Added 28 August 2000
Being the proud owner of a pair of plated lizards, Gerrhosaurus major, I became interested in their "sister" family, the family Cordylidae. They are similar inasmuch as they are "armoured" (well protected by scales), and as a group I also felt that they were somewhat neglected by herpetologists - when did you last see an article in the herpetological magazines on Cordylid lizards? In 1999 I resolved to obtain a pair, and I got my chance at the April 1999 IHS exhibition at Gillingham. This is how I obtained Nelson and Shaka.
To be honest I am not sure how these lizards are sexed, since no literature I possess or have encountered seems to mention this factor. However, most cordylids lack the aggression normally associated with male lizards and some species are reputed to live colonially, ie in groups, quite amicably provided there is reasonable room. I was sold Nelson and Shaka as two males. Nevertheless if these lizards are to be seen in captivity then breeding will be vital, and for that reason sexing will be important. Rogner recommends breeding groups of one male to two females.
The only cordylids I actually saw for sale that day were in fact two males. They were quite attractive small lizards and an interesting variation on the more common saurian shape, so I took the plunge and bought them both, remembering that some cordylid species in the wild are somewhat colonial.
Being small (no more than 6" snout-tail length), these particular cordylid lizards can be kept quite easily in a small cage or tank. I put both of ours in a glass tank with a fitted lid, heat bulb rigged to a thermostat and a UV light fitted to a timer. The substrate was woodchips. Cage furniture consisted of a large piece of dried wood at one end which provided a hiding place and some flat stones beneath the heat bulb at the other. For a water dish I used a wide jar lid, firstly because you don't want to risk drowning these lizards, and secondly because they are not tropical or aquatic species and therefore do not need a large amount of humidity in their habitat.
It is hard to tell what Shaka's feeding strategy is, but he does not seem to have tired of small brown crickets yet. I normally drop a few of the smallest from the colony into his tank when I feed a whole bagful to some of the younger lizards in our collection, but it was months before I actually saw him take some: prior to that I had only seen the occasional brown blur of him racing into cover if I entered the room. He probably does come out to hunt down crickets when I am not present, but otherwise I have seen him seize them in his jaws as he lays under the log (his head sometimes appears for a second when he does this). I did offer him fruit baby food, but he declined this.
To be perfectly frank Shaka is the shyest lizard I have ever had, and that includes the reclusive Golden Skinks (Mabuya multifasciatus). Nelson did not seem to be nearly as timid, but then his behaviour may not have been typical as he possibly already had an illness by the time I had him. The only time I ever see Shaka properly is when I lift up the bark to make sure he is all right. He then sits motionless for a few moments and will then often panic, rushing around the tank in a sudden frenzy. I am wary of picking him up for the simple reason that if he were to break free from my grip (and with his slender tail I am wary of tail loss) I think it would be very hard to recapture him without a lot of effort.
Obviously not really applicable in this case unless I can find a female C. jonesii, which looks unlikely at the moment.
Although Nelson seemed a happy and healthy lizard, being the more extrovert of the two with no signs of ill-health, I found him dead in the tank one morning. Examination showed that his vent was streaked with dry faeces. In retrospect I should have had him autopsied, and indeed I did freeze his body in a plastic food bag. However, with most small animals in a warm environment, corruption often sets in quickly due to their size and the heat, so it might have been too late anyway. However, I was very saddened. This seems to be the biggest problem with purchasing livestock from exhibitions and herp fairs: you cannot be sure of the origin of the lizards, or the conditions in which they have been kept. However, despite my initial fears Shaka has shown no signs of ill health and in his own reclusive way seems to do pretty well from day to day. This species has a reputation for being fairly hardy if the basic requirements (correct heat, UV, cleanliness and diet) are provided, plus of course enough space.
Neither of the two seemed to quarrel, although I cannot help but speculate whether Nelson was stressed by Shaka possibly occupying the hide space under the log. In retrospect I should have provided another hide for him, but he did not seem as shy as Shaka.
Whilst I am very fond of Shaka and find cordylids interesting, the shyness of this individual and their generally small size make me question their suitability as a pet for most people, and particularly for children. Larger cordylids are probably better in this respect but sadly are nowadays virtually unobtainable. However, if you are interested in the cordylid family and have had experience of keeping other lizards then this species is an undemanding one for captive observation, although observation may be somewhat limited.
|Vivarium size:||Ideally at least 2 ft by 1 ft for adults. A glass aquarium is okay for these small lizards provided a fitting lid is provided. In fact this is one case where access through the top is better than sliding glass doors, as cordylids are not climbers but are more likely to dart quickly through an open side if startled or feeling inclined to escape.|
|Heating:||Thermal gradient from 70-75 degrees to 85-90 during the day, dropping about 10-15 degrees for 10 hours or so at night.|
|UV Light:||Yes - very important! However, as with heating, the light photoperiod should be reduced into winter and then brought back up again: this will stimulate the lizards into breeding in the spring.|
|Food:||Small arthropods, ie mainly 3rd instar brown crickets and similar-sized insects. It may be worth experimenting with fruit flies.|
|Water||Small bowl should always be present. However, humidity should not be high.|
|Handleability||Very little: unlikely to tame down.|
|Health||Fairly robust once established. Unfortunately virtually all specimens received in the UK are wild-caught, with the problems attendant on this situation. A precautionary visit to a reptile vet may be worthwhile.|
|Initial outlay (excluding the lizards themselves)||About £100 for the tank/vivarium and the heating and lighting equipment, or as much as you would pay for a similar sized lizard habitat. The lizards themselves will probably increase in cost over the next few years, at least until people start breeding them seriously. Buy from a reputable shop or dealer as wild-caught imports do vary in health.|
There is not a great deal in print dedicated to Cordylus jonesii, but most manuals on lizard keeping do mention them and give the basic requirements, including those for breeding. The best guide I have found (albeit in German) is Manfred Rogner's Lizards Vol II. Richard Wynne's Lizards In Captivity (TFH) gives a useful thumbnail guide plus colour plate near the back, while Bartlett and Bartlett's A-Z Of Lizard-Keeping (Barrons) and deVosjoli's Lizard-Keeper's Handbook are both good, Bartletts' being marginally better as it contains a species account of C. jonesii. I have not yet encountered any account of either their natural history or captive requirements at all in the herpetological magazines, nor does there seem to be much on the Internet. Most field guides to African wildlife do mention cordylid lizards, even if only superficially.
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