JEWELED LACERTA (Lacerta lepida / Timon lepidus)
Written by Zoe Stevens

About the Jeweled Lacerta

Also known as the Ocellated Lizard, the Jeweled Lacerta is the largest Lacerta with males reaching up to two feet in length (with tail). They are bright green with intricate patterns on their backs (often in rosettes) and blue spots on their sides that reflect UV spectrum light. The males are larger than the females and have, in comparison, enormous heads. Jeweled Lacertas are fairly slim and light, with long tails and long toes and claws. They are common in the wild in Spain, Portugal and France, but are bred by few in captivity in North America.
Their natural habitat is open woodlands and rocky, shrubby meadows.


Sub-adult male

For full size image: http://zoestevens.smugmug.com/Lizard...72_H36rW-O.jpg

Purchasing a Jeweled Lacerta

Because they are protected from export, the few Jeweled Lacertas you will find in captivity and for sale are almost invariably captive bred. Look for clear, bright open eyes, a full belly and long, healthy toes, clear nostrils and a clean, pink mouth. Jeweled Lacertas can be encouraged to open their mouths by simply placing a finger, vertically, on the side of the lizard's face. Many will have lost tail tips so look here as well, but note that if some of the tail has been lost but is nicely healed, there is no future risk to the lizard as long as future sheds are monitored.
As hatchlings, males and females may not be easy to tell apart, but as they get a bit older the difference is obvious. Males have larger heads and have more robust colours and pattern. Females tend to have a paler green and a more muted, but still obvious, pattern. Both sexes are lovely.

Size and housing

Male Jeweled Lacertas will reach 24", with a few exceeding that by a few inches. Females will be 16-20". One male will require a minimum of a 4' x 2' x 2' cage; females, a minimum of 3' x 2' x 18'. Front opening cages are ideal as approaching the lizard from above can cause it to think you are a predator, but a tank with a screen lid do. Juveniles can be housed in smaller caging; a general rule of thumb is that the cage should be at least as deep as the lizard and twice as wide as the lizard (tail included).
Males and females should be housed together for breeding purposes only. These lizards can be extremely food-aggressive and rough during mating, and it is best to keep them alone for most the year. Juveniles should also be kept separate as the first of a group of juveniles to become a dominant male may kill the others. If you insist on keeping multiple animals together, larger than recommended caging is required.


Substrate

Jeweled Lacertas are burrowers and require a good six inches of substrate. A mix of potting soil and/or coco mulch and/or play sand is fine. Keep the substrate moist enough for it to hold a small den or burrow.

Heating and lighting, and humidity

Jeweled Lacertas are from a temperate region of Europe and do not require extreme temperatures. One half of the cage should be the “warm” side and the other half the “cool” side, with temperatures ranging between 85 and 75 F between both sides. A basking area of 90-95 F is sufficient, and I recommend placing basking surfaces of various heights under the basking area to allow your lizard to thermoregulate.
As diurnal lizards, Jeweled Lacertas need UVB light, and I recommend an “all-in-one” Mercury Vapour Bulb that provides light, heat, and UV over the warm side of the cage. I use the Mega Ray brand and find that it is worth the cost (the 100W bulb is $55 to $65 and should last 12 to 18 months with careful handling). Over the cool side, a low wattage incandescent or halogen bulb is sufficient for minor heat and light (I use a 75W halogen, myself). No heat source is needed at night unless your home is particular cold all year during the night (under 70 F).
The photoperiod should fluctuate somewhat with the time of year, especially if you intend to hibernate (and breed) your lizard.
Moderate humidity is required; keep the substrate moist, spray a few times a week, and provide a hide box with damp moss or dirt.

Cage decor

Jeweled Lacertas do climb but they are not particularly arboreal so provide them with large branches, pieces of cork bark, driftwood, or rocks.
If you do use rocks in the cage, make sure the rock is either very light (e.g., slate), or that it is resting on the bottom surface of the cage and not just in the surface of the substrate, because if the Lacerta burrows under the rock, it could be crushed. Partially buried cinder blocks actually make great hides because they have built-in caves.
I use a large rectangular Tupperware type container as a moist hide box. I made a hole in the lid large enough for the lizard to get through and put some damp moss in the hide box, and buried it in the substrate with the hole in the lid exposed. I recommend this type of moist hide; my Lacerta uses it every day and it is very handy during shedding.


Feeding

Probably the most fun part of having a Jeweled Lacerta is feeding it! Once they get over their initial shyness, Jeweled Lacertas are typically very food motivated. They are omnivorous and eat mostly invertebrates: garden snails, dubia roaches (if legal in your area), superworms, darkling beetles and red wigglers are all great, and can easily be bred in an apartment with minimal work and smell. Crickets, silkworms and hornworms are easily obtained and nutritious. Butterworms, waxworms and small pieces of boiled chicken make good, occasional treats, and other insects such as grass hoppers, grubs, and beetles can be collected outdoors as long as you can do so legally and in an area that you know is not treated with any pesticides.
Jeweled Lacertas also eat small amounts of sweet fruit; ripe and mashed with a fork. Strawberry, apple, banana, mango and peaches have all been well received by my Lacerta.
Dust all food with calcium supplement most days; occasionally, use a vitamin or Calcium with D3 supplement instead.

Handling and temperament

Jeweled Lacertas can be pretty skittish and shy, especially while they settle in (a process which can take several months), and are not really recommended if you are looking for a handling lizard. However, they can and do settle down and many can be gently and briefly handled. They are food motivated, and this can be used to your advantage. If you do attempt to handle your Lacerta, don’t grab or restrain it; rather, put your hand under its body and lift gently.
If you need to restrain a Jeweled Lacerta, drop a dishtowel on it and seize it confidently but carefully. They can drop their tails and they put up an awful fuss but they are hardy and recover quickly from handling related stress. Covering their faces or dimming the lights can help calm them.

Hibernation and breeding

Jeweled Lacertas can be hibernated and may do so on their own when the temperature drops in the winter. During this time they will continue to bask but they will eat and move a lot less. Hibernation is required for breeding but otherwise it is optional. You can keep the temperatures the same as in the summer to avoid it.
Hibernation should be initiated by gradually dropping the temperatures in the beginning of the winter to 40-50 F, and lasts 2 to 3 months. Sexual maturity is reached in 2 to 3 years. Mating generally occurs one week to a month after the hibernation is over, and can be violent. I have heard of males injuring and killing females during mating, so ensure that both animals are 100% healthy before attempting to breed them. About a week before laying up to 20 eggs (8-12 is average), the female will be restless and will dig often, and may stop eating. Be sure to provide a laying box where she will (hopefully) lay her eggs. The adults may eat the eggs so keep an eye on them and remove any eggs as soon as possible. Up to three clutches may be laid in a season.
The eggs should be incubated on appropriate incubating medium such as Vermiculite (damped with water, 1:1 ratio by weight) at 82-86 F and will hatch in 90-120 days. The new babies are about 2.5 inches long and eat the same thing as the adults, just smaller items.