Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014


©1996, 2000 Melissa Kaplan


I put the following together several years ago. Since it isn't as comprehensive as most of my other articles, I didn't put it up at my website. As requests for information on agamas have increased, based on their being more frequently sold in the pet trade, I decided to put this at my site. After reading through it, be sure to see the information at the bottom for finding more information.

The Agamidae are Old World lizards. The agamas are a genus of the Agamidae, comprising some 60 species and many subspecies.

Africa; southwestern to central Asia. A. stellio may be found as far north as southeastern Europe.

Native to dry areas bordering forest edges, rocky steppes, and sand deserts.

Genera Physical Characteristics
The blunt triangular head is typical of all the genera, though the proportion may vary. Spiny/spiky scales along the back of the head and thighs. Some may be dorsoventrally compressed. Some may have spiny or shingled tails with laterally compressed bodies. Males have anal pores and typically have larger heads than females.

Usually brown or gray. Male breeding colors may be red, blue or yellow. Like many lizards, some species may undergo color changes in response to temperature changes or stress.

Terrestrial in nature, but some are semi-arboreal.

Most are carnivorous, feeding on a variety of invertebrates. Some may be slightly omnivorous, feeding on greens or fruit. Gut load insects before feeding. Larger specimens may be converted to day old pink mice.

Social Structure
Many species live in colonies and thus exhibit territorial behaviors (head bobbing). Males often highly territorial and will likely need to be house separately or in harem groups.

Females play an active role in selecting mates by courting males. Oviparous, females lay 2-20 eggs per clutch and may lay several times a year. Incubation takes from 1.5-4.5 months depending on species.

Captive Environment
A spacious, dry terrarium that can be set up, depending on species, as desert, steppes or dry woodland. There should be some humidity, best provided by a damp sand substrate under a dry sand later (in desert setups) or by non-toxic potted plants embedded in the substrate in one corner of the steppe or woodland setup. Hiding place throughout the gradient must be provided (these wild-caught lizards are nervous initially, though many will eventually acclimate to being observed).

Hints: An environment suitable for a collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) will suit most agamas. If your agama of unknown species does not thrive, you can try warming the basking area and nights up a bit. If that doesn't work, you can try a more woodland (such as for blue tongue skinks (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia) or montane, such as for Jackson's chameleons (Chameleo jacksonii). Of course, you must have the lizards checked by a reptile veterinarian for problems associated with parasite infestation, dehydration and systemic infection as well as fine tuning the environment!

77-90 F (25-32 C) during the day; warmer basking spot required. At night, temperatures should drop by 10 degrees across the gradient. Species from the colder northern part of the range may require a 2-3 month brumation/hibernation period. Montane species should be kept at 50 degrees during this time. Follow safe hibernation practices (do not hibernate first year in captivity, stop feeding 1-2 weeks before dropping temps, etc.) See the Lighting & Heating article for the types of products that can be used to provide day and night heating.

Spray plants, rocks, or walls daily. May learn to drink from a shallow dish if initially provided with sound/sight cues (let an ice cube melt from overhead to drip into the dish).

UVB lighting essential during the day.

Species Identification
Most species have numerous subspecies.

A. agama
Common Agamas. Africa. To 16 in. (40 cm). Grayish brown with small crest. Vivid color changes to red, yellow, blue and other markings. 3-8 eggs.

A. agilis
Slender Agamas. Southwestern to central Asia. Savannah. 12 in. (30 cm). Up to three clutches of 8-10 eggs a year. Winter rest period. Susceptible to parasite attacks during acclimation period, otherwise generally easy to care for.

A. atra
Black or Rock Agamas. Southern Africa. 8 in. (20 cm). Very dark. Must be kept relatively warm.

A. atricollis
Blue-throated Agama. Kenya. Forest edge, semi-arboreal. 10 in. (25 cm). Grayish brown with white, yellow or greenish dot pattern. Keep relatively moist. Keep terrarium relatively warm at night.

A. caucasia
Caucasian Agamas. Caucasus to northern Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan. Montane (up to 6500 ft (2000 m.) elevation). To 14 in (35 cm). Stocky, flattened dorsoventrally, spiny tail. Brown to olive-gray with darker patterning. Minor color changes. 6-14 eggs. Winter rest recommended.

A. hispida
Spiny Agamas. Southern Africa. 12 in (30 cm). Conspicuous dorsal spines, keeled abdominal scales. Grayish brown to glossy green. 12-20 eggs.

A. impalearis
Atlas Agamas. Northwestern Africa. Montane. To 12 in. (30 cm). Grayish brown with conspicuous color changes. Two clutches of up to 12 eggs each. Difficult to maintain due to significant temperature reduction required at night.

A. lehmanni
Turkmenian Agamas. Central Asia. Montane up to 11000 ft (3500 m) to 14 in (35 cm). Winter rest period required. Hardy.

A. mutabilis
Desert Agama. North Africa to southwestern Asia. Rocky and sandy deserts. 10 in (25 cm). Smooth scales, yellow to reddish brown with spotted pattern. Strongly diurnal. 5-10 eggs. Somewhat difficult to maintain.

A. planiceps
Red-headed Agama? (No common name noted in Obst, et al.). Southwestern Africa. Mountain regions. 14 in (35 cm). Spines on nape of neck, shingled tail. Red head and thorax, rest mainly blackish-blue. Substantially herbivorous.

A. stellio
Hardun. Southwestern Asia to northeastern Africa, some parts of Greece. Rocky habitats. Over 14 in (35 cm). Spiny, strongly compressed dorsoventrally. Gray to almost black with light colored spots. Up to three clutches of 8-12 eggs each. Winter rest recommended.


Obst, Fritz Jurgen, et al. The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium. 1988. TFH Publishing, Neptune City, NJ.

Wynn, Richard. Lizards in Captivity. 1981. TFH Publishing, Neptune City, NJ.

TIGR Reptile Database: Agamidae

For more information on agamas and agama care, check out the past issues of the various herp magazines. You can also do a search in search engines such as Yahoo using the keywords agama +lizard. The Researching Herp Information article has additional suggestions for identifying species and finding more information.

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