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Swifts and Fence Lizards

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 26 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Swifts And Fence Lizards

As their name suggests, swifts are fast moving, agile little lizards, and although they are not the easiest of reptiles to keep, if properly cared for, they can make rewarding – if typically rather short-lived – pets.

Although they are generally docile in captivity, they don’t seem to enjoy being handled much – but if that’s not really where your interest lies, then these attractive and inquisitive lizards could be just right for you.

Who’s Who?

Variously known as swifts, fence lizards, crevice lizards or spiny lizards, some of the most commonly seen species of Sceloporus sold on the pet market include:

  • Pink Bellied Swift (Sceloporus variabilis)
  • Emerald swift (S. malachiticus)
  • Western Fence Lizard (S. occidentalis)
  • Eastern Fence Lizard (S. undulatus)
  • Crevice Spiny Lizard (S. poinsettii)
  • Granite Spiny Lizard (S. orcutti)
  • Desert Spiny Lizard (S. magister)
  • Texas Spiny Lizard (S. olivaceus )

Most species grow to around 6-8 inches (15-20cm) long, their tails making up a little more than half of their overall length. Their scales are stiff and fairly strongly keeled, giving them a spiny appearance – which accounts for the name “Spiny Lizard” – and many are attractively marked. With its bright green body, the Emerald Swift – also known as the Malachite Spiny Lizard – (Sceloporus malachiticus) is one of the most colourful; the males are particularly striking having almost iridescent blue patches to either side of their flanks. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most popular species to keep.

Housing Sceloporus Lizards

Although these lizards are quite small, they are very active and require a relatively large container. A tank at least 30 x 12 x 16 inches (75x30x40cm) will be adequate for a male and two females though a larger tank would be better; Sceloporus are territorial animals, so it’s unwise to house males together. A good lid is also essential, as these lizards can jump surprisingly well.

Woodland and grassland species can be kept on a floor of purpose bought bark chippings, sterile compost, or sphagnum, while desert species will require drier, sandier conditions. The tank should also contain plenty of hiding places, cork bark “caves” along with suitable logs and stones for clambering over and a shallow water bowl.

The heating requirements vary slightly with the species, but as a general rule, the daytime temperature should be around 25-30 degrees C (77-86F), with a warmer basking area and a night-time drop to 16 or 20C (62-68F), though tropical or desert dwellers will probably like a little more warmth. Most Sceloporus keepers tend to use ceramic heaters or spot lamps to achieve these requirements rather than heat mats or hot rocks, largely because these lizards often burrow and digging themselves down onto heaters runs the risk of getting severe burns.

Your pets will also need exposure to a suitable UVB source for 12 hours a day to stay healthy.

Food and Feeding

These lizards are carnivorous, actively hunting their prey, which in the wild comprises a wide range of insects and other assorted arthropods. In captivity, almost any appropriately sized live food will be acceptable, from the normal standbys of crickets and mealworms to any wild caught garden insects, larvae and earthworms.

Sceloporus seem to do best if they have a number of different foods in their diet, so it’s worth trying to replicate something of the variety they would naturally encounter whenever you can to supplement shop-bought crickets and the like. These lizards will also benefit from the occasional use of a good mineral and vitamin supplement.

Although these attractive and interesting little lizards probably aren’t the best pets for anyone starting out in reptile keeping, for anyone with a little bit of experience, swifts and their relatives are certainly worth a thought.

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