Frilled dragons or frilled lizards have to be one of the most spectacular-appearing lizards. What you may not realize is that this species can be one of the most rewarding and personable of all reptile companions. This medium sized lizard is very hardy and can be quite tame as a pet.
Frilled dragons originate from Australia and New Guinea with slight variations in appearance throughout the different locales.
Choosing a frilled dragon for a pet:
The first thing to take into consideration when choosing a frilled dragon as a pet is whether you want an import or a captive-bred animal.
The majority of frilled dragons found in the pet trade today are farmed imports from Indonesia. These animals are hatched on farms and typically imported as young juveniles and adults. Imports, like most wild caught animals tend to be lower priced than captive-bred animals. If you decide to get an import, a few problems that you may have to deal with are mites, internal parasites, dehydration, and stress. Many dealers and pet stores make it a practice to treat all imports for these symptoms, but some do not. It is my experience that the juveniles often arrive in better shape than the adults and are easiest to acclimatize. Look for round bellies without folds in the skin and steer clear of emaciated-looking animals. If your newly acquired frill does have internal parasites, they are typically easily and inexpensively treated. Consult with a qualified herpetological vet for treatment options.
If you want to be sure that you are getting a captive-bred animal, ask a lot of questions. Many imports are sold as ‘cb’, as they are considered ‘captive-bred’, though actually reared on a farm in Indonesia. There are a limited number of breeders working with frilled dragons, so babies should be easy to trace back to the original breeder. The best way to go about purchasing a captive-bred frilled dragon is to buy directly from a known breeder or from a dealer that can tell you who bred the animal. Captive-bred frillies are typically a bit more expensive than imports. The benefits of paying the extra money are that you do not have to worry as much about parasites and the animals tend to be easier to acclimatize. Many are already used to human contact and are quite tame. When buying captive-bred babies, it is always best to buy ones that are over one month old.
You must also consider if gender is important in your quest for your new companion. There are differences between male and female frilled dragons. As a general rule, males will be significantly larger as adults than females. They also tend to have much larger heads and frills. They may also have more colouration, although this greatly depends on the individual. In my experience, male frilled dragons also tend to be tamer and females are more skittish. This seems true with both imports and captive-bred animals. Again, this may differ with individual experience and personality. Keep in mind that frilled dragons can be difficult to sex when young.
You will have to decide if you would like to start with a young dragon or purchase an adult. There are many perks to raising a youngster. There is always going to be a much stronger bond between you and your frilly if you raise him or her from a young age. The ideal, tame pet would be a captive bred dragon that you raise yourself from a young age. In this case, you also know the full history of your animal. If you opt for an import, it is often best to acquire one as young as possible. Acclimatization tends to be more difficult and stressful for adults than juveniles. Adults are often sought-after for breeding purposes or display animals. Also, buying an adult is the best way to be assured that you are getting a particular gender. Be aware that adults are typically more expensive than young dragons, especially females. And also keep in mind that you may not know the age or history of the adult that you are acquiring.
Before you purchase your frilled dragon, it is important to have your set-up ready and have done research on captive care. Following are some basics for the captive care of a frilled dragon. Please keep in mind that husbandry is not an exact science. There are many different factors to take into consideration such as where you live, how warm you keep your house, and the individual animal.
The larger the better is the rule when it comes to enclosures for adult frilled dragons. Hatchlings can be housed in as small as a 40-litre enclosure, but a minimum size for an adult should be a 4’ high by 3’ /1.2 x 0.9m enclosure. Enclosures should typically be vertically oriented. Groups of adult dragons should be housed in larger enclosures with numerous branches for basking. Please be wary of housing young females with males. Frillies may mate at young ages and run into complications with egg binding.
Substrate choices can include sand, cypress mulch, newspaper, bed-a-beast, or soil. You may opt to house young frilled dragons on newspaper or paper towels if you are concerned about impaction – a valid concern, especially with young dragons. Branches, logs, and cork bark are great for climbing and basking. Decorative rocks and fake plants may also help to liven up the enclosure. Live plants may also be an option, but bear in mind that frillies definitely damage plants and some can be toxic so seek advice on your choice.
The key to heating your enclosure is providing a temperature gradient from a hot basking zone to a cooler area. Basking temps should be around 100˚F/37.7˚C. The cooler zone should be around 70-80˚F/21.1-26.6˚C. The brighter the light, the better the environment will be for your dragon’s health and growth. Dragons thrive under a good, full-spectrum UV source. We recommend active UV/heat or mercury vapor bulbs. These bulbs work double time to give your dragon quality UV and produce heat at the same time. You may also use fluorescent UV full-spectrum tubes, although they do not produce the same UV quality. Your dragon will also benefit from natural sunlight and we recommend bringing your lizard outside in an outdoor basking enclosure. However the more natural sunlight to which you expose them, the less supplements you should give, especially vitamin D3 (this may also be the case when using the active UV/heat bulbs).
