Yellow-Spotted Night Lizard Information and Care
Lepidophyma flavimaculatum, once available for $5, are now rare to find.
The yellow-spotted night lizard (Lepidophyma flavimaculatum) is generally the only species in the family Xantusiidae that is occasionally available in the United States reptile hobby. Native to parts of Mexico and Central America, with proper care, yellow-spotted night lizards make unusual and interesting vivarium subjects.
Classification and Range
Night lizards are a relatively small group of new world species containing approximately 35 species. Xantusiidae is divided into three genera. The Genus Xantusia is endemic to deserts of the United States. The Genus Cricosauria contains only one species and is found in Cuba. The Genus Lepidophyma, often referred to as the tropical night lizards and range from Mexico south into Panama. There are several attractive members in the Genus Lepidophyma however only L. flavimaculatum is available with any sort of regularity. Lepidophyma flavimaculatum is now comprised of four subspecies, L. flavimaculatum flavimaculatum, L. flavimaculatum ophiophthalmum, L. flavimaculatum tehuanae, and L.flavimaculatum tenebrarum. Differences in the subspecies are chiefly recognized by scale structure. For the purposes of this husbandry article, subspecies will not be recognized since the care is the same for all four.
Yellow-spotted Night Lizard Description
Yellow-spotted night lizards are the largest of the Xantusia, reaching an average snout to vent length of 5 inches (12.7 cm) and a total length of approximately 10 inches (25.4 cm). The base coloration is dark brown with a tan to yellowish ventral surface. As the name suggests, the dorsum and flanks are covered with yellow spotting. The number of spots as well as the intensity of the color will vary with each individual. The body is covered with enlarged tubercles and enlarged plates on the dorsal surface of the head give a beak-like appearance.
Yellow-spotted Night Lizard Native Habitat
Night lizards are almost exclusively nocturnal by nature, hence the name. Desert species are found in the cracks and crevices of boulders and under fallen vegetation and other debris. A tropical species, they also spend the day under rocks, logs and other cover. An interesting note is the fact that some species will live almost their entire lives in essentially the same place. Xantusia vigilis live under fallen leaves and other vegetation. There are well documented accounts of individual animals living their entire lives under the same foliage. Likewise, field researchers report finding the same individual L. flavimaculatum under the same cover after several years.
History With American Reptile Keepers
As is the case with so many species over the years, yellow-spotted night lizards were once imported in large numbers and available very cheaply at many herp shows and pet stores. The author remembers individuals priced as low as US $5 each at times. After mass importation all but ceased, L. flavimaculatum became rare and difficult to obtain in the US. Unfortunately, a cheap price tag and ready availability often causes a given species to be underappreciated by many, or often inappropriately considered first time pets for children. A few dedicated hobbyists however, notably Jim McDermont, appreciated the uniqueness of this species and worked to keep them available in the hobby. Today L. flavimaculatum can usually be found with patience and diligent searching. Specialized groups on the internet can allow for networking with private breeders. Although not terribly expensive compared to high end herps, one can expect to pay significantly more than $5 for an individual now.
Yellow-spotted Night Lizard Temperament and Handling
Yellow-spotted night lizards are not social animals and do not tolerate each other’s company well. Animals housed together will eventually harass and attack each other. It is not uncommon to find missing tail tips and digits when the lizards are kept communally. All individuals, even newborns, should be kept in separate enclosures.
L. flavimaculatum do not lend themselves to being handled. Individuals are fast, aggressive, and will readily bite. The author can attest first-hand as to how painful an L. flavimaculatum bite can be for such a small lizard. In addition, handling stresses the animals out and should only be done if a health inspection is needed.
The Proper Enclosure For the Yellow-spotted Night Lizard
As long as basic temperature and humidity requirements are met, yellow-spotted night lizards can be kept in everything from simple enclosures to more complex, planted vivaria. Well ventilated plastic tubs work well. Screen covered aquariums or one of the many commercial reptile enclosures on the market are also excellent options. Whichever enclosure is utilized, floor space is more important than height. L. flavimaculatum are terrestrial by nature and do not require excessive height when housed. It is the author’s firm belief that as much room as reasonably possible should be offered to accommodate a given species natural level of activity. Fast moving lizards should be given plenty of space to run, jump, and seek cover. Yellow-spotted night lizards are somewhat of an exception to this frame of mind however. When threatened, this species can move fast but as noted above, occupy relatively small territories in the wild. An enclosure with an approximate footprint of the standard 20 gallon long aquarium, 30 inches (76.2 cm) by 12 inches (30.48 cm) by 12 inches (30.48 cm) will comfortably house an individual adult. In addition, a secure cover should be provided.
