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Before you buy that Wild Caught reptile, read this!
Mountain Horned Dragon
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(I recommend that reading the complete caresheet on this page in order to provide proper care)
Acanthosaura species are medium sized arboreal lizards that range from Burma, Thailand, western Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and southern China. With adequate research and preparation prior to acquisition, the Mountain Horned Dragons (MHDs) are delightful animals with a wonderful temperament. Unfortunately, most of the MHDs available in today's pet trade are wild caught, usually carrying a heavy parasite load, stressed, and in poor health. With proper care and medication however, it is possible to get these animals established. It is my hope that this page will help MHD keepers to recognize the potential problems and provide the needed treatment and care so that they can enjoy these beautiful animals. Please pay special attention to the health section below.
The species most often seen in the current pet trade is A. capra. Mine are all Acanthosaura capra as are most of the imports in the United States. There seem to be quite a few Acanthosaura lepidogaster appearing this last year (2004).
Total length: male, 275-305 mm or 11-12 inches, females, 250-270 mm or 10-10 1/2 inches.
Habitat: prefer primary rain forests at altitudes ranging from 0-750 meters.
Range: Thai/Malaysian peninsula (northernmost province of Nakhon Si Thammarat), Pinang and Tioman Islands, and the Indonesian Anamba Islands.
View additional photos of A. armata here.
A. armata are perhaps a bit heavier bodied than A. capra. They have very fine long spines (the horns) on the curve of the eyebrows and occiput that reach almost the height of the nape crest. The over laid crest is initially the same height as the nape crest and also consists of long fine over laid spines. There may or may not be a small break between the dorsal and nape crest. The back colors are varying shades of greens and browns over laid with a lacy pattern of black (male) or dark brown (female) scallops. The lighter under side can be green, brown or reddish. The male is almost fluorescent green color while the female will change from a very dark olive or rust to a brighter but somewhat muted soft green. Unlike the calm little A. capra the armata is very flighty and feisty. When approached they will hiss loudly while inflating the small gular pouch. They will bite if given the chance. A beautiful display animal. A. armata lacks the mask of the other Acanthosaura species and has more defined rays surrounding the eye.
Total length: 305-380 mm or 12-15 inches
Habitat: as far as is known, the tops of the large rain forest trees.
Range: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam.
A. capra has 2 horns behind the eye and are lacking the second set of spines on the occiput. The tall nape crest is separated from the dorsal crest. Both consist of lanceolate scales (having shape of lance-head, especially tapering at each end), the bases of which are broader than in the other A. species. The horns and crest can be very long and showy in some animals. The predominant back colors of adults are olive or brown. As juveniles their colors can vary vastly with young showing black with red, blue shading to yellow, and just about any shade of green, rust, orange, or brown. Color changes with mood and when relaxed or excited the adults will still show accents of their juvenile colors. A capra has an eye patch that covers most of the upper face with a lighter stripe along the lower edge of the upper jaw. The patch extends back to the upper crest. The eye is surrounded with rays of alternating color. A. capra has a large throat pouch, which has streaking of rust, and yellow when extended.
Total length:male,259-262 mm or 10 inches, females, 212-237 mm or 8 ½ - 9 inches.
Habitat: rain forests & montane forest to 1800 meters.
Range: Burma, Thailand, northern Malaysian Peninsula, Cambodia, southern Vietnam.
A. crucigera is the smallest and reportedly the most aggressive species of the genus. There are spines on the nape and occiput. A wide gap separates the dorsal crest from the taller nape crest. Crucigera is recognized by the pronounced dark brown or black cross on their nape. The colors of the crucigera vary considerably.
Total length: male, 190-276 mm or 7 1/2-11 inches, females, 195-264 mm or 7 1/2-10 1/2 inches.
Range: montane forests about 700-900 meters up.
Habitat:Burma, northern Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, southern China, and the island of Hainan.
View additional photos of A. lepidogaster here.
