Mountain horned dragons (Acanthosaura capra) are also known as the “green pricklenape”. They’re 12” long, diurnal, arboreal lizards native to Cambodia and Vietnam, and prefer a tropical forest habitat.
Mountain horned dragons can be identified by their short head with large eyes; prominent “eyebrow” ridges, long spines at the back of the neck, beardlike throat pouch, rough scales, and long toes. Most of their length is composed of tail. Color and pattern vary widely, as they are known to shift with the lizard’s mood. Base color may be olive, green, brown, or almost black. There may be a pattern of yellow or white spots, or no pattern at all. The eyes may be rimmed with white and/or black.
Mountain horned dragons are not particularly common in the pet trade and most of them that are available are wild-caught and need to be treated appropriately. Once healthy, they can make friendly and attractive pets!
Minimum terrarium size for mountain horned dragons
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single mountain horned dragon is 36”L x 18”W x 36”H. These may seem like fairly small lizards, but they still need plenty of space to allow for freedom of choice in thermoregulating, climbing, and hiding. Of course, if you can manage it, larger is always better — particularly wider!
Housing multiple mountain horned dragons in the same enclosure is not required for their wellbeing, but if you would like to keep a group together, they should get along in a pair or small group as long as a proportionately larger enclosure is used. However, never house males together, as they are likely to fight!
Do mountain horned dragons need UVB?
Yes! Mountain horned dragons require UVB lighting for long-term health. 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.
Here are the best UVB bulbs for mountain horned dragons housed in a 36” tall enclosure:
- Arcadia T5 HO Forest 6%
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0
For best results, house your UVB bulb in a reflective fixture, preferably Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics brand. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. When the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking branch so the lizard’s back is 7-9” below the lamp.
They are also likely to benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment as well. Add a ~6500K fluorescent or white LED grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.
Stimulate seasonal hormonal cycling by leaving lights on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter.
Best temperature for mountain horned dragons
Mountain horned dragons are sensitive to high temperatures, but they still need an appropriate range of temperatures within their enclosure. Provide the following:
- Basking temperature: 86-90°F
- Ambient temperature:73-82°F
- Nighttime temperatures: 70-75°F
General enclosure temperatures should never rise above 84°F! You will need to use digital probe thermometers to track the temperatures available to your dragon, with probes placed on the basking surface and in the shade.
Provide heat for your pet with one or two low-wattage white heat bulb mounted in a hood fixture and placed above the basking branch. Ceramic heat emitters (CHEs) are good for boosting nighttime temps as needed, but should not be used as a primary daytime heat source. Avoid colored bulbs, as they mess with your pet’s ability to accurately perceive its environment.
Best humidity levels for mountain horned dragons
Mountain horned dragons are a tropical species, so the humidity inside their enclosure should be fairly high: 70-80% during the day, and higher at night. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Increase humidity by misting your pet’s enclosure 2-3x/day with a pressure sprayer or automatic misting system. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night. If you need more help maintaining humidity, install a cool mist humidifier connected to a timer or humidistat to run during the night.
For best results with automatic misting systems and reptile humidifiers, use distilled or reverse-osmosis water. Humidifiers must be disinfected regularly to prevent your pet from getting sick.
Best substrate for mountain horned dragons
Although mountain horned dragons spend most of their time in the trees, they do occasionally spend time at ground level. Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) in the enclosure will help maintain correct humidity, cushion against falls, provide a digging medium, and also help make your enclosure more attractive!
We recommend the following substrates for mountain horned dragons:
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Zoo Med ReptiSoil
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
- Zilla Jungle Mix
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can help with humidity as well as add enrichment value.
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with any contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a mountain horned dragon terrarium
An empty enclosure 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!
Since horned dragons prefer to spend their time off the ground, at bare minimum you will need a couple of branches for them to hang out on and some foliage to hide in. Of course, more is always better — don’t be afraid to make full use of the available space!
All climbing branches should be securely anchored to prevent collapse.
What to feed to a mountain horned dragon
Mountain horned dragons are insectivores, which means that they eat bugs. They’re particularly fond of worms and are known to descend to the forest floor to dig them up. Offer prey daily, as much food as the lizard will take in about 10 minutes for juveniles and 5 minutes for adults.
Provide as much dietary variety as you can manage for balanced nutrition!
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help keep your lizard healthy. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.
Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl and feeding ledge for your lizard to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Mountain horned dragons are most motivated to drink droplets or moving water, so it’s a good idea to install a dripper over a large leaf as well.
How to handle your mountain horned dragon
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Regarding mountain horned dragons specifically, they are generally regarded as fairly docile pets that acclimate to humans well.
If you want to build a trusting relationship with your pet, you will need to develop a foundation of positive interactions. Offering food from 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.
*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!