Eventhough the family Lepidophyma are often referred to as tropical night lizards, L. flavimaculatum do not require excessive heat in order to thrive in captivity. The author maintains a herp room at approximate room temperature, 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22.2 degrees Celsius). During the hot summer months the temperature may rise to the mid 70°’s Fahrenheit (approximately 24 degrees Celsius). In the winter the temperature may drop to the upper 60°’s Fahrenheit (approximately 19° degrees Celsius). No supplemental heating or cooling is used for most of the animals, including L. flavimaculatum.
If consistently maintained in a cool room, some supplemental heating should be used. There are many options on the market. All fall into either overhead heating from a dome lamp or base heating from a under tank heat pad or heat strip. Base heating strips may be utilized either underneath or on a bottom side of an enclosure. No matter which method is used, it is important to direct the heat at only one end of the enclosure, allowing for a temperature gradient to prevent overheating. Infrared and quality commercial vivarium thermometers are available to read accurate temperatures.
Since night lizards do not bask, full spectrum lighting in general is not required. If live plants are utilized in the vivarium then some form of lighting will be needed. The author uses standard daylight LED strips to provide illumination for plants as well as help maintain a natural day to night cycle. Lights are turned on at sunrise and off at sunset.
Humidity and Substrate
Yellow-spotted night lizards live in humid environments. These humid conditions should be replicated in captivity. Care must be taken to not let the entire enclosure become too damp or wet. Proper humidity is best obtained by providing a proper substrate. There are many brands of specialty reptile substrates on the market. Specialty substrates tend to cost more than standard garden center soils. The advantage lies in safety. Soils marketed specifically for reptile use are safe and free from fertilizers and other additives.
It is possible to use high quality organic garden soil mixed with sand and ground coir in order to create a homemade blend. If this is attempted however it is absolutely imperative to check the ingredients list of the soil. No soil containing perlite, vermiculite, or fertilizer should ever be used. Accidental ingestion by the night lizard can result in gastrointestinal blockages, poisoning, and even death.
The author waters the soil surrounding the water container on one end of the vivarium. keeping it consistently moist. When water is added to the substrate it is always done on the moist end. The other end is kept dry at the wall. Cork bark hides are placed throughout the enclosure, creating a moisture gradient.
Night lizards will require ready access to shelter. The author uses cork bark flats in most vivaria. Cork bark is lightweight, easily obtainable, and helps in giving the enclosure a naturalistic appearance. Rocks should be avoided. Rocks are heavy and an accidental shifting can potentially injure or even crush the inhabitant underneath. There are a number of natural looking artificial shelters on the market that are suitable for use with L. flavimaculatum. If appearance is not a concern, then cheap and easily made shelters can be made from appropriately-sized inverted plastic plant saucers with a hole cut in one section. The author frequently uses plant saucer shelters when raising young terrestrial lizards.
If a more naturalistic design is desired, then the addition of live plants will add great visual appeal to the L. flavimaculatum vivarium. Keeping living plants with herps has been an ever-increasing trend with reptile keepers for years now. There are numerous online retailers that specialize in plants specifically for vivariums. In addition, many local nurseries and herp stores also carry vivarium-friendly plant selections.
It is beyond the scope of this article to detail the many appropriate potential selections and care of plants that could be used in the night lizard vivarium. There are several broad points to keep in mind however. It is most important to consider the needs of the animal first and the plants second. Unless an enclosure was very large, one would not want to place a yellow-spotted night lizard in a vivarium with more vertical than floor space. Along the same lines, vertical growing plant species will only take up floor space that could otherwise be used by the lizard. Many species of vivarium plants will require somewhat intense lighting to flourish. Temperature and humidity requirements of plant selections should also be similar to those of the lizard.
