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

South American Swifts

Liolaemus spp. This care information is suitable for Oplurus and Chalarodon, the arboreal Madagascar swifts and spinytailed lizards, sometimes called Madagascar iguanas.

©1996 Melissa Kaplan


South American swifts, iguanid members of of the Tropiduridae, can be found throughout the southern part of South America, with populations stretching upwards along the two coasts. There are 40-50 species in this genus, with different species found in numerous types of habitats, but mostly ranging from heavy forests to dry, rocky areas; some may be found in deserts, while others inhabit the cooler, moister montane forests. (The Liolaemus magellanicus, living in Tierra del Fuego, is the most southern-dwelling reptile of all.)

Liolaemus may grow to 10 inches (25 cm). They are slender bodied with long tails (usually twice the body length) and a broad, blunt head. Compactly built. The scales of the back are large and shingled; in some species, they may be keeled. The ground color is usually brown, though some with gray or green may be found. Markings are varied, and usually consist of light and dark stripes and spots. They do not have a dorsal crest.


Captive Environment

Set up in an enclosure that is at least 18-20 inches in length, and 10-15 inches in width. Suitable substrates include a sand layer covered with bark in places, or astroturf. Furnishings should include habitat-appropriate options, depending on where the species originates, such as rocky outcroppings, or branches supplied for arboreal species.

Heating and Lighting
UVB lighting is required for 10-12 hours a day. In addition, heat lighting is required to keep the day time temperatures ranging from 77-95 F (25-35 C); desert species require slightly higher basking temperatures. At night, the temperatures should be dropped to 65-75 F (18-24 C).

Some species may learn to drink from a water bowl with suitable stimulation (water dripping into it from above). Others will have to have their vegetation or furnishings sprayed daily.


These are carnivores, primarily insectivorous. Larger specimens may take day-old mouse pinks. Otherwise, feed a selection of freshly molted worm larvae and small crickets. Feed and supplement feeder insects before offering to lizards.


About half of the 160 Liolaemus species are viviparous, the rest being oviparous. Unfortunately, unless you know the species of your Liolaemus and can find definitive data on whether that species is oviparous or viviparous, you are going to have to plan for both eventualities and make sure to boost calcium by adding it to the insect prey food. If you are feeding out pinks, you can get a liquid calcium product (health and drug stores) and put a drop in the pink's mouth before feeding.

Related Articles

A Semi-Annotated Bibliography and Taxonomy of the Liolaeminae (Etheridge and Espinoza)

Feeder Insects

Madagascar Swifts/Iguanas

TIGR Reptile Database: Tropiduridae: Liolaemus

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