Frilled dragons are generally not aggressive towards people, but will attack other dragons, and many other species of lizards, frogs, etc. Never put a small dragon with a larger one, as the small dragon may end up as dinner! Frilleds tend to spend the day running from one heat zone to the next, basking, and often searching for food. A happy healthy dragon is alert, fast, and active. Young dragons can be kept in groups without too many problems associated with stress, but older males may need to be separated. Breeding groups of one male to several females are not uncommon. Males will bob their heads aggressively and frill at the females, while the females will move their heads in slow circles. These are part of the breeding rituals and territorial behaviours of frillies. Adult dragons enjoy basking lazily on their logs. Your dragon may ‘vent’ (open mouth breathing) while basking; this is very normal and not a sign of distress. Frilled dragons will display their frills as defence when startled or scared. Many older frilleds become so tame and used to their owners, that a frill display is a very rare occurrence. Remember, too, that frilleds also run on their hind legs, fast!
Frilled dragons are primarily insectivores and carnivores. Crickets, mealworms, and super worms should be staple food sources. Roaches and rodents of appropriate size are also relished. Never feed your dragon too large a prey item. We suggest feeding prey half to three-quarters the size of the space between your dragon’s eyes.
Frilled dragons may eat a variety of greens including collard greens, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, mustard greens, turnip greens, and dandelion greens. Stay away from iceberg lettuce, large amounts of kale, cabbage, or spinach. We also suggest a variety of vegetables such as carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, and fruits offered in small amounts. Other speciality additions can include cactus fruit, dandelion flowers, and hibiscus flowers. This salad mix can be offered daily using different combinations of ingredients. Not all frillies will eat veggies.
When feeding crickets, make sure your source of crickets is clean. Never feed crickets bought from a store that does not clean the cricket container. You may gut load your crickets with commercial cricket food and/or we suggest offering your crickets fresh fruit, greens, and water. Remove all old food from your cricket container. Mould can be toxic to your lizards. We suggest using a moistened paper towel or sponge, citrus, or carrots to provide water for your crickets.
Whenever possible try and provide a variety of appropriate sized prey items for your dragon including super worms, silk worms, roaches, grasshoppers, praying mantis, and a variety of other bugs (not fireflies). However we strongly suggest not using bugs found outdoors, as they may have pesticides on or in them that can kill your dragon. Also, use waxworms in limited amounts, if at all. They contain little nutritional value, and although relished by the dragons, contain high amounts of fat. Adults may be offered appropriately sized rodents. We feed all of our hatchlings several times a day to ensure optimum growth and health. As dragons get older, their appetite will decrease.
Keep a large water dish inside your enclosure for your frillies from which to drink and in which to soak, and defecate. Change this dish daily. We suggest misting your dragons a couple of times per day, especially as hatchlings. Dragons will drink during spraying and may also be ‘trained’ to drink from, and soak in a water dish inside the enclosure. They also enjoy an occasional warm (not hot) bath or shower (how human is that!).
There are many different and often contradictory opinions and views on supplementation. Calcium, D3, and vitamin supplements are necessary for your dragons. However, what you need to give and in what amounts will depend on what you feed your dragons, the bulbs you use, and how much natural sun they receive. Many sources recommend supplementing small dragons daily and decreasing to once or twice per week for adult dragons. But both too little and too much supplementation can lead to problems. Therefore, we recommend going over this with your vet to find a schedule that suits the specific needs of your pet. We suggest you supplement your young dragons daily with a ratio of one part Rep-Cal Herptivite to three parts Rep-Cal calcium with Vitamin D3.
Diseases and Disorders
We are not veterinarians; please do not use this information as a replacement for taking your lizard to a qualified herpetological vet. This information is meant to raise your awareness of signs and possible problems. If you notice that your lizard is ill, do not hesitate to make an appointment with a reptile specialist.
