Chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) are medium-sized, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to desert areas of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. They prefer arid habitats with plenty of rocks and access to tight crevices.
Chuckwallas have a full-bodied built with stout limbs, a large abdomen, wrinkled skin, and a thick tail. Coloration tends to have a foundation of brown, gray, or black, with additional cream, yellow, or orange markings. Exact color and pattern tends to vary by population, although males tend to be more colorful than females. Adults are generally between 15-20” long.
Chuckwallas are not common pets, but captive-bred individuals generally make good pets when cared for properly. Based on their size, equipment needs, and lifespan, these lizards can be considered intermediate-level pet reptiles. With good care, your chuckwalla may live up to 65 years!
Minimum terrarium size for chuckwallas
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single chuckwalla is 48”L x 24”W x 24”H. However, if you can provide larger, your pet will absolutely appreciate and use the extra space!
Cohabiting multiple chuckwallas in the same enclosure is not recommended.
Do chuckwallas need UVB?
Yes! Chuckwallas require UVB lighting for their survival. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for a chuckwalla housed in a 48” long enclosure are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0, 22”
- Arcadia Desert 12%, 22”
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture, preferably Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics brand. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking surface so the lizard’s back is 8-12” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking surface so the lizard’s back is 14-16” below the lamp. The basking surface should be the closest surface in the enclosure to the UVB lamp.
Chuckwallas are also likely to benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment. Add a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.
Lights should be on for 10 hours/day during winter and 14 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for chuckwallas
Chuckwallas need a hot basking surface temperature between 120-130°F, and between 75-85°F on the cool side. Temperatures should be measured via infrared thermometer. For best results, use a flat piece of stone such as flagstone, paver stone, or unpolished stone tile as the basking surface.
Provide heat for your lizard with a cluster of at least two halogen heat bulbs placed above the basking branch. Halogen bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Heating should be turned off at night to allow for a nightly drop in temperature.
Best humidity levels for chuckwallas
Chuckwallas are exceptionally tolerant of low humidity in their environment, and humidity generally isn’t something to worry about too much with this species (unless it’s particularly high, of course). As long as you have a humid hideout or burrow available, they should be fine.
Keep track of the humidity levels with a digital probe hygrometer placed in the middle of the terrarium. Humidity should generally not get higher than 50%.
Best substrate for chuckwallas
Substrate (aka bedding) covers the floor of the terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain healthy joints and provides something for your lizard to dig in (which they love to do!)
We recommend the following substrates for chuckwallas:
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a chuckwalla terrarium
An empty enclosure makes for a bored chuckwalla, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Since chuckwallas are a terrestrial species that prefers rocky terrain, at bare minimum you will need a flat basking stone and a couple of places for them to hide. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
- secure stacks of flagstone or aquarium slate
- more hiding places
- hollow logs
- live, edible plants
What to feed to a chuckwalla
Chuckwallas are 100% herbivorous, which means that they only eat plants. They should be fed as much as they can eat daily, with roughly 60% of their diet coming from dark leafy greens, 30% other vegetables, and 10% fruit. Vegetables should be chopped into bite-sized pieces to help prevent choking.
Provide as much dietary variety as you can manage for balanced nutrition!
Leafy greens for chuckwallas: collard greens, cactus pads, spring mix, arugula, kale, alfalfa, bok choy, carrot greens, spinach, dandelion greens, hibiscus greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, romaine lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover
Other vegetables for chuckwallas: broccoli, rapini, zucchini, cauliflower, sweet potato, bell pepper, squash, carrots, okra, sprouts, pea pods, green beans, shredded carrots
Fruit options for chuckwallas: berries, mango, cantaloupe, apple, banana, papaya
Edible flowers such as nasturtium and dandelion can also be offered. Insects can also be used as a rare treat.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help prevent your lizard from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy SuperVeggie, lightly dusted on all salads.
How to handle your chuckwalla
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. However, with patient and persistent effort, chuckwallas can become quite tame and tolerant of humans.
If you want to build a trusting relationship with your pet chuckwalla, you will need to develop a foundation of positive interactions. Hand-feeding with soft-tipped feeding tweezers works well as an initial bribe, and it’s best to get the lizard to come to you rather than simply grabbing it.
Here are some more tips for success:
- Don’t grab the lizard from above. Instead, scoop from below.
- Support as much of its body as possible.
- Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
- Put the lizard back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.
- Handle regularly to maintain tameness.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!