The armadillo lizard is a unique-looking creature that is sure to captivate pet reptile lovers. They are unusually social lizards compared to most reptiles, and beginners may find them easy to care for though sometimes hard to obtain. Despite their conservation status being of "least concern," it's important to determine where your reptile comes from for moral, ethical, and safety reasons prior to bringing them home. You don't want to spend a lot of money on an illegally captured lizard with health issues.
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, and you'll likely come up with some interesting names for your pet reptile.
Physical Characteristics of the Armadillo Lizard
The armadillo lizard can reach lengths of between 4 and 6½ 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 lizards 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 because their tail is necessary to create their "Ouroboros-like" 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. In fact, up to 60 lizards have been found living together in the wild. 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 novice reptile owners.
Armadillo Lizard Diet
Armadillo lizards are insectivores and should be fed a diet composed insects that are properly dusted every other day with a calcium powder and vitamin D3 supplement. Adult lizards can also eat pinky feeder mice. Adults should be fed roughly three times per week, and younger lizards should be fed daily until they reach adult size.
Acceptable insects are small crickets dusted with calcium powder, dubia roaches, super worms, wax worms, silkworms, and bee moth larvae. Although armadillo lizards sometimes consume plant matter in the wild, this does not make a substantial portion of their diet. Stick with live insects for this species. Also, note that, though they are popular with other lizards, you should not feed mealworms to an armadillo lizard.
These lizards need access to fresh water. include a very shallow bowl with low sides in their enclosure. The dish must be shallow because these lizards tend to get into their water bowls, and if the water is too deep or it is too difficult to exit, the lizards may drown. Always provide fresh, purified water that has been treated to remove chlorination.
Proper Habitat for the Armadillo Lizard
The minimum size tank for one to two armadillo lizards is 20 gallons. However, larger enclosures are always preferable, and your lizards will appreciate more room to move. If you have more 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 an 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. They do need some humidity of around 30 to 40 percent. They also require a full spectrum light bulb that provides ultraviolet light of the correct spectrum left on for eight to 10 hours per day. Purchase a high-quality light fixture specifically designed for keeping reptiles with output in the correct wavelengths.
Armadillo Lizard Health
On average, an armadillo lizard will live about 8 to 12 years, though they have been known to live up to 20 years. They are not known to have many health problems. However, like many pet lizards, metabolic bone disease and respiratory issues can be a problem. These can both be prevented with proper lighting, nutrition, and regular cleanings of the cage as well as keeping humidity under 50 percent.
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.
Because it's illegal to export armadillo lizards from their native habitats, it's morally and ethically important to ensure your armadillo lizard was captive-bred. Although you will likely find a wild-caught armadillo lizard cheaper than one that is captive-bred, in addition to legal issues, they come with health issues. Parasites are common in wild-caught armadillo lizards when they arrive in their new habitats. They could be infected with bacteria or viruses that can spread to other reptiles in your home. They may also fail to thrive as a result of improper post-capture treatment.
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 compared with some reptiles that 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, such as bearded dragons.