Several pointers to ensure optimal health for your lizard:
oFollow all housing, heating/lighting, and feeding/supplementation requirements for your lizard.
oWe recommend not housing frillies with other species. Different reptiles come from many different environments requiring different needs in captivity. Even animals that come from similar environments can cause stress and pass parasites onto your dragon, costing the life of your lizard.
oDo not house frilled dragons of different sizes together – this is a sure problem for the smaller dragon’s health.
oKeep your cages and food CLEAN! Clean and sift poop often. Remove all old food.
oWash your hands before and after handling your lizard. Be sure to sanitize hands in between handling different reptile species (hand sanitizer is a good thing to have handy).
Calcium / Vitamin Deficiency:
This is a serious problem that can have permanent effects on the life of your frilled dragon. Too little D3 and calcium can lead to metabolic bone disease. Some early symptoms of this problem include the shaking, twitching, or stiffness of limbs (especially rear legs), separation of the mouth, and difficulty chewing food. If this problem is caught early enough, supplementation and exposure to natural sun can be good remedies. Calcium deficiency is often seen in older dragons, or under-supplemented dragons. There is also the possibility of over-supplementing your dragons, which can cause a myriad of totally different problems.
There are numerous parasites that can become a problem for a frilled dragon. Many dragons live with these parasites without problems, but symptoms can often be triggered by stress (such as contact with another dragon or animal, change of enclosures, hibernation (brumation), breeding, etc.). Parasites often come from food and unclean cage conditions so it is imperative to keep proper hygiene in these areas. Clean cages often; sift feces out daily; make sure that your insects are in clean environments, and remove all old food from your enclosure and your cricket/worm containers. Symptoms of parasites include consistently runny and smelly stool (more foul smelling than normal), an inability to retain weight, loss of appetite, and/or loss of weight. Do not hesitate to take your lizard to a vet if you see these signs. Treatments are relatively easy to administer and successful, especially if the parasite is caught early.
If your frilled dragon is captive-bred, mites should not be a problem. Mites are, however, very commonplace with imports. These are small bugs that can be seen on the dragon, especially in the frill. There are several products on the market that can treat mites, but we recommend checking with your vet before administering these.
Egg binding can happen for several reasons but is more likely to occur during the first breeding cycle with infertile eggs. This can be a serious problem and should be discussed with a vet. To avoid egg binding, we suggest making sure the female is old enough (we recommend a minimum of two years old for frilleds), big enough, and healthy enough to breed. Also, make sure that proper supplementation is present during her growth period, that there is a suitable lay-spot available and that you avoid stressing the female by handling or any out-of-the-ordinary occurrences.
Clogged nostrils, the presence of mucous and open mouth (often raspy) breathing – do not confuse this with venting due to heat - are signs of respiratory difficulties. These problems are often due to low heat conditions and excessive moisture. Be sure to check your temperatures and humidity levels, and contact your vet for treatment.
Before considering breeding frilled dragons it is important to be sure that you have a healthy adult pair. Females should be at least two years old before mating. They can breed earlier than this, but it is often risky. Young females have a high likelihood of egg binding due to their small build. Also, keep in mind that egg production takes a lot of energy and calcium away from a female that is still growing. Early breeding is likely to shorten the lifespan of a female frilled. Males, on the other hand, can usually breed at a year old without problems.
A short period of brumation (hibernation) may be important for cycling frilled dragons for breeding, but is not always necessary. We have found that it is best to provide a slightly cooler, dry period followed by a warm, wet period to stimulate breeding. During this brumation period, frillies typically cling to the branches, with eyes closed and little movement. As heat and humidity increase, so does appetite and activity. After about one month of warm, moist conditions, breeding behavior is often observed. Males extend their frills, bob their heads, stomp their arms, and chase the females around. Receptive females often position themselves on the ground where copulation takes place. The male may bite the frill of the female to hold her still during copulation. Gravid
(pregnant) females often move their heads in slow circular motions to subdue their mate.
It is crucial to have an adequate lay area for the female to deposit her eggs. Many breeders use cat litter pans or simply large mounds of soil and sand inside the enclosure as a lay site. Female frillies often go straight down to dig, lay their eggs, and are done. They are not prone to digging numerous test sites as other species seemed inclined to do. This is why it is so important to have the site ready. If there is no place for a female to lay her eggs, she may become egg bound.
After all eggs are laid and buried back up by the female, they should be extracted and placed half buried in a dish of moist vermiculite. Incubation temperatures should be 82-85˚F/27.7-29.4˚C. Do not let your incubator get hotter than 86˚F/30˚C or it can easily kill the eggs.
After hatchlings emerge, gently move them into a ‘baby tank’. We suggest using UVB, heat, and misting two to three times per day. Supplement with calcium daily and every other day with vitamins. If possible, it is always beneficial to offer natural sunlight.