Desert Night Lizard Complete Care Sheet
Bare minimum equipment needed:
5 gallon tank or larger, or equivalent-sized reptile cage (for one lizard), or 10 gallon or larger for 2 to 4 lizards. A tank which is long and low is better than one that is tall, as these reptiles live on the ground, and do not climb a lot.
Metal screen or mesh top for tank or cage (may be built in to some reptile cages). Should not be plastic, if you plan to use an overhead heat lamp.
A radiant heat source. Either an overhead heat lamp, or an undertank heater. This should be small enough to cover no more than half the cage. A full-spectrum flourescent reptile lamp is also needed for this species, because in spite of their name, Desert Night Lizards are diurnal (awake during the day), and thus, like most diurnal lizards, benefit greatly from UVB lighting. This allows them to create vitamin D3 in their skin (necessary for calcium metabolism). The necessity of this lighting for this species has not been established, as night lizards spend most of their time during the day under cover, but it is better for them if you error on the side of caution. Hot rocks are not recommended for any species of reptile.
Fixture and bulb for flourescent reptile light--this will sit on the screen top. There should not be glass between this light and your lizard. Choose the highest producing UVB bulb you can find.
If you have selected an overhead heat lamp, an appropriate bulb for the lamp, such as a reptile daylight bulb. If you use a nocturnal heat bulb, you will be able to watch your animals after dark without disturbing them. You should still provide white light during the day, though it does not need to be direct.
A shallow dish for water.
A shallow dish for small food items, such as small mealworms.
A substrate. A reptile cage carpet works well--buy two, so you can wash one while you use the other. You can also use plain play sand, or a coconut-fiber based reptile bedding. For these tiny lizards, fine sand used in fish aquariums can also be used. Do not use aquarium gravel, corncob, or other beddings that might be eaten and cause an impaction of the digestive system. The substrate will be kept dry, so select one which dries quickly if dampened, and does not hold moisture.
Two temperature guages (thermometer).
One humidity guage (hygrometer).
One hide box or cave with an open bottom. A seperate hide box for each individual that will be kept is recommended.
One enclosed hide box or cave.
Calcium/mineral supplement powder
Vitamin supplement powder (vitamins and minerals can interfere with one another's absorption, so all in ones are not the best choice).
Small container for keeping crickets or mealworms.
Fruit fly culture.
- Climbing branches, plastic plants, or other decorations (be sure they are too large to be eaten, and do not stack rocks which might fall if pushed).
- Cholla cactus skeleton (they adore these).
- Cricket/mealworm gutloading formula.
- Backdrop for cage, if using aquarium.
- Cutaway hiding cave--remove the magnetic outer shell to see your reptiles inside their cave.
- Feeding tweezers--hand feed your reptiles without getting nipped.
- Sphagnum or frog moss (not peat).
- A timer for your lighting and heating.
- Thermostat or rheostat for controlling heating devices.
Setting up the enclosure:
Rinse out the cage with very hot water, and dry it. Place the substrate in the bottom. Place the open-bottomed hiding cave toward the middle of the cage. Dampen moss or torn paper towels, not too wet (or wring them out), and place in closed-bottom hiding box or cave (leave room for the gecko). Place this on one side of the cage. Place watering dish on same side as the damp cave. Place food dish and other decorations as you please. Stick one thermometer down low on the same side of the cage as the damp cave, on the inside of the cage so that you can read it. Stick the other thermometer on the opposite side of the cage, either at a ground level or if you have placed branches, at the level of a sturdy basking spot that the lizard might climb to (if using overhead heat). Place the humidity guage down low in about the middle of the cage. If you are using an undertank heater, place this beneath the side opposite the humid cave, as far to that side as possible. If you are using an overhead heat source, screw in the bulb, and place the lamp on top of the screen on the side opposite the humid cave, as far to that side as possible (take care not to overlap plastic tank edges), so that it is pointing down into the tank.
Turn on the lamp, and leave the tank for about an hour. Come back, and read the temperature guages. The warmest area of the cage should be 90 to 95 degrees. The cool side should be no more than 80 degrees. If the cage is cooler than this, you will need to either add another heat source (if using an undertank heater), or use a higher wattage bulb in your overhead lamp. If the cage is warmer than this, you will need a thermostat or rheostat for your undertank heater, to lower the temperature, or use a lower wattage bulb in your overhead light. It is important to set this up before putting your gecko into the enclosure, and preferably before bringing it home. A thermostat or rheostat is a good idea for regulating either of these devices, particularly if your indoor temperatures are subject to changes.
Most reptiles, including desert night lizards, do best with a night time temperature drop. These lizards live in the Sonoran Desert, so they can take extremely cold night time temperatures--your house will not get too cold for them at night, so simply switch off their heating equipment. Try to provide your night lizard with very regular day and night schedules (a timer comes in handy). 12 hours of each is good.
Purchase pinhead to 1/4 inch crickets, fruit flies, fly larvae (often sold as fish bait) or small mealworms to feed your night lizard. Wax worms and butterworms are usually too large to be given to desert night lizards. Crickets should be the mainstay of the diet, with mealworms, fly larvae, and flightless fruit flies being offered for variety. (Crickets are in general more nutritious). Desert night lizards are strictly insectivorous. Commercial crickets and mealworms are the safest and least expensive food items. Be careful not to offer food items that are too large. Small mealworms should be kept refrigerated until 24 to 48 hours before you feed them to the lizards--then they should be warmed. If kept at room temperature, they will quickly grow too large for your night lizards. Newly shed (white) mealworms will be easier for the lizards to eat. The smaller mini mealworms (Tenebrio obscurus) can be offered as well, if you can find them or order them. You may catch wild insects to feed your lizard, but this is risky, as you cannot be sure they have not been exposed to pesticides or other toxic chemicals, and there is also a chance that some may transmit parasites.
