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

Tree Dragons and Mountain Dragons

Gonocephalus and Acanthosaura

©1995 Melissa Kaplan


The tree dragon, a member of the agamidae, is starting to hit the pet stores in the U.S., in increasing numbers. Poorly and variably named, some stores are calling them mountain dragons, blue agamas, toad-headed agamas (which are in fact Phyrnocephalus) and, of course, giving out little to no care information. Within a period of one week, I received several calls on such lizards and so devised this rather sparse caresheet, sparse because there is yet little information to be obtained from the various reptile books. The care for both the tree dragon and mountain dragon is similar to the so-called helmeted iguana, AKA forest chameleon (Corytophanes) is their nature, especially the mountain dragon.

Where care is the same, one entry will be provided. Where they are different, the information for the mountain dragon will be preceded with an M: and for the tree dragon with a T:.

Note: These lizards are all wild caught, and should be assumed to be highly stressed and heavily parasitized. Get the lizard and a fecal sample to the reptile vet as soon as possible, to be tested for parasites, evaluated for dehydration, etc.


Natural History
Like all agamas, these are Old World lizards, cousins (in habits and habitats, if not in fact) to the New World iguanids. Agamas are generally easily recognized by their large, broad triangular shaped head, long tails and strong legs. Many are equipped with sharp claws for digging and tree climbing. Their tails may break off defensively but they are not known to regenerate. They are primarily carnivores, and most are oviparous (egg layers). All are equipped with excellent eyesight. They are able, like the New World anoles (Anolis sp.) and other agamids and iguanids, to change colors in response to temperature changes and stress.

Home Range

M: Southern China, Southeastern Asia, Sumatra, Malaya

T: Southeastern Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia


M: 10-12" STL

T: 10-24" STL (Obst: to 36+")


Physical Description

Mountain Dragons
All species are frog-like in appearance with moderately long tails. Hemipenal bulge seen in sexually mature males. Some species have long spikes on their dorsal crest; others short spikes. All have a spike behind each eye. Extremely strong claws for digging. This genus used to be included with the Gonocephalus but sorted out. Lacks the gular fold/dewlap in males. Slight lateral compression. Strong orbital ridges.

A. armata: 12" STL, ground color ranges from olive to bright green with dark spots on sides; throat is orange in male, sometimes with lilac streaks.

A. crucigera is 12" STL, generally gray-brown with dark spotting on sides; dewlap is black; belly dirty white.

A. lepidogaster ("Brown Pricklenape") is 10" STL, gray-green with some dark spotting; throat is light gray to black; belly white; requires slightly lower temperatures than the A. capra.

A. capra ("Green Pricklenape"): 12" STL, mostly green.

Tree Dragons
Most species have a nuchal and dorsal crest which runs down the back similar to the water dragons. All have a large dewlap which can be lowered; some have spikes on the outer edge. Legs and toes are long, heavily clawed for climbing trees. Tails are long and in some species may also carry a crest; they do not regenerate. Mouth is quite large, and quite capable of inflicting a painful bite in the bigger species. Ground color ranges from browns or greens, with lighter or darker spots; some have spots and splashes of blue, red or yellow. All are slightly laterally compressed with strong bony ridges on face running from the rostrum, back between the eyes to the back of the head. Males have dewlaps. The following represent three of the sixteen known species.

G. abbotti: green with fine black lines, white belly.

G. boydi: brownish-green, dirty white belly, rusty eyelids and dirty white face.

G. grandis: vivid blue ground and stripes under dark green. 


Wild and Captive Habitats

M: Densely foliaged mountain jungles. Usually found on the ground or only a short distance above the ground in low bushes. Fairly secretive. Rarely bask. Require a cool dense rainforest setup with access to water.

T: Live high in the trees in the dense tropical and montane rainforests. Occasionally found on the ground in the undergrowth but prefer height. Bask occasionally. Require a slightly warmer, dense arboreal rainforest setup with access to water.

Needless to say, mountain dragons come from a cooler environment than do the tree dragons.

M: 70-82 F (22-28 C) days; drop to 68-70 F (20 C) at night

T: 77-88 F (Wynne: to 90F) days; drop to 70-80 at night

Supplement each meal with multivitamin and calcium supplement.

M: Worms, grubs, crickets, beetles, grasshoppers. May prefer to feed at night.

T: Insects, spiders, small vertebrates (such as pink mice); some worms may be taken.

Both lizards require high humidity and large pans of water. Outfit tanks with drip or bubbler systems to maintain the high humidity needed.

M: Spraying regularly sufficient for drinking.

T: Must have water for drinking.

Sunlight/Ultraviolet B (UVB)
Some is beneficial. Requires the proper temperature gradients more than a specific basking area.

Oviparous. Prefer moist earth or peat for laying.

M: lays under rotting wood, bark; young 2-3".

T: lays amongst tree roots; young 3-6". Incubation 4 months. Lowland species breed year round.



TIGR Reptile Database: Agamidae

Obst, F. J., et al. Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium. 1988. TFH.

Wynne, R. H. Lizards in Captivity. 1981. TFH.


Related Articles

Prey Sources

Glossary of Herp Terms

Gonocephalus & Hypsilurus

Need to update a veterinary or herp society/rescue listing?

Can't find a vet on my site? Check out these other sites.

Amphibians Conservation Health Lizards Resources
Behavior Crocodilians Herpetology Parent/Teacher Snakes
Captivity Education Humor Pet Trade Societies/Rescues
Chelonians Food/Feeding Invertebrates Plants Using Internet
Clean/Disinfect Green Iguanas & Cyclura Kids Prey Veterinarians
Home About Melissa Kaplan CND Lyme Disease Zoonoses
Help Support This Site   Emergency Preparedness

Brought to you thanks to the good folks at Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

© 1994-2014 Melissa Kaplan or as otherwise noted by other authors of articles on this site