A. lepidogaster has very short spines on the curve of the eyebrows and occiput. The dorsal crest is interrupted in the nape or is continuous with very short, closely spaced scales. Juvenile A. lepidogaster is as diverse in color and pattern as A. capra. Some are a nice even green, pinky-gray or orange-brown with no pattering save the black ring around the neck and a few poorly defined orange spots. Others have green, orange or orange-brown with a ladder of heavy bars starting on the back of the neck and spaced down the back and tail while others have faint chevron patterns down the back and tail. I am not certain whether the bars remain to adulthood or if they fade as adults. A. lepidogaster has a very definite dark eye patch which covers the most of the upper face starting slightly above the nose and extending over the eye. On some specimens this appears to fade as it extends on to the back of the head where it terminates in a point at the upper crest A. lepidogaster will tolerate some handling but unlike A. capra seems to be a bit nervous.
These descriptions are based on my personal observations combined with some published information. There little published that will help to determine species so I will update these descriptions as I am able. If you can help me complete the information on A. crucigera please contact me.
For photos with details on identification CLICK HERE
To view my MHDs in my Yahoo photo album, click here.Return to Top
Mountain Horned Dragons tolerate being handled fairly well. At first, make the sessions short and friendly. Don't stress your animal. If it becomes flighty and try to jump and run from you, put it back in its enclosure and try again another day.
MHDs are a fairly inactive and calm lizard. It is not unusual to find them hanging out on a branch with all four legs hanging totally limp! Activity is pretty much confined to courtship, feeding, defecating, and visiting the water. Initially the new MHD can be expected to spend most of it's time sitting and will probably run and hide when you approach, but once the MHD is acclimated it should prove to be a docile lizard that is easy to handle.
Young MHDs tend to be a bit more flighty and aggressive than older animals but calm down with regular handling. Females will also be more aggressive when gravid, often hissing, kicking with her back legs, whipping her tail, and swinging her head to hit at you.
MHDs are tree dwellers and will want to find high places to perch. Don't be surprised when your MHD runs to the top of your head! I wouldn't make it a habit to "wear" your MHD out when you go places as this is too stressful, but once they are used to being handled they will sit on your shoulder for long periods without moving. Often when it's time to put the MHD back in its enclosure the MHD will run up your arm instead of going back into the enclosure. I have heard many keepers make the comment that their MHD doesn't want to go back because it wants to be social. I think in reality that the MHD is trying to find the tallest perch, which is usually you not that branch in the enclosure! I have found that if I place my hand with the MHD under a branch, the MHD will grasp the branch and run up it instead of my arm. If this doesn't work, position the front of the dragon on a branch and lower your hand. Usually it will grasp the branch.
Always make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before handling your MHD and ALWAYS remember to thoroughly sanitize your hands after handling any reptile to avoid transfer of any bacteria that may be unhealthy to humans!Return to Top
If you decide to buy a WC MHD (a pet store MHD) select an animal that is climbing rather than lying on the floor. If the animal is active, tries to run or jump, the skin doesn't look like its too loose, and it has a good general color, not extremely dark brown to black that would be the one to select. If the skin is dry looking with little flakes of skin hanging on it is probably dehydrated and not a good choice.
The first order of business once you have selected a MHD is to have a fecal check done by a vet that is at least familiar enough to dose the correct worm/parasite treatment for a small lizard.
Make sure to have the proper set-up and environment ready before bringing your MHD home.Return to Top
Unfortunately, the dragons that are sold in pet stores are almost always wild caught and are usually stressed and in poor health. The females are often laden with eggs and many die egg bound or shortly after laying their eggs. It is not uncommon to find your new Mountain Horned Dragon is spending most of the time on the floor of his enclosure not eating or taking water. This is a symptom of stress and sever illness.
Your first priority should be to find a vet who is familiar with small reptiles. Find fresh feces and have it checked for parasites. It is almost guaranteed that Pet Store MHDs will be found to have high gut load of various flukes, nematodes, worms, and other parasites. Bacterial infection is also a possibility. These can usually be determined through a fecal exam. If fresh feces are not available because your MHD has not been eating, it will be necessary to take the MHD to the vet. They can do a cloacal smear where they swab the cloacia for a sample to determine what parasites are present. Though examination your vet can also evaluate your MHDs overall condition and determine if it is suffering dehydration.
