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 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

We caught a southern alligator lizard 2 months ago and at the time, we believe he was only about 3-4 weeks old. He’s currently still a juvenile but has shed 3 times since we caught him. The reason for my post is because I’m worried about him since he used to eat a lot of crickets each day but he is not eating as much as he used to. When we first got him, he ate about 6 small crickets per day, then he gradually started eating 8-10 crickets per day as he got bigger.

Our typical feeding schedule (it isn’t always followed as strictly but the time frames are dictated by our work schedule):

around 9:00 - 9:30am: dropping 3-4 crickets in for breakfast
5:30pm: dropping 1-2 crickets
9:30pm: dropping 1-2 crickets
11:30pm: dropping 1 cricket (this only happens occasionally, if we notice that he is really hungry.)
Note: We alternate days on when we dust the crickets with calcium. We usually drop the crickets in one by one to make sure he eats each one, but lately, he hasn’t been eating them all...

His 2nd to last shed, he was steadily eating about 9-10 sm-med crickets per day. However, after his most recent shed (a week ago), he started exhibiting some odd behavior that we’ve never seen before and have been only eating 5-7 crickets (at most) per day. The current average is 4-5 per day.

Another weird behavior that we’ve been noticing is that he started intensely digging around the corners of his terrarium. We are not sure if he is digging for pleasure (as we’ve read from various forum threads that this type of lizard loves to dig), or if he is digging because he is hungry and is digging for crickets.

We’ve observed is that even if he sees a cricket right next to him (while digging), he will shake his head back and forth (sign that he is going to strike), but then won’t do anything about the cricket and proceeds to dig. Also, if he sees a cricket next to him while he’s digging, he doesn’t seem to be interested in eating it and that leads to the cricket walking all over him since it’s not scared of him anymore (which I hate because I don’t want my little guy be bullied by a bunch of punk crickets, haha).

Lastly, when we were watching him hunt recently, we saw him stalk a cricket, killed it, flung it to a corner, but did NOT eat it.... Not sure if he just finds pleasure in trying to hunt crickets but actually isn’t hungry so he doesn’t eat them? Maybe he’s training himself on becoming a better hunter (a bit far fetched lol but I don’t know!)

I’ve also read that alligator lizards that were in the wild, typically will treat their new captive lives as an "all you can eat buffet" style since they are getting food daily. However, their appetite will start slowing down as they get used to the regular feeding. Is that true? If so, could that have any affect on our lizard’s sudden change?

Note: when we found him, he had a stubbed tail, which means he probably lost his tail from being attacked or something. We did research and found out that lizards who lost their original tails tend to be more secretive. We noticed that he has a totally different personality to our other alligator lizard (yes, we caught another one!) This little guy is more sensitive to sound and vibrations, he is hyper aware of his surroundings and notices every little thing that changes, and gets stressed out easily when something scares him (he starts breathing really hard, which we learned that is a sign of him being scared or stressed). Could that be another reason as to why his behavior is a little bit odd?

We are such noobs to being lizard parents but we really care for the little guy and we want to make sure we are providing the best care for him. Please help if you have any insight as to why he’s behaving this way and if it is normal. I am just particularly worried about him not eating enough and that might be a sign of sickness or major stress.

10/01/15  11:08pm


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  Message To: Lizardlover2   In reference to Message Id: 2315067

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

A four week old Southern would be smaller than your index finger - including the tail.
When they are very young they desiccate easily because they have so much surface area in proportion to their volume that they lose a lot of moisture through the skin. At this stage they often prefer hides that have a lot of humidity - accomplished by giving them a moist hide box (not soggy) or occasionally moistening an area under bark or other ground cover where they like to hide. This could have something to do with the digging. The appetite seems about right but you need to dust those crickets with a vitamin supplement as well as a calcium supplement or use a combo like Reptivite

10/02/15  04:43pm


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  Message To: Lizardlover2   In reference to Message Id: 2315067

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

That’s pretty early to see hatchlings around. It must have just hatched and that’s probably why it’s so ’secretive!’. The loss of appetite is probably related to it trying to brumate. This is a natural behaviour for them in the wild and the reptile equivalent of hibernation. Usually they move around and may change location when warm weather permits, but spend most of the colder months underground in burrows. This probably explains the digging, although digging is again just natural behaviour. our little guy digs all the time! During brumation time they won’t eat, or will eat bare minimum. it’s tricky to regulate in captivity as you have to make sure they don’t have a belly full of food when they decide to brumate! If you don’t have a heat lamp or some kind of heat source to raise temps then I’d suggest you get one. Increased temps will keep it out of brumating hopefully, however some are just plain stubborn!

