neck very firmly, and may cause lacerations on her neck and back that need treatment and a careful eye for potential infection. If a female is injured you’ll want to move her to a tank where she can heal and recuperate as otherwise the male will continue to harrass her and damage her further. You must be prepared to have two setups to separate your adults.

Brumation

Brumation is the reason why not many Collared Lizards are bred in captivity. Your adults must be in the very peak of health. This is due to the cold temperatures in the wild over autumn and winter. If your adults aren’t in the best of health, a brumation of this length can cause serious health problems, or even death. The best success with breeding Collared Lizards is when housed outside in the USA; in similar climates to their natural habitat. In the UK we do not have that option.

Here in the UK we must artificially cool Collared Lizards down to around 5 – 12C. This can be hard to maintain in the UK without the use of a modified fridge, which will need to be opened daily to let in enough oxygen. You must ensure there is no good in the digestive tract by starving them for at least two weeks before brumation. In the month before brumation, you should reduce their food intake so they prepare. As you can see, reduced food, plus a period of starvation, followed by months of brumation, means I can’t stress enough that your Collared Lizards need to be mature, healthy and a good weight. Check your brumating Lizards twice a week, and pop a few water droplets on their mouths to ensure they are hydrated. You can also weigh them inside your hibernation chamber and if after a few weeks you find they are losing weight, there could be something wrong. You will not harm them to bring them out of brumation early, so don’t keep them brumating if you’re worried about their health.

In order to produce their reproductive hormones they will need to brumate for at least 6 weeks; some choose to brumate for as much as 3 months. In the wild, in some areas and in colder years, Collared Lizards may brumate for as much as 5 months. When waking them up you will need to reverse this process. Leave them at room temperature for a week with the UV light on but no additional heat, then turn your heat on gradually, increasing it daily for a week until back at normal temperatures, then feeding can resume.

Mating and Egg laying

During breeding season if a female is receptive you’ll see bright yellow and orange colours coming through. Once she is gravid she can also have red patterns and stripes. Within 21-28 days of mating or her gravid colours showing she will lay her eggs.

She will lay her eggs after digging deep into a lay box, which should be dark and slightly damp, but not wet. The average clutch size is around 5-6, but as many as 12 could be laid. Eggs should be incubated at 85F and will hatch in 55 to 65 days.

I really hope that this Collared Lizard caresheet has covered everything you were looking for. This is such a great species to own! If you have any questions or are in the UK and would like to purchase a Collared Lizard, give us a message on Facebook or an email. Thank you!

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