Frill-necked lizards are native to Australia and New Guinea. They are amazing bipedal reptiles with a spectacular frill around their neck that may remind you of a prehistoric dilophosaurus (the original "Jurassic Park" movie made them quite popular). They are not a commonly kept pet reptile since they are rare to find, but they are fascinating creatures. These lizards are excellent for both experienced and novice lizard owners, due to their calm nature and relatively simple feeding needs. They're not the longest-lived reptiles; what they may lack in years, they make up for in personality.
Scientific Name: Chlamydosaurus kingii
Common Names: Frill-necked lizards; frilled lizards, frilled dragons
Adult Size: 2 to 3 feet, males are generally bigger than females
Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years in captivity
Frill-Necked Lizard Behavior and Temperament
Frill-necked lizards are docile, low-key critters. When feeling threatened, they stand up on their hind legs, frill out their neck, open their mouth, and spit, exposing their tiny little teeth. They run on their hind legs to escape a predator in the wild. If provoked, captive frill-necked lizards may nip or bite your hand. Some pet frillies may whip their tails at you, too, but this is rare.
A frill-necked lizard with its frill fully open and on display looks impressive, but it generally indicates the animal is very stressed, sensing imminent danger. If your lizard does this regularly, it may be a sign of a more significant health issue.
They do not particularly like handling, but if hand-raised from when it was a hatchling, it may tolerate it.
You can house multiple frilled-neck lizards together; however, two males will fight for territory. As for a male and female pair, they may breed. And if they do, expect many babies. Also, if you accommodate two from the start, you will need to double the enclosure size.
If you plan to breed your frill-necked lizards, November through February are the ideal months for laying clutches of eggs. Up to 25 soft-shelled eggs are usual in a clutch, and sometimes you can get two clutches per season. The eggs must remain in the soil at least 2 inches deep and kept at a minimum of 86 F for two to three months until they hatch.
Housing the Frill-Necked Lizard
Frilled-neck lizards are arboreal lizards, meaning these unique lizards are most comfortable clinging to tree trunks. They usually only venture out of the trees to eat, fight, or flee. Provide branches for climbing and some foliage for your lizard to hide among the leaves.
House this lizard in at least a 55-gallon large tank, which gives it some space for exercise. Screened enclosures allow for more climbing opportunities but do not hold in humidity as well as a glass tank.
Once you set up the enclosure, you can automate the lights on a timer to make things easier. The rest of the lizard's care needs are straightforward: Feed and change its water daily, and deep clean the lizard's entire enclosure once a month. Between deep cleanings, you will need to spot clean or scoop up visible feces.
Frilled lizards are cold-blooded; they need to regulate their internal body temperature and do so by moving around in their cage to cool down or get warm. Provide a thermal gradient or range of temperatures in the cage.
These lizards need a gradient of 85 to 115 F during the day. Most of the enclosure should be around 90 to 100 F and at least one hot area reaching 115 F. At night, the temperatures should not drop lower than 75 to 80 F. You can use incandescent lights, UVB lights, under-tank heating pads, and ceramic heat emitters to bring the enclosure up to temperature.
Reptiles synthesize vitamin D3 through UVB light or fluorescent ultraviolet rays usually provided by the sun. In turn, vitamin D3 is essential for the absorption of calcium from their food. Provide a UVB (10.0), which emits 10 percent UVB, a higher-strength output sufficient for this species. A mercury vapor bulb is a lamp that does triple duty; it provides UVB, lights up the enclosure, and provides heat. Other bulbs, such as incandescent lighting or nocturnal reptile bulbs (invisible to reptiles), illuminate as well as provide heat.
Frilled-necked lizards need an environment with 55 to 65 percent humidity. To add moisture, you can spray or mist the cage several times a day. A hygrometer or humidity gauge will help you check moisture levels. You might notice the lizard use its water bowl for bathing; this is usually to cool down or to help loosen it's shedding skin.
Substrate is the bedding or lining for the bottom of your pet's cage. Babies can be kept on newspaper or paper towels. For adults, use a substrate that holds humidity and can somewhat cushion any falls. Good substrate options include coconut fiber, cypress mulch, organic potting soil, and sphagnum moss. You can also use reptile carpet, but it does not hold humidity well.
Food and Water
Frill-necked lizards are omnivorous and will eat a variety of foods. They are diurnal animals, so feed them in the morning. You will mostly feed them crickets and superworms, which are readily available through pet suppliers. Gut-load (feed them nutritious meals before being fed to your pet) and dust them with a calcium and multivitamin supplement every other day.
An adult frilled dragon can eat 20 crickets a day or 20 superworms or a combination of the two. These lizards are not overeaters and can moderate their food intake. It is best to let them have access to as much food as they want; they will stop when they have had enough.
Frill-necked lizards will also eat butterworms, silkworms, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, split peas, and green beans. As treats, you can offer waxworms, mealworms, mice, and fruit—sparingly.
Providing enrichment during feeding time is not only entertaining to watch, but it is also mentally stimulating for your lizard. Try attaching an empty toilet paper roll to a branch and allow your lizard to catch some insects inside the roll.
Include a large-sized water bowl in the lizard's enclosure and fill it with fresh filtered water daily.
Common Health Problems
Most frill-necked lizard illnesses stem from improper care. These lizards need daily exposure to ultraviolet light to avoid vitamin D deficiency and calcium malabsorption. Inadequate UVB can lead to metabolic bone disease, which manifests as soft, weak limbs and jaw, bad posture (lying flat against the ground), refusal to feed, and lethargy.
They also need appropriate heat and humidity to prevent respiratory infections. Signs of a respiratory infection include wheezing, breathing with the mouth open, and mucus around the nasal passages and mouth.
If your lizard is not accepting food, even just once, it's usually a sign of a digestive problem such as a parasite. And if you notice your frill-necked lizard has difficulty shedding, this may be a sign of a skin infection, usually fungal.
Ideally, find an exotics veterinarian who specializes in lizards to observe any changes in your pet's behavior or appearance that you might overlook.
Choosing a Frill-Necked Lizard
These lizards are somewhat rare among reptile owners, but several reputable breeders offer frill-necked lizards. To find a reputable breeder, ask other local reptile owners or an exotics veterinarian near you or attend a reptile expo, which has many reptiles for sale by breeders.
While they come in a variety of colors, there is only one documented species of frilled-necked lizards. The body of the lizard is darker than the frill, which is often a yellow or orange color. You can expect to pay between $150 to $300.
Make sure your lizard looks in good health before buying it. It should have clear nostrils; the mouth should appear pink (not red or cheesy discharge); and the fecal opening (vent) should be clean. Take your new lizard to an exotics veterinarian for a thorough exam, including a stool check, to ensure that it doesn't have any internal parasites or other ailments.
Similar Species to the Frill-Necked Lizard
If frill-necked lizards interest you, you may want to look into related species:
Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your new pet.