As far as the secretive behaviour you described, it’s probably just really stressed out! We don’t usually see hatchlings moving around here in the wild until warmer days in November, so if you caught it months ago as a hatchling it probably should be kept in a darker area, and left alone for a while as these early months it probably would have remained secluded underground in a hole somewhere.

You’re right, they often do eat loads after they’re first caught and they will eventually settle down into a feeding routine although they can be quite greedy eaters even after that! Haha! 4-5 crickets a day sounds good. Some days it may not want any, and others it may scoff more! you only want to worry if it’s been over a few days, to a week and you notice weight loss or change in behaviour. The breathing hard or puffing up is a sign of stress or a vague defensive show and they do this throughout their life when you interact with them. eventually it’ll get less frequent and less exaggerated as they get used to you and they usually stop once they’re more used to handling!

It doesn’t sound like you have any issues though, as long as the lizard still looks active and healthy! Sounds like a lot of natural behaviour! You might try a slight raise in temps and look into brumation to gather as much info as you can!

What you’re doing is great so far. Observing and then noticing changes and try to find out what’s causing them! You’ll get good advice here, although it may be a little slow as not many people are on anymore. There really isn’t a better place to go for alligator lizard info though!

Good luck on your new friend! If you need more help or info, let me know!

10/02/15  05:17pm


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  Message To: Jgator   In reference to Message Id: 2315081

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

Thanks for your replies everyone!

JGator - Your information about brumation is really helpful and reassuring. I had a few questions for you regarding some of the topics you mentioned:

1. Have you personally experienced brumation with your allie? If so, how did you go about taking care of him/her during that time, particularly feedings? Since this post, our allie’s appetite decreased from 4-5 crickets to 2 at most a day.

2. We noticed that he wasn’t just digging anymore, but also climbing his leaves, which extend to almost the top of his terrarium and standing up almost in a fashion to suggest that he wanted to escape. Was this consistent with the brumation or normal behavior you noticed in your allie? We actually decided to purchase a larger tank (10 gallon) for him this weekend because he almost doubled in size since we first set up his original terrarium (3.3 gallon) in hopes that this might satisfy his desire for more space to roam.

3. This is off the original topic a bit, but we noticed that his past few droppings have a yellowish portion on top of the white urate. Have you encountered this before? If so, do you know what it is?

We really appreciate your help!

10/05/15  01:18am


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  Message To: Acre   In reference to Message Id: 2315080

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

Thank you for the information, Acre.

Per your advice, we started adding more moisture to a portion of the substrate in our allie’s terrarium to encourage him to at least dig in a certain part of the tank. Prior to this, we provided him with multiple hiding areas that we sprayed with water 2-3 times a day.

10/05/15  01:22am


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  Message To: Lizardlover2   In reference to Message Id: 2315100

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

I’m glad you found comfort in some of the info I gave. It can be really nerve wracking at times when you don’t know what’s up!

Firstly I haven’t had trouble with my hatchling Allie trying to brumate as I keep the temps up throughout the year and we were lucky enough to catch it before it had brumated naturally. Although his behaviour and appetite may change slightly at cooler times of year. I have an under tank heat pad and a basking lamp that I sometimes put on if it’s particularly cold in the house that seems to do the job. I did have an older lizard which I rescued from our pond a few years back which did try to brumate. After I was sure it was ok and healthy I released it near a hole on a warmer day so it could go and finish off brumation naturally. With regards to feeding during brumation they usually don’t feed at all, or feed very little during this period. If they have food in their belly when they slow down their metabolism for brumation it can cause stomach issues for them. Also if they don’t eat at all and haven’t put on enough weight previously they’ll have issues surviving through the cold months. Generally I wouldn’t try to mess around with brumation in captivity, it’s just too risky (and nerve wracking) for me! There are some people who do it with success though, and you should be able to find more info online about how to do it if thats something you want to try!

Climbing, again, is quite natural behaviour. It’s good to have things in there for them to climb on as they do like to explore! You’re probably right though, it probably is looking for a way out! The digging at the corners will be partially this too. I’ve never had a reptile that didn’t attempt escape when in new surroundings! You should notice this behaviour die down eventually when it gets used to its new tank and captivity in general!

My guy is in a 10gallon also and that’s great for them when they are young. If it’s a male and grows to be a big fella you may need to upgrade again in the future though! When you move it to its new enclosure make sure you leave it totally alone for at least a week to settle in, obviously keep up maintenance, feeding and water changes though. Other than that just let it settle with minimum stress.

As for the urates I’ve seen a variety of colors from pure white to yellowish. It’s my understanding this simply reflects the lizards state of hydration as does urine color in humans. It’s nothing really to worry about and just means it’s slightly dehydrated. If it continues or gets worse however you should definitely look into it more. If this is going to be a long term thing for you guys it may be a good idea (if you’re able) to find a vet who specializes in herps to give your lizard a once over. I know it sounds silly as its a lizard that thrives in the wild, however there are a number of complications that can occur in captivity and it may, if anything, just give you more peace of mind!

