Caring for lizards

The following information should be used as a guide only. You will need specific information to properly care for injured wildlife.

Read more about rescuing and releasing animals in the Northern Territory (NT).

You need a permit to care for injured or rescued wildlife.

Background

Lizards in the NT including all of the following:

  • the huge perentie (Varanus giganteus) 
  • the small thorny devil of Central Australia (Moloch horridus)
  • the frill-necked lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii)
  • and the rare chameleon dragon in the Top End (Chelosania brunnea).

Lizards mostly come into care after domestic animal attack or being hit by a car. 

A common issue for all reptile species is inappropriate care from inexperienced carers.

The basics of feeding a balanced diet and providing the correct temperature for each species are commonly misunderstood.

Housing

Lizards should be kept in a quiet, secure spot away from family pets and excessive noise. This includes general household noise, traffic, domestic animals and construction. 

You can keep most lizards in plastic containers or glass aquariums with ventilation. Wooden enclosures are suitable if they’ve been surface-sealed for easy cleaning and disinfecting.

Enclosure size

All lizards, except larger goannas, need a minimum floor area of 1m by 1m per animal. Larger goannas need a minimum area of 2m by 2m by 2m per animal.

An outside pit enclosure is appropriate for lizards at the pre-release stage of rehabilitation.

The wall should be at least 1.5m high and topped with a 300mm overhang to prevent escape.The walls must be smooth and dug into the ground at least 500mm.

Cage furniture must be far enough from the wall or top of the enclosure to prevent escape.

Inside the enclosure

All enclosures need warm and cool areas.

There should be a basking spot with temperatures between 30 degrees Celsius and 35 degrees Celsius. The lizard needs room to be able to move freely to the cooler area within the enclosure. 

Be aware that a glass enclosure left in the sun will get very hot quickly. 

The floor covering should be a dry material. While the lizard is undergoing intensive care, use a floor covering that is easy to clean and sterilise.

Natural floor surfaces should be used in the pre-release stage of rehabilitation to encourage natural behaviour.

Lizards need somewhere to hide in their enclosure. This could be an upturned cardboard box, plant pot, log or rock. Some species like to climb on branches.

Lighting

Lizards need UV lighting, both UVA and UVB. UV lighting is needed for vitamin D3, which helps with calcium absorption. Lizards that do not get enough vitamin D3 will get sick. 

You can buy UV lights in pet shops. They will increase appetite, activity levels and natural behaviours in lizards.

Food and water

Temperature is important to feeding lizards. The animal will not feed if it is not warm enough. If the temperature drops after the lizard has eaten it may not be able to digest properly. 

A lizard may not eat if it feels insecure, so you should provide a place to hide.

In the wild, some lizards prey on other lizards. Indigenous lizard species are protected in the NT and should not be used as food. 

How to feed a lizard

Food items should be roughly the distance between the lizard’s eyes or smaller in size to be safe. Most lizards need their prey to be moving so they can detect it.

Lizards that eat insects should be fed every two to three days. Carnivorous lizards, such as large goannas, eat every four to five days. 

You will need to control portion size as lizards are prone to overfeeding.

Injured lizards may need feeding by hand until they recover. This should only be done under the supervision of an experienced carer. 

Mealworms are often fed to captive lizards. Use these sparingly as their skeleton is hard for lizards to digest.

Water

Lizards need fresh water that is changed daily.

Water containers should be heavy and wide-based so the lizard can't tip them over. Place the water bowl away from your heat source, as this can raise humidity levels in the enclosure. 

Some small lizards will not drink from a bowl. While you should still provide a small bowl, often they will drink water sprayed on them or off surrounding vegetation.

Give an occasional light spray of water for lizards from a humid climate. Make sure the enclosure isn't too damp, which can cause disease.

For lizards from a dry climate, be very conscious of humidity levels created by any kind of water bowl.

Feeding skinks

Skinks are mainly insectivorous in the wild, which means they eat insects, worms and other invertebrates. 

Larger species will eat chopped fruit, raw egg, insects, snails and small amounts of raw meat supplemented with Wombaroo Insectivore mix. Smaller species will eat any small insects and finely chopped meat supplemented with the mix.

Feeding dragons 

Dragons are mainly insectivorous in the wild. Larger dragons will eat chopped soft fruit, insects and small amounts of raw meat supplemented with Wombaroo Insectivore.

Feeding monitors 

Monitors are mostly carnivorous scavengers in the wild - they eat other animals. Larger species will eat rodents, small birds, fish and eggs. Smaller species will eat insects and young rodents.

Feeding geckos and legless lizards 

Geckos and legless lizards are mostly insectivorous in the wild. Legless lizards can't move very fast, so cool the insects first to slow them down.

Capture and handling

You should handle lizards quickly, safely and gently. Be aware that all lizards can bite.

Different lizards may need different handling techniques. 

Generally, lizards need to be supported when they are picked up. You may need to hold the lizard behind the neck.

Otherwise, cover a lizard with a towel before picking it up. This works well with medium to large lizards. 

Never hold skinks, geckos and legless lizards by the tail. These smaller lizards can be scooped into cupped hands or held by the body. Handle geckos gently as they have delicate skin that can easily rupture.

Wear thick gloves when handling monitors. Even the smaller species can give a nasty bite. There is a lot of bacteria in their mouths that can infect wounds they inflict.

When you pick them up, make sure the head is secure and the legs face away from your body. Don't handle wild monitors by the tail. If you're bitten or scratched, clean and disinfect the wounds immediately.

Transport

Transport lizards inside a strong calico bag tied securely and placed in a ventilated box.

Lizards should be kept at room temperature and out of direct sunlight during transport. 

Contact

For more information contact Wildlife Operations in your region.

Last updated: 28 November 2017