Emerald Swift Care Sheet

Emerald Swift Care Sheet

Emerald swifts (Sceloporus malachiticus) are a 6-8” long, diurnal, semi-arboreal lizard native to Central America. They prefer tropical and subtropical forest habitats.

Emerald swifts have compact bodies, long toes, a slim tail, and a blunt head, and they’re covered in stiff, pointed scales that give them an overall spiky appearance. Males are bright green with vibrant blue splotches on their belly, and sometimes a blue tail. Females are generally brown with dark spots.

Emerald swifts are not very common as pets, as they are mostly wild-caught, have a low tolerance for handling, and have a fairly short lifespan. However, when cared for correctly, they can make a vibrant display species. With good care, they can live up to about 5 years. 

Minimum terrarium size for emerald swifts:

The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single emerald swift is 36”L x 18”W x 18”H, or a 40 gallon breeder tank. Of course, larger is always better!

Housing multiple emerald swifts is possible if you have one male and multiple females, but that requires a larger enclosure, and should only be considered for breeding. If you don’t plan to breed, housing just one by itself is fine. NEVER house multiple males together!

Do emerald swifts need UVB?

Yes! Emerald swifts 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 an emerald swift housed in a 36” x 18” x 18” enclosure are:

For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking area 7-9” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking area 11-12” below the lamp.

UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!

They are also likely to benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment as well. Add a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the terrarium to thrive.

Lights should be on for 11 hours/day during winter and 13 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. All lamps should be turned off at night.

Best temperature for emerald swifts:

Emerald swifts should have a basking temperature of ~95°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. The cool side temperature should be between 75-85°F, and night temps can drop as low as 68°F.

Provide heat for your lizard with a halogen heat bulb. 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. 

For best results, use a natural wood branch or flat stone as the basking surface.

Best humidity levels for emerald swifts:

Emerald swifts are a tropical species, so the humidity inside their enclosure should be fairly high: 60-80%. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.

Increase humidity by misting the enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning, and then again at night if needed. Aside from raising humidity, this also provides your an important source of drinking water!

Best substrate for emerald swifts:

Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for emerald swifts:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.

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 an emerald swift terrarium:

An empty terrarium makes for a bored lizard, 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!

Emerald swifts spend time both on the ground and climbing, so at bare minimum, you will need a couple of branches for your pet to climb on, some live or artificial foliage for it to hide in, and a hiding place on the ground. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:

What to feed to an emerald swift:

Emerald swifts are insectivores, which means that they need to get the majority of their nutrition from insects. Juveniles should be fed daily, and adults should be fed 3-4x/week. Offer as many insects as your lizard can eat in one sitting.

Feeder insects for emerald swifts: dubia roaches, discoid roaches, red runner roaches, crickets, black soldier fly larvae, hornworms, mealworms, mealworm beetles


You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your gecko from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all of your lizard’s feeder insects. However, it’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.


Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl for your gecko to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

How to handle your emerald swift:

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Emerald swifts generally prefer to be left alone, and attempting to handle is likely to just stress them out. If you want to bond with your lizard, try hand-feeding it with feeding tweezers.

*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. 

 (photo credit Reptile Facts)

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