Painted agamas (Stellagama stellio) are 12-14” long, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to the eastern and northeastern Mediterranean. They prefer semi-arid habitats with rocky terrain and sparse vegetation. Painted agamas are known by a variety of alternative common names, including painted dragon, roughtail rock agama, clown agama, sling-tailed agama, starred agama, and hardun.
Painted agamas generally look like a smaller version of a bearded dragon with a different pattern. Their head is large and triangular with brow ridges, legs muscular, and the body features keeled scales, transverse ridging across the back, tubercles along the sides, and scales arranged in rings around the tail. Coloration varies by subspecies, but generally speaking, painted agamas have a base color of tan to gray, with a mixture of gray, orange, and/or white spots of various sizes. The tail typically has a ringed pattern.
Painted agamas are generally considered to be good, intermediate-level pets comparable in care to bearded dragons, but not requiring so much space.
Minimum terrarium size for painted agamas
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single painted agama is 36”L x 18”W x 18”H, or a 40 gallon breeder-style tank. However, painted agamas are quite active, so if you can provide larger, your pet will absolutely use the extra space!
It is possible to successfully house multiple painted agamas together in a 48”x24”x24” enclosure or larger. For best results, do not house multiple males in the same enclosure, but one male and multiple females can work, or simply a group of females. However, cohabitation is optional. Your lizard will be just fine having the terrarium all to itself!
Do painted agamas need UVB?
Yes! Painted agamas 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 painted agama housed in a 18-24” tall enclosure are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0
- Arcadia Desert 12%
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a highly reflective fixture by Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. If the UVB is mounted over screen, place the basking surface 9-12” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking surface 14-16” below the lamp.
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 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 painted agamas
Painted agamas need a basking surface temperature between 105-115°F, and 70-85°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 halogen flood heat bulb 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. Mount the bulb in a ceramic-socket dome fixture to minimize the risk of fire.
The heat lamp and all other light sources should be turned off at night to allow the enclosure to cool down. Temperatures can safely drop as low as 62°F without need for a lightless nighttime heat source.
Best humidity levels for painted agamas
Painted agamas may be a semi-arid species, but that doesn’t mean you should simply ignore humidity as part of their husbandry. Provide 15-35% humidity during the day, and let things spike to 90-100% at night. Keep track of humidity levels with a digital probe hygrometer placed in the middle of the terrarium.
To increase nighttime humidity levels, heavily mist the enclosure each evening with a pressure sprayer. It’s also a good idea to quickly mist the enclosure first thing each morning to create a morning-dew effect and encourage your agama to drink.
Best substrate for painted agamas
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.
We recommend the following substrates for painted agamas:
- Zoo Med ReptiSand
- Exo Terra Desert Sand
- 60/40 play sand/topsoil mix
Substrate should be at least 2” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a painted agama 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 painted agamas 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, you will also need to include other items, such as:
- secure stacks of flagstone or aquarium slate
- hollow logs
- drought-tolerant live or artificial plants
If you need ideas on how to decorate your pet’s enclosure in a functional way, the best thing to do is look at pictures of painted agamas in their natural habitat.
What to feed to a painted agama
Painted agamas are omnivorous, which means that they need to eat both plant- and animal-based foods to get the nutrition they need. The foods that they need are mostly insects and leafy greens. Here’s a basic feeding schedule:
- Juveniles — salad daily, insects daily
- Adults — salad daily, insects every other day
Variety is the key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet agama. The more variety you can provide, the better!
Leafy greens for painted agamas: alfalfa, arugula/rocket, bok choy, brussels sprouts, cactus pads, carrot greens, cress, collard greens, dandelion greens, endive, kale, mustard greens, radicchio, red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your lizard from developing a deficiency. Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting. Supplement powder should not be put on salads.
How to handle your painted agama
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, painted agamas tend to tolerate human interaction well. Here are some tips for success:
- Don’t grab the lizard from above. Instead, scoop from below.
- Support as much of its body as possible, especially the feet.
- Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
- Put the lizard back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.
You will have to work to gain your pet’s trust, so be especially careful to create a positive association with yourself in their mind. It’s best to encourage the agama to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on their own, rather than simply grabbing them whenever you’re in the mood for handling. Never grab a reptile out from its hiding place, as this is a very effective way to make it feel unsafe.
Treats and hand-feeding are very effective for teaching your pet that you are not something to be feared. Use soft-tipped feeding tongs to prevent getting bitten by accident.
*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!
"File:Roughtail rock agama (Stellagama stellio brachydactyla).jpg" by Charles J Sharp is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.