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2:48 AM   April 28, 2015
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Look Out for the Conehead Lizard

The little green guys have landed—and fit the best with seasoned keepers.
By Darren Boyd

Courtesy of Zig Leszczynski
The conehead lizard (Laemanctus longipes) is an intriguing creature from Mexico and Central America. The rather amusing common name comes from the enlarged cone-shaped crown on the back of its head.

This delicate species makes an interesting captive for a seasoned herp keeper but a poor choice for a novice. Since virtually all of the specimens in the pet trade are wild-caught, this elusive lizard can be a challenge to acquire.

Captive Habitat
This lizard is lean and green, which is perfect for life in the trees. The conehead is largely arboreal, and keepers should not contain it in anything less than a tall, lush environment. The long tail and skinny limbs of this lizard allow it to navigate through thick foliage with ease. The body of the conehead is laterally compressed. The scales are rough and keeled. The vivid green coloration and black bars evenly spaced down the back provide ideal camouflage in tropical rainforests.

Some professional herpetoculturists tend to think of coneheads as a cross between green iguanas and old-world chameleons, at least in terms of fragility. Most coneheads are stressed from capture and are at risk of health problems by the time they reach captivity.  Acclimating a conehead lizard can be more problematic than maintaining one. Choosing the healthiest-looking animal is a good place to start. From there, captive conditions that are just right can get the animal on track. Keepers can use terrariums with heights of at least 24 inches.

This species needs hydration. A large, shallow water dish combined with misting several times per day works well. Some coneheads will drink from water dishes but most prefer to lick droplets from leaves.

“Dehydration is the most common problem with maintaining conehead lizards,” says RobRoy MacInnes from Glades Herp Farm Inc. in Bushnell, Fla. “Mist them every day or use an automatic misting system.”

Although keepers must maintain high humidity, they should not to sacrifice air circulation. Adequate ventilation keeps the lizard healthy and prevents mold from growing in a stagnant, humid environment. A tight-fitting screen lid can offer sufficient aeration.

A blend of branches, flexible vines, cork bark and real or artificial plants makes for excellent cage furniture. A conehead lizard will eat and drink if there are plenty of visual barriers in place to make it feel invisible. A feeling of openness and vulnerability will greatly add to the stress level of this shy creature. For substrate, a bark mulch and moss mixture tends to hold moisture well.

Bizarre Behaviors

The conehead lizard is fascinating to watch. Males will display an action that can best be referred to as “the slow bob.” They bob their heads at a cage mate, and sometimes even at their own reflection in the terrarium glass, at slow speed. This behavior can be attributed as a mating or territorial demonstration.

Keepers should not underestimate the velocity of this lizard. It is not easy to catch. Even though the conehead spends much of its time sitting still in the foliage and bobs at a comically slow speed, this creature can move.

Coneheads are diurnal basking lizards, so an overhead ultraviolet light designed for rainforest herps works well. A keeper can have this light on for 12 hours during the day and off overnight. A heat light can maintain an adequate daytime air temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature can be 90 degrees under the hottest basking spot of the terrarium and 80 degrees on the cool side. An under-tank heating pad is not required for this species, since it spends little time on the ground.   Feeding The arboreal nature of this lizard has an effect on its feeding habits. A conehead lizard will not eat in front of an audience until it becomes settled in. It will not go to ground level to chase insect prey. Keepers can mount both water and feeding dishes to the branches halfway to the top of the cage to create arboreal feeding stations. They can place crickets, wax worms, mealworms and other insects in smooth-sided dishes, making feeding easier and more natural.

The conehead lizard also eats insects that choose higher ground themselves, such as grasshoppers and moths. Dusting insect prey with a powdered herp vitamin every second or third feeding is vital for the health of most lizards. Keepers can give a calcium supplement to this species.

Owners can give a pinky mouse every three to four weeks. The conehead will also feed on frogs in the wild.

“I was in Honduras buying animals and went to a farm where they were holding red-eye tree frogs and coneheads along with other animals for me,” MacInnes says. “When I arrived, the collectors took me to the holding cages to show me the frogs and lizards. The first thing I noticed was the coneheads were the fattest I have ever seen them. I soon discovered they had put the frogs in with the coneheads and the coneheads ate all the frogs.”

Although the conehead lizard is a fragile herp and not for beginners, it is a species that will hopefully become more common in captivity with efforts by more experienced hobbyists.

“A conehead would make a good pet for advanced keepers with experience with tropical lizards,” MacInnes says. <HOME>

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