Also commonly referred to as the Starred or Painted Agama, the Painted Dragon (Laudakia stellio brachydactyla) is an impressive, medium sized lizard. They can make an excellent alternative to the more commonly available Bearded Dragon. Reaching lengths of up to 30 cm; these lizards possess a classic agama-esque appearance with a broad head and a reasonably flat body. You will commonly find this species in rocky, arid environments so it is no surprise that their primary colour is grey, with a variety of yellow and brown shades highlighting the stripes along their dorsal regions and spiky tail. They are found in a variety of harsh, mostly dry habitats across a wide range; from the Middle East across to Northern Africa. They are a subspecies, with their very closely related cousins (Laudakia stellio stellio) also residing across Europe. The brachydactyla are often more sought after due to a more mild temperament and brighter colouration.
When considering whether this species is a good fit for you, it’s a good idea to understand the space you will need to provide them with in order for them to thrive. A wooden vivarium with the minimum dimensions of 120cm x 60cm x 60cm (WxDxH) is required to create a suitable captive environment. Being so active this species really will use all of the space available, even when provided with larger housing.
Being reptiles, these dragons are what we call ‘Ectotherms’ which means they control their temperatures (thermoregulate) using their environment, instead of using their bodies like we do. It is, therefore, important to provide them with an adequate temperature gradient from 45-50°C in the basking area, down to 30°C in the cool end during the day. This can be achieved using a standard incandescent or halogen heat bulb alongside a dimming thermostat at one end of the vivarium. At night, all light emitting heat and UVB sources should be switched off but temperatures shouldn’t drop lower than 18°C. If this is frequently the case, a night time heat source that produces no visible light will have to be introduced- a deep heat projector tends to work well in this case. It is important that all heating equipment is controlled by a suitable thermostat in order to prevent overheating and have control over the environment in question. These temperatures should be regularly tested with a reliable digital thermometer.
Due to the fact that this species belongs to Ferguson Zone 4, they need a very intense UVB exposure which frequently reaches between 4.5 and 8.0 UVI. This is because the painted dragons will openly bask in very intense sunlight, so we need to ensure that they are able to reproduce this behaviour in their vivariums. If we do not, they will be unable to properly metabolise any calcium in their diet and could experience detrimental health issues such as metabolic bone disease. If you need any advice on which products to use in order to achieve this, we are always happy to help.
With regard to customising your Painted Dragon vivarium with decorations, it is important to consider that you are aiming to make the environment both suitable for the animal and similar to its natural habitat. A good sand/soil mix substrate is perfect for this species given that this is what they will live on in the wild. They are opportunistic burrowers so it’s recommended to provide them with a substrate filled hide or simply a deeper layer of substrate. Using a raised basking platform (i.e. cork branch or raised slate platform) will be beneficial and is recommended. This will make it easier to reach the intense basking temperatures (up to 50°C) the lizards need, as well as allowing the ambient temperatures to be cool enough for them. Providing them with ample climbing opportunities and a nice rocky environment is the priority when considering which furnishings to go for. A salad and water dish are also essential.
This species are considered to be omnivores; which means that they eat both greens and live insects. They should therefore be offered a small amount of suitable salad most mornings, this includes things like lambs lettuce, dandelions and a variety of other high-fibre greens. A good variety of live foods should be offered once daily to young lizards and every other day for adults. A mix of locusts, crickets, cockroaches and calci-worms can make up the staple of the diet, with invertebrates possessing a higher fat content such as wax worms and morio worms being offered very sparingly as a treat. All food should be lightly dusted using a calcium powder and suitable multivitamin supplement at a ratio of 5:2 or 4:3 days per week respectively.