Place your crickets or mealworms in a seperate escape-proof cage. A plastic "critter keeper" works well. You should feed crickets or mealworms for 48 hours before giving them to your lizard. Ask your pet store what, if anything, they feed their crickets. If they use a cricket gutloading formula, you will not need to wait. Most stores house mealworms in refridgerators, where they are dormant, so these will always need to be fed. Feeding insects nutritious food before giving them to your reptile is called "gut loading". A reptile eats not only the insect, but the contents of its gut as well. An empty insect is much less nutritious than one full of good food. Provide a piece of fruit or commercial cricket drink for water, and nutritous food--either a gut loading formula or fruits and vegetables to feed them. Wash these thoroughly first to get rid of pesticide residues.
Crickets and mealworms are very low in calcium, one of their drawbacks. As a result, even if you use a gutloading formula that contains calcium (which substantially increases their calcium content, but may kill your crickets if used for more than a couple of days), you will need to dust them in order to balance out their mineral content. Every other feeding, place the crickets in a small baggie with a bit of mineral powder, and shake until they are coated, just before you feed them to your lizard. Once a week, use a vitamin powder instead. The difference these supplements have made in reptile husbandry cannot be overstated....they will allow your pet to have a healthy, long lifespan. Baby night lizards (if you should happen to acquire one) will require miniscule food items such as fruit flies, and true pinhead crickets. Adult night lizards can eat 1/4 inch crickets, no larger. An adult night lizard will consume about 2 or 3 1/4 inch crickets per feeding, and they should be offered food every other day. Babies should be offered food every day. Offer crickets one at a time, until the lizard refuses further food...remove the last cricket. Never leave food insects inside the cage, as they may nibble toes and tails. Crickets are particularly known for injuring sleeping reptiles, particularly if they have no other food sources. A reptile will not kill a pesky insect in self-defense.
About Desert Night Lizards:
These lizards are quite hardy, and easy to care for. They are somewhat flighty, but can become used to their keeper's presence. They are far too small to be handled. They reach a size of only 10 to 12 centimeters as adults; their lifespan is unknown. These tiny lizards are live-bearers, retaining the eggs inside their body until they hatch, then giving birth to live offspring. 1-3 babies are born, and interestingly, the female cares for them for a short time after birth. (They should be removed promptly if you should happen to get babies, to prevent the adults from eating them).
Desert night lizards have a lot of personality, and stalk their insect prey with a cat-like twitching tail. Take care if you must handle them, for they may try to escape your grasp, and can be very wiggly...a long fall could injure them, so be very careful when you are carrying them. Night lizards can detach their tails, so be very careful not to put pressure on the tail if you pick them up. They can run surprisingly fast. Reptiles, unlike mammals or birds, do not usually appreciate affection, and they are not social. Tolerance is the best you can expect from any reptile or amphibian. The fun of these animals comes from observing their natural behavior and appearance. In that respect, keeping reptiles and amphibians is much like keeping fish.
Desert night lizards cannot climb walls or glass, but they appreciate a variety of low climbing and hiding places. They have no eyelids. Males can be told by a row of noticeable pores on the underside of their upper thighs (femoral pores). Do not house two males in the same enclosure--they may fight. Several females, or one male with a female or two, will work well.
To maintain them in the long term, have your night lizard checked by a veterinarian once a year for parasites or other health problems. If you notice your lizard behaving abnormally, particularly if it stops eating, or seems less active than usual, seek medical care for it immediately. Reptiles do not usually show illness until they are seriously ill. The tiny size of these lizards makes diagnosis and treatment difficult, so the quicker they receive attention, the better. The lizards you acquire will be wild-caught. This means they are virtually guaranteed to be carrying some internal parasites. Because internal parasites which pose no problems in the wild can build to lethal levels in captivity, these must be eliminated to ensure your lizards' health. A fecal check done by a veterinarian will identify the types present, and the vet will administer worming medications appropriate for their weight. This should be done within a week of acquiring them, after they are eating and drinking in their new home. Keep their cage furnishings minimal (dishes, and 1 hide), with paper towel or newspaper as a liner. These will have to be disinfected several times during the worming process to prevent the lizards from being reinfected. Once they are clear of parasites, you can decorate the cage more attractively.
Night lizards may spend a lot of time in their humid hide box before they shed their skin. This will help loosen the skin so that it comes off easily. They may or may not eat their shed skin, and you may find parts of it in the cage--it is shed in a number of pieces. After your lizard sheds, look at its toes and tail tip to be sure that no skin remains stuck there. If it does, you may need to carefully use tweezers to remove it, or take it to a vet if there is a lot of it. Retained skin on the extremities can cut off circulation and cause the lizard to loose toes. However, using a humid hide box should prevent this from ever happening.
With the proper care, your desert night lizard should thrive problem free for its full lifespan...perhaps you can tell us how long they are capable of living.
© Cheyenne Herpers Club, 2004. Distribute, copy, print, and pass on as you wish. :)