On a side note make yourself aware of your states particular laws regarding the capture of native species. If you’re in Cali then I can tell you, you need a fishing license to legally capture native lizards. Alternatively you can capture on license exemption days also. I know it’s probably not going to come up, but all it takes is one person with a stick up their butt to cause issues, and it’s best if you know where you stand before a situation arises!

I hope I’ve addressed most of your concerns. Any more info you need please let me know! Also sorry for the long winded replies but I try to give as much info as possible as there really isn’t much captive alligator lizard info out there at all! Such a shame the pet trade passed over such a great species!

10/05/15  06:19pm


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  Message To: Jgator   In reference to Message Id: 2315107

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

Thank you so much for all of the information you provided! We really appreciate you giving us such insight because we have been able to use this information to learn on how to be better caretakers for these lizards and to ease our minds. We have been so worried lately and you have been such a big help!

I agree with you on trying to snap our Allie out of his brumating state. Which under tank heat pad brand do you suggest we get for him? I was reading up on the ZooMed one but I’ve read some mixed reviews (multiple reviewers stated that their heat pad caught on fire and/or melt the bottom of the tank thus killing their pet). I read The Blue Spotted brand is quite good but unsure about that one as well. Also, how long do you suggest we turn on the heat pad? I rather not turn it on for too long, maybe only 30-45 minutes at a time but how long would be good for our Allie?

What kind of substrate do you suggest we put in? Right now, we have the ZooMed ReptiBark - which seems to be working fine for him but if you suggest a better type of substrate for him, please let us know!

Wow, thank you for the information about urates! Our little guy does not drink from his water dish - at least I don’t think he does, since I’ve never seen him drink from it. However, we spray water on the glass and have seen him lick the water off the glass of his tank. Have you experienced this with your Allie? If so, how did you go about trying to giving him more water?

I agree about looking into a Vet for him and we will probably start looking soon for one! Also, thank you for the advice on the fishing license!

This is a bit off topic - how did you find out your Allie was male? Could you give us any physical attributes that a male would have? We would love to know what gender our Allie is! (We assumed ours is male, haha!) We have read that it is often hard to tell a gender for lizards until they are about at least 18 months old but if you can give us anything to look out for as a sign that it’s a male, then that would be awesome!

No need for apologies! We really appreciate how thorough your responses are! It really helps us and ease our worries - we are so glad we found this site and met you! Yes, we totally agree that they are such a great species. We love our Allies. Thank you so much once again for all your advice and information you provided!

10/06/15  12:53am


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  Message To: Lizardlover2   In reference to Message Id: 2315109

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

So glad I’ve been a help to you!

Well when it comes to heat pads most people will say you need a thermostat to regulate it so it doesn’t over heat. You can definitely do this if you’re worried, but personally this hasn’t ever been an issue for me. I use a zoomed one that sticks to the bottom of the tank. If you’re using a glass tank this will be fine and shouldn’t melt anything, just be careful what it’s placed on shelf-wise as if it’s on plastic for an extended period of time you may have issues. The best thing to do to prevent harm to your lizard is to lay down a layer of repti-carpet on the bottom of the tank, before adding substrate. This is basically just felt and it ensures if the lizard does dig down to the bottom it won’t burn itself on hot glass, and it also helps to more evenly distribute heat. I leave my heat pads on all the time as this creates a warmer side for the lizard and they’re able to self regulate their body temp. You should shut them off on particularly warm summer days though if your house heats up a lot! Just think if you’re uncomfortably hot, they probably are too! Haha. Heat pads are great for providing night time heat also. You’ll want a hide on the hot side, and a hide on the cool side and preferably some in between too! I currently have a leopard gecko, my Allie, and a ball python hatchling all in 10gallon tanks on a shelf and I leave the heat pads for all on pretty much permanently. I wouldn’t worry about it too much as like I said, I’ve never had issues with heat pads in my 20odd years of herp keeping! I have also heard horror stories though and if you really are worried, look into thermostats, apparently you can buy some reasonably priced ones.

Another good investment is a temp gun. That’s those thermometers that you can get readings just by pointing it at something. They’re great for getting hot side/cold side readings and far more accurate than the crumby stick on thermometers. You can use these to check the temperatures inside the tank and see what, if any, extra heat you need!

As for substrate I use Eco-earth usually about 2inch layer. It’s basically crushed up coconut fibers but is very similar to soil. It comes in brick form and must be mixed with water to loosen it. It’s great for their digging habits and for maintaining some moisture in the tank too which is helpful come shed time! Alternatively you can use some soil mixes from garden stores but ensure they’re free from any harmful additives! Eco earth is definitely a good way to go.

