The Armadillo lizard is a unique-looking creature that is sure to captivate pet reptile lovers. They are an unusually social lizard compared to most reptiles and beginners may find them easy to care for though sometimes hard to obtain.
All About the Armadillo Lizard
The armadillo lizard, or Ouroborus cataphractus, is native to South Africa. It's also called the golden armadillo, armadillo Jones, armadillo girdled or armadillo spiny-tailed lizard.
Physical Characteristics of the Armadillo Lizard
The armadillo lizard can reach lengths of between four and six-and-a-half inches long as adults. Their most distinguishing feature is their "armor" along their backs, tails, head, legs and sides which gives them the appearance of a lizard crossed with an armadillo. These scales are thick and spiny and are usually varying shades of brown, with a brownish-yellow belly.
Armadillo Lizard Defensive Behavior
The armadillo lizard's scales are not the only reason for their name. When frightened, the lizards pull themselves into a circle by grabbing onto their tails with their mouths, forming a ring. This keeps their body protected by their scales which point out and extend in this posture. The lizard's use this behavior when they are in danger of being attacked by larger animals or if they're stressed. Like many other lizards, they can drop their tails if they must, but armadillo lizards are less likely to do so in stressful situations since their tail is necessary to create their ouroboros posture.
Sociability of the Armadillo Lizard
Another unique characteristic of the armadillo lizard is that they are very social with other lizards of their kind. In the wild armadillo lizards live in groups, and up to 60 lizards have been found living together. This desire for reptile companionship means this is a lizard you could, and should, own more than one of provided you have an adequate tank size. You should only keep one male per tank however as they can be aggressive toward each other.
Handling Armadillo Lizards
These lizards are usually described as docile and they can be amenable to handling if they are acclimated to it at a young age. They can quickly revert to their reflex response of curling into a ball if they are stressed, so getting them used to you should be done slowly and at the lizard's pace of comfort. They do have sharp teeth and can bite if stressed.
Caring for an Armadillo Lizard
Armadillo lizards have fairly easy care requirements compared to other pet lizards which makes them a good choice for the novice reptile owner.
Armadillo Lizard Diet
Armadillo lizards eat a diet composed of pellets, insects and fresh vegetables and fruit. Adult lizards can also eat small feeder mice. Adults should be fed every other day and younger lizards need food twice a day until they reach adult size. The diet should be about 60 to 70% pellets with a mix of other items. They can eat many fruits and vegetables and good choices are:
- Collard greens
Acceptable insects are small crickets dusted with calcium powder, roaches, super worms, wax worms, silk worms and bee moth larvae.
Foods that can make your lizard ill and should be avoided are:
- Iceburg lettuce
Although they are popular with other lizards, you should not feed mealworms to an armadillo lizard
Proper Habitat for the Armadillo Lizard
The best size tank for one to two armadillo lizards is 20 gallons, but if you have more than than two lizards, increase the size to accommodate each additional lizard. They need places in the tank to climb on, such as branches, tree bark, rocks, and lizard hideaways from pet stores. Their natural habitat is arboreal desert so simulating this environment is important for their physical and mental health. The substrate for the tank bottom can be bark or reptile liners.
Armadillo Lizard Temperature Requirements
Their preferred daytime temperature is between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime at 70 to 78 degrees. They will need an area in the tank to bask with an average temperature of 90 to 105 degrees. You should also place a small water dish in their tank with dechlorinated water for them to take a dip in. They do need some humidity of around 30 to 40%. They will additionally require a full spectrum light bulb left on for eight to 10 hours per day.
Armadillo Lizard Health
On average, an armadillo lizard will live about eight to 12 years though they have been known to live up to 20 years. They are not known for many health problems but like many pet lizards, metabolic bone disease and respiratory issues can be a problem. These can both be prevented with proper nutrition and regular cleanings of the cage as well as keeping humidity under 50%.
Conservation of the Armadillo Lizard
Armadillo lizards at one time were in danger of extinction in their native South Africa and were officially listed as a vulnerable species in their home country until the 1990s. Currently their official status is "least concern" but it is illegal to trade in armadillo lizards in South Africa, which can affect their availability in the pet trade. While there are some captive bred armadillo lizards available, this is a species that is harder to find compared to more popular pet lizards.
Do Armadillo Lizards Make Good Pets?
The armadillo lizard is considered a good choice for beginners because of their docile temperament. While they do have specific requirements for their care, they are not as extensive as with some reptiles better suited for more advanced owners. As long as you provide for them and keep at least two together, one male and one female, they can be interesting and unique looking pet lizards. Taming them when they are young can also make them willing to be held though they're not as "cuddly" as some other pet lizards like the bearded dragon.