Arid Lizard Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Aug. 18, 2023
Rainbow lizard

In This Article

Species Overview

Arid Lizard Species Overview

Arid lizards encompass a group of reptiles that are native to warm, dry habitats. This care sheet outlines basic care needs for a variety of arid lizard species, including: 

  • Bearded dragons (see our Bearded Dragon care sheet for more specific care instructions) 

  • Steppe runner lizards 

  • Curly-tailed lizards 

  • Frilled lizards 

  • Armadillo girdled lizards

  • African plated lizards 

  • Agamas (AKA “rainbow lizards”) 

  • Uromastyx lizards

With proper care, depending on species, most arid lizards reach their maximum adult size within one to three years. 

Each arid lizard species can exhibit unique and fascinating behaviors, including: 

  • When a predator is near, armadillo lizards will roll themselves into a ball and put their tails in their mouths to appear smaller.  

  • Bearded dragons can flare out the skin underneath their necks to ward off predators, regulate their temperature, establish dominance, or attract mates. 

  • Curly-tailed lizards curl their tails to draw a predator’s attention. If the lizard is caught, it can release its tail and escape.  

  • Frilled lizards stand on their back legs, hiss, open their mouths, and unleash the flap of skin around their heads so they can frighten attackers. 

  • Steppe lizards are known to be naturally skittish. However, they can become accustomed to their pet parents and learn to tolerate gentle handling over time. 

  • Male agama lizards change colors when exhibiting dominance: their bodies turn blue, while their heads turn red or yellow.  

  • African-plated lizards have square-shaped, plate-like scales that resemble armor on their large bodies.  

  • Uromastyx lizards have long, spiky tails that they use to ward off predators. 

Arid lizards tend to be territorial and should be housed alone. One notable exception is the armadillo lizard, which prefers to live in a group. 

Some arid lizard species can detach their tails and run away when caught by a predator. Their tail will regrow within about 30 days, but the new tail will not look the same as the original. Pet parents should NEVER grab or pick up a lizard by its tail, regardless of species. 

All reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, including Salmonella bacteria, which is zoonotic (transmittable to humans). Pet parents should always wash their hands before and after handling their arid lizard or its habitat’s contents. 

Arid Lizard Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 

Beginner to advanced, depending on species 

Average Lifespan 

10+ years, depending on species 

Average Adult Size 

4–36" long, depending on species 


Varies depending on species; arid lizards can be herbivorous, omnivorous, or carnivorous 

Minimum Habitat Size 

Varies depending on species; pet parents should research specific requirements for the species they’re caring for 

Arid Lizard Supply Checklist

To keep an arid lizard happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

Arid Lizard Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

For arid lizards, the recommended habitat size and shape will vary depending on the lizard’s species. However, all habitats should be large enough for the lizard to exercise and explore comfortably. Always provide the largest habitat possible. Pet parents should refer to a veterinarian for help with determining specific housing requirements for their arid lizard’s needs. 

Habitats must have a securely fitted mesh top to prevent escape. Increase the habitat size as the lizard grows or if more than one lizard is housed in a habitat.  

Setting Up Your Habitat 

Habitat Mates 

Pet parents should do species-specific research before deciding to house more than one arid lizard in the same habitat. Some arid lizards are solitary animals that should always be housed alone, while others thrive when kept alongside other members of their species.

In general, male lizards tend to fight when kept in the same habitat as other males and should not be kept together. If males and females are housed together, expect them to breed. Never house different species of reptiles together. 

Temperature & Lighting 

Like all reptiles, arid lizards need a temperature gradient in their habitat so they can warm up and cool down as needed. The recommended temperature range for arid lizards varies between different species. Pet parents should do species-specific research or consult a veterinarian for specific requirements for their lizard’s species. 

Pet parents must check the temperatures of their lizard's habitat daily. At least two thermometers—one in the warm area and one in the cool area—should be placed in the enclosure so that both zones can be checked at once. A digital point-and-shoot thermometer can also be used to read habitat temperatures instantly. 

Recommended Products: 


An incandescent light or ceramic heater should be added to one end of an arid lizard’s tank to create a basking area for the lizard to use during the day. The wattage needed for the bulb depends on the size of the enclosure, the distance of the bulb from the reptile, and the ambient temperature of the room in which the enclosure is kept. Adjust the wattage of the bulb to maintain the recommended temperature gradient within the tank.

Note: Some light bulbs provide not only light to the tank, but also heat and/or ultraviolet (UV) light. Pet parents should check the light sources they are considering to be clear of their function in the tank. 

Heat sources should be attached to a thermostat to keep temperatures within a safe and comfortable range. 

Hot rocks should never be used because they can get too warm and cause injury.  

If an under-tank heating pad is used, it must be connected to a thermostat to prevent the lizard from getting burned.  

