The Agama (Agamidae) Family of Lizards: Quick Facts

Many typical features of the iguanas are present in the agamas in similar forms. Such parallel developments are called convergence. Dewlaps and crests are present in males usually. If they are present in both sexes, they are noticeably larger in the male. Also the body language, with head nodding or presentation of the flattened body, is like that of the iguanas. Typical of the agama is its “waving” during courtship.

Desert Agama

Differences between the sexes: The male has noticeably larger femoral and/or preanal pores than the female. To some extent the males are also differentiated from the females by their dewlaps and crests. In some species the sheaths for the hemipenis can be seen on the underside of the root of the tail; in others, particularly with young animals, differentiation between sexes is only possible with the use of a probe.

Reproduction: All species are ovoviviparous. The 4 to 20 eggs in a clutch are deposited in a hole in the ground. They must be transferred to an incubator. The gestation period is 60 to 100 days at a temperature of 81 °F (29°C). Nurturing will be successful only if the young are cared for separately.

General maintenance advice: Soa-soas and water dragons are nervous animals, quick to flee. They do not recognize glass and jump against it or constantly rub their snouts against it so that irreparable damage can be done to their lips and jaws. Make the glass visible with a stripe across it! With soa-soas and water dragons it is not possible to mix several males of the same species. The low-ranking animals will not be able to endure psychological stress and will die. But you can keep soa-soas and water dragons together in family groups.

Bearded lizard*

Amphibolurus barhatus (Cuvier, 1829)

Total length: 22 inches (5 cm). Head-torso length: 10 inches (25 cm).

Distribution and Description: Australia. Habitat: Brushy grasslands; thin, grassy woods.

Identifying characteristics: Scales on head and neck are barbed, partly elongated into spines; they become raised during threat posture.

Behavior: Diurnal. Lives on the ground, on stones and stumps. Lives in small groups, dominant males on display spots.

Maintenance: Terrarium, 60 x 24 x 28 inches (150 x 60 x 70 cm) for one male and two females. It is better to double the area and keep two males and four females because then the behavior patterns become more distinct.

Decorations: Well arranged stones and stumps. Sand with damp areas for egg-laying. Plants from the dry areas of Australia are only possible in large terrariums. Sunning spots and UV lighting.

Temperature: By day precisely 77° to 95°F (25-35°C), and the animals must be able to crawl into cooler areas; by night 65° to 68°F (18-20°C). Pseudo-winter rest from November to February at 59° to 68°F (15-20°C; reflector lamps not turned on).

Humidity: 50 to 70 percent.

Food: Insects and spiders, baby mice and baby rats; in natural habitat also small reptiles and amphibians. Vegetable food (leaves, flowers, and fruit) is sometimes also enjoyed.

Drinking water is licked from the decorations or shallow saucers; spray plants with water once daily.

Oriental (Chinese) water dragon

Physignathus concincinus (Cuvier, 1829)

Total length: 32 inches (80 cm). Head-torso length: 10 inches (25 cm).

Distribution and Description / Habitat: Tropical rain forests, always in close vicinity to water. It is not certain how high these agamas live; it is possible that populations from higher locations may be kept too warm in the terrarium.

Identifying characteristics: Comb from neck to tail; in males this is noticeably large than in females.

Behavior: Diurnal. Tree-dwelling. Flight behavior: Jumps into water and disappears. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: Terrarium 60 x 40 x 40 inches (150 x 100 x 100 cm) for one male and two females.

Decorations: Branches for climbing. Large water containers; better yet, a water terrarium. Mature animals need to have a 6-inch (15-cm) depth of floor medium for egg-laying. Strong, tough-leaved plants from the rain forests of Southeast Asia are only recommended for very roomy terrariums because the lizards are heavy and also many of them eat leaves. Sunning places and UV lighting.

Temperature: By day 77° to 86°F (25-30°C); by night 68° to 77°F (20-25°C).

Humidity: 80 to 90 percent. Food: Insects, earthworms, freshwater fish, baby rats, and mice; in the wild also small reptiles, amphibians, and bird nestlings. Some also like weeds, fruit, carrots, and rice.

Soa-soa

Hydrosaurus amboinensis (Schlosser. 1768)

Total length: 44 inches (110 cm). Head-torso length: 14 inches (35 cm)

Distribution and Description: Sulawesi (Celebes). It is not clear whether the soa-soa of the Moluccas, Philippines, and western New Guinea belong to the species of Hydrosaurus amboinensis or if it is a separate species.

Habitat: Tropical rain forests, always in close vicinity to water.

Identifying characteristics: Crest from neck to tail, where there is an especially large “sail”; in females the crest is small and there is no “sail.” Toes have a fringe of skin.

Behavior: Diurnal. Tree-dwelling. Flight pattern is not to tops of trees but plunging into water and disappearing or fleeing on two legs. Reacts excitedly. Powerful jumper. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: Terrarium 60 x 40 x 40 inches (150 x 100 x 100 cm) for one male and two females.

Decorations: Branches for climbing. Large water containers or, better yet, a water terrarium. Mature animals need to have a 6-inch (15-cm) floor medium for egg-laying. Sunning places and UV lighting.

Temperature: By day 77° to 86°F (25 – 30°C); by night 68° to 77°F (20 – 25°C).

Humidity: 80 to 90 percent. Food: Insects, earthworms, freshwater fish, baby rats and mice; in natural habitat also small reptiles, amphibians, and bird nestlings. Vegetable food consists of weeds, fruit, carrots, and rice.

Angle-headed Agama

Acanthosaura crucigera (Boulenger. 1885)

Total length: 11 inches (27 cm). Head-torso length: 4 inches (10 cm).

Distribution and Description: Indochina, Malay peninsula.

Habitat: Fog-dampened mountain forests and tea plantations up to elevations of 2,600 feet (800 m). Identifying characteristics: Sharp-spined neck and back comb.

Behavior: Diurnal. Lives in trees and bushes. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: Cube-shaped terrarium, 24 x 24 x 24 inches (60 x 60 x 60 cm) for four lizards.

Decorations: Branches, twigs, bark, plenty of plants from the rain forest of Southeast Asia . Sunning spots and UV lighting.

Temperature: By day 68° to 77°F (20 – 25°C); by night 59° to 68°F (15-20°C).

Humidity: In the morning 100 percent (spray cool water early and then later turn on warming lamps), otherwise 70 to 90 percent.

Food: Insects and spiders. Drinking water will be licked from the plants; spray plants with water once daily.

Bornean bloodsucker

Calotes cristatellus (Kuhl, 1820)

Total length: 20 inches (50 cm). Head-torso length: 4 inches (10 cm).

Distribution and Description: Indochina, Indo-Malayan archipelago to western New Guinea.

Habitat: Low-lying areas of light forest, cultivated land, human dwellings.

Identifying characteristics: Spiny neck and back combs. Throat skin can be puffed up.

Behavior: Diurnal. Lives on tree trunks, branches, and leaves. Usually placid but reacts to disturbance with great fear and flees in a panic. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: Terrarium, 40 x 24 x 24 inches (100 x 60 x 60 cm) for four lizards.

Decorations: Branches, twigs, bark, plenty of plants from the rain forests of southeast Asia. Caution: Do not use any forked pieces of wood: they are a danger to tails! Sunning spots and UV lighting. Temperature: By day 77° to 86°F (25 – 30°C); by night 68° to 77°F (20 – 25°C).

Humidity: 60 to 90 percent.

Food: Insects, spiders, baby mice.

Drinking water will be licked from the plants; spray them with water once daily.

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