My last Allie I never saw drink, but I did see it licking up drops from a spray. My current little guy seems far more outgoing and I regularly see him drinking from his water dish. It probably varies depending on their feeling of security and their personalities in general though and wouldn’t worry as long as it’s still looking healthy! Chances are it only drinks from its dish when you aren’t around! If dehydration becomes an actual issue there are ways you can hydrate them and again, it’s worth looking into IF it comes to that. Most involve setting them in a Tupperware with paper towels wetted with pedialyte and water believe it or not! Haha. This shouldn’t be necessary though unless it’s looking seriously unhealthy! I’ve never had issues with reptiles not drinking enough water. As long as you have a reasonably shallow water dish that it can easily access and keep up the misting, then you should be fine.

With regards to the gender I’ll usually end up just saying ’he’ and it’s also entirely assumption! I still don’t know for sure yet as its too young to tell. When they are full grown the females are slimmer and more slender and have thinner pointier heads. The males tend to be stockier or chubbier and have large wide triangular shaped heads. It’s incredibly hard to tell with most young reptiles but if you find a good vet they may be able to sex it for you too. Keep in mind though that this process usually involves sticking a probe up their vent and is pretty stressful, and not even an option if the lizard is still too small. It’s best to just wait until you start to see their adult traits and at that point if you’re still unsure, take it to a vet or herp specialist to have it sexed.

Hope I’ve been helpful again, and any further info you need just let me know!

10/06/15  12:55pm


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  Message To: Jgator   In reference to Message Id: 2315114

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

Thanks again for all the great advice! I am so happy to inform that our little Allie is getting back to normal! We brought in a heat lamp for him and that seems to help quite a bit. He stopped burrowing (for the most part) and is back to eating semi normal! He’s eating about 5-6 crickets per day now! Thank you so so so much, JGator!

I do have a couple more questions that I would like to get your advice and opinions on:

1. We feed our crickets apples/carrots and spray water for them daily in the cricket keeper. Do you know of a better supplement to feed to them? I’ve heard of ’Fluker’s Orange Cube Complete Cricket Diet’ that replaces food and water but not sure if it’s better for them than apple slices/carrots. I am quite curious about it, especially if it is better for the crickets to eat that.

2. Have you ever heard of ’National Geographic Juvenile Bearded Dragon Entree’ that contains crickets, mealworms, etc in semi moist pellets? I’m curious about that product since I want to find a "treat" to give to our Allies instead of giving them crickets all the time. I don’t want to feed them mealworms either since I’ve seen videos of other lizard owners stating that it’s a bad idea to feed them mealworms since their lizards get "hooked" on them.

Thank you so much again!!!

10/11/15  11:27pm


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  Message To: Lizardlover2   In reference to Message Id: 2315181

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

I use the Fluker’s dry cricket food - which is vitamin and mineral fortified - and thin sliced potato and/or carrot for moisture. I don’t like the funny colors in the moist stuff. I’ve never persuaded my allies to eat anything other than live food. I dust the crickets every third feeding or so with Reptivite.
Another detail is that the water dish for the allie should be shallow. Sometimes, if it’s too tall they don’t think to climb over the lip and see what’s inside. It can also be placed next to a rock or log or other cage ornament so the allie can more easily access it.

10/12/15  11:28am


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  Message To: Acre   In reference to Message Id: 2315186

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

Thank you for the advice, Acre. We went out and purchased the Fluker’s food. We have been putting some of it in our cricket keeper with a slice of apple as well. Have you experimented with feeding your crickets any grains? Yeah we haven’t been able to feed our allies anything other than live crickets either. They seem to specifically look for the movement. Have you fed them any other type of insects?

As for the water dish, one of our dishes is fairly deep so we will look for a shallow one to replace it. That makes sense that they would just walk by without even noticing the water inside if it’s too tall.

10/19/15  11:39pm


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  Message To: Lizardlover2   In reference to Message Id: 2315299

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

Crickets will eat just about any grains but I prefer to offer them only Flukers.
I haven’t tried other insects. Wild caught bugs present a greater risk of introducing diseases/parasites than commercial raised or at least that seems to be consensus opinion. One could always try waxworms or superworms but they can burrow into the substrate before the allies eat them unless they are presented in a shallow dish. Mealworms have limited nutritional benefit.

10/21/15  04:54pm


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  Message To: Acre   In reference to Message Id: 2315318

 Southern Alligator Lizard - digging for food or pleasure?

mine loved crickets and small grasshoppers/locusts. a couple of my babys would eat wood bugs and one would eat earthworms if held near him. all vitamin and calcium dusted. they all wouldn’t touch any worm/larva type bugs crawling in their home.

11/17/15  12:58am

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