Recommended Products: 

Light Fixtures & Hoods 

Heat Support 


White lights should not be left continuously, as they will disrupt the lizard’s natural sleep cycle and negatively affect their overall health. At night, turn off lights in the habitat, or switch to a nocturnal or infrared light. 

Recommended Products: 

UV Light 

Pet parents should shine a full-spectrum UV light on their lizard’s habitat for 10 to 12 hours each day. Lizards need daily exposure to UVB rays so they can produce vitamin D in their skin, which allows them to absorb dietary calcium. Without adequate UVB exposure, arid lizards are at a greater risk of developing a range of life-threatening illnesses, including metabolic bone disease

Since UV lights differ in intensity, and different species require different intensities of UV light, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on bulb placement relative to the pet.

UV lights should be replaced every 6 months (even if the bulb still emits light), as their potency wanes over time. 

Recommended Products: 


Arid lizards need humidity in their environment to stay hydrated, support their respiratory systems, and encourage healthy shed cycles. While humidity requirements vary between species, arid lizards that are native to dry and hot climates generally thrive in humidity levels of less than 50%. Humidity levels should be monitored and checked daily with a hygrometer (humidity gauge). 

If necessary, pet parents can boost the humidity level in their lizard's habitat by misting the enclosure's interior walls and décor. If humidity levels get too high, increase ventilation in the tank to make sure humid air can escape. 

Recommended Products: 


The bottom of an arid lizard’s habitat should be lined with a pelleted, paper-based substrate or reptile carpet. Gravel, wood chips, and walnut shells are not recommended because these types of bedding are indigestible and can lead to fatal gastrointestinal obstruction if eaten. 

If you choose to use a particulate-matter substrate (such as sand, soil, wood chips, or walnut shells) in your lizard's enclosure, your reptile should be fed in a separate enclosure without any bedding. Otherwise, they may accidentally consume bedding particles that are indigestible and can cause gastrointestinal obstruction. 

Recommended Products: 

Décor & Accessories 

Water dish: Since reptiles absorb water through their skin to stay hydrated, a lizard’s water dish should be large and shallow enough for the lizard to soak.

Place water dishes on the cooler end of the habitat to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly. 

If they aren’t soaking on their own, pet parents should soak their lizard for 10-15 minutes once a week (or more often, depending on species). 

Recommended Products:  

Food dishes: Rather than being placed on the habitat floor, food should be offered in a shallow dish or in a separate feeding tank to lessen the chance of the lizard accidentally eating the tank’s substrate.  

Worm dishes are designed to keep wiggling live prey in one area. 

Recommended Products: 

Hiding area: Arid lizards need two hiding areas—one on the cool end of their enclosure, and one on the warm end of their enclosure. In addition to offering privacy and security, hideouts allow lizards to have a space away from their enclosure’s direct basking area.  

Pet parents should monitor their lizard to ensure that he is not spending all his time in hiding and not reaping the benefits of UV light. 

If more than one arid lizard is housed in the same habitat, be sure to provide each lizard with its own hiding areas. 

Recommended Products: 

Climbing branches and basking rocks: Pet parents should add a basking rock or sturdy branch to their arid lizard’s habitat so they can climb and bask as needed. 

Basking branches must be large and sturdy enough to support the lizard’s body. Otherwise, the branch could topple over and potentially cause injury. 

Recommended Products: 

Moss: Moist sphagnum moss can be added to the inside of a hideout box on the warm side of an arid lizard’s enclosure to create a humid hide. Moss holds moisture well and can aid in healthy shedding. 

Pet parents can create a humid hide by using a commercially available hideout box or by cutting a hole in a plastic container. If choosing to make a DIY hideout, make sure that the hole doesn’t have any rough edges that could injure the lizard. 

Moss should be replaced often to prevent mold from forming. 

Recommended Products:  

Cleaning & Maintenance for Arid Lizards

Pet parents should spot-clean their arid lizard's habitat daily, removing any soiled material and discarded food. Water and food bowls must be washed daily. 

An arid lizard’s habitat must also be disinfected and cleaned thoroughly at least once a week (or more often if more than one arid lizard lives in the same habitat). Pet parents should always wash their hands before and after handling their lizard or habitat contents. 

Recommended Products: 

To clean an arid lizard’s habitat, take these steps: 

  1. Move the lizard to a secure environment. Remove any old substrate, décor, and accessories from the habitat. 

  1. Scrub the empty tank and any furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution. The bleach solution should stay on the habitat for at least 10 minutes to ensure that the surfaces are properly disinfected. If using a commercial habitat cleaner, follow the manufacturer's instructions. 

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new substrate and clean accessories into the habitat. 

  1. Return the lizard to the clean habitat. 

Arid Lizard Diet & Nutrition

Arid lizards can be herbivorous (plant-eating), insectivorous (insect-eating), omnivorous (plant- and meat/animal-eating), or carnivorous (meat-eating), depending on their species. Some species, such as the bearded dragon, have dietary needs that change significantly between different life stages.  

