Long-tailed lizards are so named because their tails can easily grow to be four times the length of their bodies. These lizards are native to southeast Asia, China, and southern Russia, occupying open, overgrown, damp grasslands at the edges of forests. They use their long tails for balance and weight distribution while moving swiftly, or “swimming,” across the tops of the tall grasses. Long-tailed lizards move fast and are extremely agile, but like all reptiles, they enjoy a good long bask in the sun.
With its dark greenish-brown to brown on their back (to blend in with the grass) and a light, creamy white belly that blends in with the sky when viewed from below, these lizards sport the typical camouflage pattern of an elevation hunter. A brown stripe with a thin white or black border often runs down each side of the long-tailed lizard, though the coloration and stripe patterns can vary. Their gentle, easygoing nature makes them suitable as pet lizards for both novice and experienced owners.
Common Name: Long-tailed lizard, long-tailed grass lizard, grass lizard
Scientific Name: Takydromas sexlineatus
Adult Size: 10 to 12 inches; tail accounts for up to 4/5 of their total length
Life Expectancy: 5+ years
Long-Tailed Grass Lizard Behavior and Temperament
This lizard can usually be housed in small groups of two or three, although males can be territorial and may fight if kept in the same enclosure. Be sure to provide a 10-gallon space for each one of your lizards. You can even house these reptiles with other peaceful species such as anoles and geckos.
Long-tailed grass lizards have prehensile tails. Like monkeys and lemurs, these lizards can wrap their tails and hang by them if they choose, a fairly unusual trait in the reptile world. Although they can tolerate gentle handling, you should never grab one by the tail as it may detach. Like the gecko, your long-tailed lizard can drop its tail when it feels threatened, and then the tail will regrow. It will take them much longer to regrow their tails than some other, shorter-tailed lizards.
Housing the Long-Tailed Grass Lizard
A 20-gallon vertical and hexagonal tank is the minimum size requirement for housing a single long-tailed lizard; you'll need an additional ten gallons of enclosure space for each additional lizard (i.e. a 30-gallon tank for three lizards). A screened top should be used but it must be one that is very secure; only a tightly clamped lid will keep these agile lizards from escaping.
Within the cage, provide a variety of branches, cork bark, sturdy plants (live or silk), and vines to provide lots of hiding spots and climbing space. Since long-tailed grass lizards are so active and quick, the larger the tank is, the more at home they will be.
Although this lizard lives in tall grass in the wild, in a captive enclosure it will spend some time on the floor of the tank (the substrate). Mulch, peat moss, or forest bark type substrates are usually recommended since they help to retain humidity. Paper towels or green reptile mats (Astroturf) can also work as a bottom layer as they make for easier cleaning. Sand and wood chips are not recommended due to the potential for accidental ingestion and subsequent impaction.
To achieve a proper thermal gradient during the day, provide your long-tailed grass lizard with a basking spot between 90 and 95 F; the main enclosure should have an ambient temperature that is between 75 and 85 F. At night, temperatures should fall to be between 65 and 75 F; if it's too much lower, your lizard may become ill from an inability to digest its food.
Heat lamps with various heat bulbs or ceramic heat elements can be used to provide heat. Under-tank heaters alone may not be sufficient to maintain ambient air temperatures for long-tailed grass lizards as these lizards spend the bulk of their time at elevations that are high off the ground.
Since they are diurnal (day-dwelling), long-tailed grass lizards need exposure to full-spectrum ultraviolet light. Use a UVA and UVB producing bulb that is designed for use with reptiles. Make sure the bulb is close enough to the lizards, but not so close that it can cause burns. Since glass filters out the invisible UV light the lizard needs, the UV bulbs should be placed behind or over the wire mesh lid and not behind glass. At night, use a red or purple night time bulb or ceramic element.
Maintain a humidity level of 70 to 75 percent in the tank at all times; invest in a hygrometer to make sure your humidity level is at the correct level. A shallow water dish will help with humidity but also mist the tank daily with water as many long-tailed grass lizards will only drink from water droplets on the leaves in the tank.
Food and Water
Live crickets can be used as the main diet for long-tailed grass lizards. Supplement with mealworms, waxworms, butter worms, and flies to add variety. Be sure your lizard's prey has been gut-loaded before feeding.
Adult long-tailed grass lizards can be fed several crickets every other day or so, while juveniles can be fed daily. Once a week, dust the prey items with a vitamin and mineral supplement (including calcium and Vitamin D3).
A shallow water dish should also be provided for clean, fresh non-chlorinated water. Consider using a reptile drip system (as used for chameleons) which can teach arboreal lizards to drink from a dish. Not only does a dish give you a gauge for how quickly the air is evaporating the water, but the lizard may use the shallow water to bathe in or to aid in defecation.
Change out this water source daily by removing it from the tank and refilling it. Do not turn it over inside the tank because a soggy spot on the substrate is likely to grow mold.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Wild-caught long-tailed grass lizards are more prone to parasitic infections, but their captive-bred counterparts will sometimes come down with a parasite as well. If you notice sluggishness, a lack of appetite, or vomiting, these symptoms may indicate a parasitic infection. External parasites can also be a problem, with ticks or mites biting the lizard's skin.
Many breeds of lizard are also susceptible to respiratory infections and the long-tailed grass lizard is no exception. Open-mouth breathing, wheezing, and excess mucus around the nose and mouth are the most common symptoms of a respiratory infection, which is most often caused by improper humidity. The above medical conditions require a visit to a reptile veterinarian for treatment; don't try to treat your fragile lizard at home.
Choosing Your Long-Tailed Grass Lizard
As with most exotic pets, but especially with lizards, acquire one that has been "ranched," that is, bred in a controlled environment. These are usually easily obtained from reputable breeders. Taking this approach is better than bringing a wild-caught lizard home because you'll have knowledge of its health history; wild animals are exposed to more parasites and other dangers.
Healthy long-tailed grass lizards have long tails, clear eyes and skin, and very alert personalities. They move fast, especially when feeling startled, so if you encounter a long-tailed lizard that is sluggish, that's a signal that its health is suspect.
Similar Species to the Long-Tailed Grass Lizard
If you’re interested in the long-tailed grass lizard as a potential pet you may want to check out these similar lizards:
Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your pet!
Rataj, Aleksandra Vergles et al. Parasites In Pet Reptiles. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 53,1 33, 2011, doi:10.1186/1751-0147-53-33
Schumacher, Juergen. Reptile Respiratory Medicine. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice, 6,1,213-231, 2003, doi:10.1016/S1094-9194(02)00020-8