While treating for parasites using paper towels or newspaper for substrate so that you can keep the enclosure clean and sanitized. If you have a gravid female who has parasites, you will need to use a soil type substrate for nesting. Use a dish pan or cat litter pan for the substrate and dispose of it after the eggs are laid. This way you will avoid re-infecting the MHDs. I also recommend raising the temps to 80-82° F while caring for a sick MHD.
While treating for parasites the MHD will possibly have to be force fed. Give pediolyte, one of the reptile electrolyte drops, Gatorade or some sort of electrolyte fluid to hydrate him. Don't over-do it, just enough to fill the mouth a couple of times a day. You can also try soaking your MHD in warm water or pediolyte. This is most easily done if you use a small container like a critter keeper that has a lid so your MHD can't climb or jump out. Use lukewarm water, and remove the MHD when the water starts to cool. If you put a towel around the container so he can't see out he will stay a little more calm and this will help to reduce the stress.
Administering medication, fluids, and food can be a real struggle especially when the MHD starts to regain strength. There are a few different methods that can be useful in managing this without too much struggle. Place the lizard on the front of your shirt and while holding it with one hand so it wouldn't run, hold the bulb of the medicine dropper in your teeth. Gently pulled down on the dewlap with your free hand and when the dragon opens its mouth, lean closer and bite the bulb dispensing the drops into its mouth.
Many MHDs will open their mouths and hiss when touched on the top of their head or when you stroke the corners of their mouth. This can also be used to administer the medication.
If all else fails in getting your MHD to open its mouth, enlist the help of another person to hold the animal and open its mouth while you dispense the medicine.
A nutritious food for force-feeding is high protein strained meat baby food mixed with a little mashed banana and a tiny pinch of powdered vitamins thinned with fruit juice, pediolyte or Gatorade. To feed the baby food mixture, use one the methods as described for administering medications. Remember, just a little bit of food at a time. Make sure the dragon swallows what you have given it before offering more.
Once the MHD begins to show a little more vigor, start introducing insects. Place an insect in his mouth and see if he will eat it. If he pushes it out with his tongue, feed the meat mixture and try again the next feeding. Eventually he will begin eating the insects when offered. It can take a lot of time to complete this process and get the MHD eating on his own.
It is possible to bring these animals back around when they are really ill but it takes a lot of time and persistence and the help of a 'good' qualified vet. Remember though, by the time it is obvious that a reptile is ill it is already near death. It is best to have your reptile checked as soon as you get it home and follow up with periodic fecal exams to keep him healthy.
To find a herp vet in your area Click HereReturn to Top
The Enclosure should be a minimum of 130 cm (4 feet) high, 100 cm (3 feet) long, and 50 cm (1.5 feet) deep. The larger the better! If keeping more than one Mountain Horned Dragon (MHD) this should be increased to allow each to establish his own territory.
MHDs require a shady rain forest setup with flowing filtered water. Provide thick vertical branches and plenty of foliage in order for them to feel comfortable. Since these are territorial animals you should keep no more than one male per enclosure. Several females can be kept together with each male as long as there are adequate vertical branches so that each may stake out his/her own branch and enough floor space to accommodate them.
MHDs must be provided with a large area of moving water where they can drink and swim. They will not pay attention to water unless it is moving, therefore there should be a pump/filter combination, a waterfall, or at the very least an air stone to keep the water moving. A waterfall system or a stream is the best type of "water bowl" for MHDs but requires more maintenance than a simple air stone.
The humidity should be 70-80%. Water and humidity are extremely important, as MHDs will dehydrate easily if proper moisture is not provided or if they are not visiting the water area. There are several methods that will help in obtaining the proper humidity levels. You can use a fogger set on a timer to produce fog for half an hour at dawn and again at dusk to increase humidity. The animals really seem to respond well to this and have fewer problems with sheds.