Pet parents should do additional research on the specific species of arid lizard they’re caring for to determine the most nutritious diet for their pet. 

When feeding your arid lizard, remember: 

Fresh, clean water should always be available in a bowl that’s large and shallow enough for the lizard to soak in. Some lizards will stay hydrated by drinking dew left in the habitat from daily misting with water. 

Most lizards need to be fed daily. Check with your veterinarian for proper feeding frequency and nutritional needs of a particular species.  

When feeding insects, only offer gut-loaded (recently fed) insects that are no bigger than the space between your lizard’s eyes. Never offer more insects than your lizard can consume within a few minutes. Overfeeding leads to obesity, and uneaten insects can chew and damage lizards’ skin. 

Only feed larger insects that have recently “molted,” or shed their hard exoskeleton,” to ensure that they are soft and easy for a lizard to digest. Insects with hard shells can cause gastrointestinal obstruction. 

Lightning bugs (fireflies) are toxic to most lizards and should never be offered as food. 

Pet lizards need supplemental calcium, vitamins, and minerals in their diet to stay healthy. To administer supplements, sprinkle or dust your lizard’s food with the appropriate vitamin power before feeding. Pet parents should do additional research on their arid lizard’s species to determine how often each supplement should be administered. 

Recommended Products: 

Calcium Supplements with Vitamin D 

Calcium Supplements without Vitamin D 

Reptile Multivitamins 

Arid Lizard Grooming & Care

Shedding: Arid lizards shed their skin regularly. To encourage healthy shedding, keep the enclosure’s humidity level within an ideal range (under 50% for most arid lizards). 

Unlike snakes, lizards shed their skin in patches rather than a single, complete piece. 

As reptiles stay hydrated by absorbing water through their skin, pet parents can soak their lizard in a large, shallow container of warm water to help them shed their skin more easily. The water container should be wide enough to allow the lizard to submerge its entire body while keeping its head above water. 

Pet parents can also create a humid hide for their lizard by filling a hideout with moistened sphagnum moss or substrate. 

Handling should be minimized while the lizard is shedding, as lizards may be more aggressive during this time.

Arid Lizard Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Arid lizards should be seen by a veterinarian once annually. The several species of arid lizard can vary in size but generally they can be transported using a cat carrier or a travel cage. It is recommended to take pictures of their enclosure, diet, heaters, lights (including exact specifications from the packaging), etc., so your veterinarian can assess their husbandry as part of the exam. Bringing a fecal sample with you is always a good idea as some species, especially bearded dragons, need a fecal assessment as part of a comprehensive exam.

Signs of a Healthy Arid Lizard

  • Clean, clear, bright eyes

  • Intact skin

  • Hearty appetite

  • Bright, alert personality

  • Appropriate basking behavior

  • No lumps/bumps/swellings

  • Normal body condition and weight

  • Clean vent

  • Interest in climbing when applicable

When To Call a Vet

  • Eyes are swollen, sunken, stuck shut, or have discharge

  • Pink ulcerations or other lesions are seen on the skin

  • Stuck shed, especially around the toes which can cause swelling

  • Decreased appetite or refusing food not explained by seasonal variances

  • Failing to bask

  • Lethargy

  • Discharge or staining around vent

  • Lumps/bumps/swellings noted

  • Cannot ambulate or posture appropriately

Common Illnesses in Arid Lizards

Arid Lizard FAQs

How do you take care of a desert lizard?

To prepare for a desert lizard make sure you do the following first: Choose the right desert species lizard based on your lifestyle, research their optimal enclosure needs, and establish a relationship with your local veterinarian that can treat the species. Once you have your own desert lizard, make sure to maintain their diet schedule and check on them daily to ensure they are in good health. Some species are more social than others. For ones that enjoy interaction time outside of their enclosure be sure to plan safe exploration enrichment activities for them.

What is the easiest lizard to keep alive?

Bearded dragons are considered the easiest lizards to care for and are a great desert lizard choice to own. Their daily needs are minimal and they have fun personalities.

Can I keep a garden lizard as a pet?

Garden or yard lizards can carry many parasites and diseases that may be transmissible to humans. It is recommended not to disturb wildlife and instead source a pet lizard from appropriate channels instead.

How long do desert lizards live?

There are many different species of desert lizards with varying lifespans, on average most live around 5–8 years, maybe as long as 10.

What do desert lizards need?

Desert lizards need an appropriately sized, secure enclosure that meets their water, humidity, temperature, basking, and climbing needs. A nutritionally balanced diet fed at the correct intervals is also important. Some lizards may also benefit from regular handling. These lizards should receive annual veterinary screenings when healthy and be seen by a vet when ill.

Can I keep a desert lizard as a pet?

Yes, you sure can! These are very popular lizards to pick from and maintaining their environmental needs can sometimes be easier than with other lizards that have higher water or humidity needs.

Featured Image: Corsi

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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