The author has used various Philodendron and Epipremnum species in vivaria for years. These vining plants are readily available, do well at lower light levels, and will sprawl out, providing additional cover for the night lizard. Periodic pruning will be required to keep the plants from completely overtaking the enclosure.
It must be stressed that if plants are being sold as houseplants, particularly from big box retailers and home improvement stores, then they should be removed from the pots and have the roots rinsed of all planting medium. Plants can then be repotted using a vivarium-friendly substrate as outlined above. The pots can then be buried in the enclosure in order to be concealed or planted directly in the vivarium substrate.
The use of various isopod species in soil-based reptile and amphibian enclosures has skyrocketed over the years. Isopods will often feed on wastes and other decaying matter. Isopod use has become so popular that there is now a separate hobby, ever growing in popularity, dedicated solely to keeping and breeding these amazing arthropods. There are now many colorful and exotic species available as well as different color morphs of some of the common species. The author uses the common Porcellio scaber in most appropriate vivaria. This species reproduces quickly and in addition to performing cleanup duties can provide an extra source of nutrition to vivarium inhabitants. Isopod species that require specific care or reproduce at a slower rate are best not mixed with potential predators.
Yellow-spotted night lizards chiefly feed on invertebrates and pose no special challenges when being fed in captivity. All manner of standard invertebrate fare is accepted including crickets (Acheta domesticus), mealworms (Tenebrio molitor), wax moth larvae (Achroia and Galleria sp), and various feeder roach species. The author mainly uses crickets with other insects added in on occasion for variety. The primary reason behind this strategy is logistical. Mealworms and waxworms must be offered in specialized shallow dishes that prevent escape and roaches in general will quickly burrow into the substrate if not immediately consumed.
Crickets tend to wander about the enclosure until consumed. It is most likely that the isopods used in the substrate are also consumed from time to time however the author has never personally witnessed this. Prior to being offered as food, crickets and roaches are maintained separately and fed tropical fish flakes with slices of apple, orange, or carrot as a water source. Once a week prey items are dusted with a 3:1 ratio of calcium and vitamin D3 powder mixed with a multivitamin supplement. There are multiple quality brands of reptile supplements available on the market. Adult L. flavimaculatum are offered food twice a week.
Water is offered in a shallow dish in the moist end of the vivarium. Water is replaced at three times a week.
There are populations of L. flavimaculatum that contain both male and female animals. Most animals currently in the U.S. reptile trade however are parthenogenic nature, giving birth to approximately five to seven live young once a year. The author has had litters born anywhere from mid- summer to December in past years. The young are approximately 1.18 inches (3 cm) at birth and look like miniature replicas of the adults. Prior to giving birth there is generally a notable increase in abdominal girth. Newborns should be separated into individual rearing enclosures as soon as discovered. In planted vivaria, several searches should be conducted in order to make sure that all young are accounted for. Newborn night lizards can easily conceal themselves under foliage.
Raising the Young
As previously indicated, L. flavimaculatum should be housed and raised individually. The author uses either commercial plastic rearing boxes or Sterilite containers with many holes punched in the lid as well as the upper sides. Substrate is same as for adults. Water is offered in a shallow plastic lid and cover is provided in the form of small sections of cork bark or small inverted plastic plant saucers. It is especially important to provide a moisture gradient when raising the young in order to facilitate frequent shedding. Young may develop shedding issues if kept too dry. Wastes can be removed as noticed with the entire substrate being replaced as needed. Newborns will readily accept flightless fruit flies (Drosophilia sp), bean beetles (Callosobruchus maculatus), and pinhead crickets. All feeder insects are dusted with the above-mentioned calcium, D3, and multivitamin mixture. The author feeds newborns daily. As growth increases and previously offered food is still present the next day then feeding frequency will decrease accordingly. In the authors experience it takes approximately 2.5 to 3 years for young to reach adulthood.
With the appropriate care and a proper enclosure, the yellow-spotted night lizard can make an interesting display animal in a bioactive or naturalistic enclosure. For those searching for an interesting species to keep, L. flavimaculatum are worth investigation.
Foster Reves is a southwest Virginia-based hobbyist, breeder, and freelance writer. Foster has maintained and bred multiple species of reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fish, and invertebrates over the years.