Misting daily is also beneficial in increasing humidity and improving sheds. Many MHDs never drink from the 'pond' preferring to drink droplet of rain from the leaves and walls of their enclosure.
Use of high humidity plants will also help to maintain the needed humidity and provide hiding places for the MHDs. Try to choose sturdy plants as the MHDs will climb anything they can. Some good selections are Pothos and Philodendrons, Peperomias, Calatheas, Palms, Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily), Cryptanthus (Earth Stars), Ficus, Hawaiian sheffalera, aralia, dracaenas, Ferns, Tillandsia, bromeliads, Orchids, and other epiphytic plants.
There are several good types of bedding that are good for this setup. The compressed blocks of ground coconut bedding, coir fiber is excellent as it holds the moisture well without getting muddy or overly soggy and it doesn't seem to mold or sour when kept constantly moist. Some keepers have used bark with good results, but this is more difficult for the MHDs to dig in. If you use potting soil make sure that is free of perlite, foam pellets, and fertilizer and keep in mind that this will turn into mud if you keep it too wet. MHDs love to dig and these types of soil help increase the humidity. A good test of moisture is to squeeze a small handful of substrate. If it clumps it is moist enough but if water drips from it then it is too wet.Return to Top
The Mountain Horned Dragon needs daytime temps in the mid 70's to low 80's Fahrenheit. Ideal seems to be plus/minus 78° F daytime temperature and plus/minus 72° F at night. Temperature should never exceed 84° F. If you choose to cool your dragons for the winter you can drop the temps as low as 60° F with no ill effects. Keep in mind that they will not be active and will not be eating at this temperature. Heat rocks and basking lights are not recommended as MHDs live in trees and would only be getting filtered light in nature.
There has been some debate between some keepers concerning the need for a UVB bulb since these animal are forest dwellers, but I believe that a good UVB bulb should be used to make sure they can produce the needed vitamin D3. Remember that although we attempt to recreate an environment that simulate their home in the wild it is not the same environments and the animals needs will be altered due to the artificial environment.
UVB UPDATE: Some hatchlings have developed a hump in the back just before the tail and curved in over the ribs when raised without regular dusting of food items with calcium supplement. This curve has not progressed since replacing the UVB bulbs and increasing the use of supplements and in some individuals has shown slight improvement.
One hobbyist who purchased two of my babies was using a regular aquarium tube and although one of her dragons looks fine the other developed a sever hump in his spine just before the tail and the tail had sever kinks at the base. This condition progressed until the animal had to be put down. The second animal passed about a year later with more mild symptoms. Neither animal attained a normal adult size even at 2.5 years of age. Based on these occurrences I do believe that a UVB is necessary for Mountain Horned Dragons.Return to Top
Mountain Horned Dragons are completely insectivorous and will eat most of the commonly available feeder insects. Adults will eat superworms, crickets, roaches, silkworms, silkworm pupae, moths, earth worms, occasional pinky mice, and possibly fish and snails. Silkworm pupae, roaches and earthworms seem to be their favorites.
My MHDs actually feed best on earthworms, which can be purchased pretty inexpensively at any bait shop. I offer at least one every day. I feed earthworms by dangling the worm in front of the dragon or on the branch in front of it or by placing 2-3 night crawlers per animal in a feeding bowl. If they are interested they will start smacking and licking their lips. My males eat an earthworm every other day or so but my females eat at least one daily and often eat 2 or 3. The best part about earth worms is that they are rich in Calcium so you won't have to worry so much about dusting with calcium, just an occasional sprinkle and because of the high water content they help with fluids as well. When I first started breeding there were problems with the shell of the eggs being deficient in calcium, but since I have started feeding earth worms the eggs are all well calcified. For variety I continue to offer roaches and other insects dusted with Sticky Tongue Farms Miner-All I (indoor formula).Return to Top
My experience has been that the males become amorous sometime in July. If he is with the females at this time you may see or hear courting behavior. Both the male and female will display extending their gular pouch, raising themselves with the male bobbing his head and shoulders up and down while hissing. The male will chase the female around the enclosure until she accepts him. Like most other lizards, there is some biting involved and it is not uncommon for the female to lose horns or crest scales. If the male becomes overly aggressive or causes more sever injury it is best to separate them.
No special cycling or other preparation is necessary to encourage breeding. As long as you provide the proper health care and environment and are sure you have a male and a female that are sexually mature, breeding should occur. Mountain Horned Dragons are sexually mature at 18 months of age, about 4 inches snout to vent length.
It is not uncommon for MHDs to be imported gravid so it is important to make sure your MHD is getting adequate calcium from the beginning. Don't be caught off guard thinking you have juveniles! An animal with 4-5 inch snout to vent length is sexually mature and may surprise you with eggs. If bloating is noticed it is possible that the female may be gravid but this can also be a symptom of parasites.
To see my article on sexing your MHD Click Here
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Mountain Horned Dragons are pretty secretive, so chances are you won't know if they do mate until the female starts getting fat and lumpy, however, displaying and head bobbing is a good indication of courtship! You may also hear an increase in rustling leaves as they chase through the enclosure. If you know what you are doing, MHDs are fairly easy to palpate to check for eggs.
The first clutch of eggs will be laid four months after mating. Subsequent clutches may be laid two to three months after the first clutch. They may produce up to four clutches from one mating. Clutches are usually laid from late October through May.
When the female is close to her due date, she will most likely stop eating and just hang out until it is time to dig her nest. Some females will eat right up until the day she lays while other females quit eating a week to ten days before laying. Many females will soak in the water for several days before beginning to dig her nest.
Make sure you have provided moist substrate that the female can easily dig her nest into. (See the housing section for substrate choices.) If the substrate is deep enough, the female will dig a hole 4-5 inches deep. If the substrate is not that deep, she will dig down and tunnel. Often they will lay the eggs under or against a rock, flowerpot, or the edge the water pan. Digging can take a couple of days, or up to a week depending on the female. Once she has dug the hole to her satisfaction she will back in and layer the eggs in the hole. Then she will fill the nest back in a layer at a time packing it by ramming her head against the soil. A young female laying her first clutch will usually only produce 9 or 10 eggs, but some will lay 19-20 eggs in her first clutch. Occasionally a female may have problems with her eyes becoming stuck shut after laying due to soil getting in her eyes. I have found this easy to remedy by flushing the eye with warm sterile water. If this doesn't clean the eye then you may need the assistance of a good vet to remove the debris and treat for possible secondary infection.
Once the female has left the nesting site, carefully remove the eggs without turning them over. Place the eggs in moist vermiculite or perlite in deli cups or Rubbermaid type sandwich containers. The only luck I have had with incubating MHD eggs has been to keep them at 64°-70° F with a humidity of 50%.Return to Top
I have had success incubating the eggs at 70-75° F with the clutch hatching in 169 to 175 days at this temperature range. However at these temperatures there has been an increase in mortality of hatchlings at 2-6 months of age.
At 75°-78° F I had 100% hatch at 127 days but by 8 months of age all of the hatchlings were dead.
The best incubation temperature for sturdy hatchlings that feed vigorously and grow well should be 62°-68° F with hatch occurring at approximately 190 days.
Do not turn the eggs as you would for birds, they must stay same side up until they hatch. Place moist vermiculite or perlite in a sandwich container or deli-cup with pin holes in the top or sides for air. The vermiculite should be moist but not soggy. If you can squeeze water out, it is too wet. If you have a scale that weighs in grams, the best method to mix the substrate is to use equal weights of vermiculite or perlite and water. You want just enough vermiculite to keep the eggs off the bottom of the container and to halfway cover them. Make indentations for the eggs and place them in the vermiculite. Loosely place the cover over the container. I don't snap the lids on because it is too easy to upset the eggs trying to remove the lid.
A Styrofoam box from shipping tropical fish makes a great incubator if you have several females that are laying at one time. If not, you should be able to use a small Styrofoam cooler. Place a bowl of water in the box with the container of eggs to produce a low humidity. Place the incubation box in a spot where the temperature will stay in the desired range and where the box will be undisturbed. An indoor/outdoor digital thermometer that records the min and max temp is great for monitoring the temps. Most have a thin cord with a probe on the end so that you can check the temps without opening the box. It is wise to set up the incubation box before it is needed so that you can find the right place for incubation.
You should open the box and lift the lid of each egg container occasionally to get a fresh air exchange and to check for moldy or failed eggs. If the eggs are not fertile, they will dent, get slimy and turn dark. If they are fertile, in about 3 months you should be able to see the developing babies in the eggs when candled. You can candle the eggs with a bright penlight flashlight.
Shortly before the eggs pip, they will begin to sweat and shrink. It is important to closely monitor at this time, as the baby will need plenty of oxygen while hatching. Do not leave the new hatchling in the incubation box as it could suffocate.
When the eggs begin to sweat & pip I like to move them into a tall Rubbermaid file box with damp paper towels on the bottom. I place the box in a larger Styrofoam box with a heating pad. This way the babies will be contained after they hatch. I have had some clutches hatch in the incubation box and when the lid was lifted I found myself scrambling to catch all the babies as they ran in all directions! It's just much easier for me to move the eggs and save a little chase and the chance of losing stray babies.Return to Top
Once the baby has emerged from the egg move it to a tall sterile container containing something to climb on and use moist paper towels as substrate. I find that a Rubbermaid file box with holes in the side will work nicely for the first few days. Use a small dish for water and another for tiny mealworms or tiny silkworms. A spray of silk plants provides good climbing space. Place the file box inside a Styrofoam cooler with a heat pad set on low on one side between the outer wall of the Rubbermaid and the inside of the cooler. If kept in this setup for the first week the babies seem to be much stronger. Keep them in this setup at least until the yolk sac is completely absorbed.
Once the yolk sac is absorbed the babies can be moved to a tank that is set up like that of the adults. I use a 29-gal tall aquarium with about one inch of shredded coconut fiber bedding heavily planted with parlor palms, pothos, and other upright plants for the babies to climb on. Starter plants from a discount store are perfect for the babies' vivarium. Just as with the adults you should also provide some small vertical pieces of branch or vine for them to climb on.
I recommend misting the babies to encourage drinking. They will usually get their first few drink from droplets of water on the side of the aquarium, a branch, a leaf, or one another's head. Once they are interested in water, it is much easier to keep them drinking. I use a small shallow dish with a rough surface for their water so they can easily climb in and out. A dripper set up over the water dish will create movement and attract them to the water. In no time the babies are splashing and drinking in the dish.
Offer the babies small insects, 1/4" crickets, ½" mealworms, ½ inch long silkworms, and red wigglers. Red wigglers can be added to the substrate where the babies can dig and catch them at will. For the babies I make sure the insects are not only well gut loaded, but I also dust with Sticky Tongue Farms Miner-All I (indoor formula).Return to Top
***This Caresheet is the property of Marcia Bradley and FroggieB Dragons. Feel free to use this caresheet or to link to it from your web page. No part of this Caresheet is to be copied in any form without the explicit permission of its owner. ***
- Suggested Reading
- Agamid Lizards by Ulrich Manthey and Norbert Schuster
- Agamid Lizards: Keeping and Breeding them in captivity David J. Zoffer
Last updated November 26, 2005
Without all of the above people, this caresheet would not have been written and I would not have had so much opportunity to learn about these wonderful animals. Thanks again to you all!
- Special Thanks:
- Thanks to Sebastian for permission to use his photos of A. lepidogaster and A. armata.
- Thanks to S. Green (Princess Artemis) for permission to use her photo of Acanthosaura crucigera.
- Thanks to Cheyanne Day of Spitfire Reptilesfor lending her support and advice.
- Thanks to all of the participants of the Mountain and Tree Dragon Forum on Kingsnake.com for sharing information, questions, and for caring about these wonderful animals.
- Thanks to Dan H. for Skywalker, Stumpy, Daniela and Teddy, a group of WC juveniles that he trusted to my care.
- Thanks to Lucy T. for entrusting me with Cedar and Spunky, both beautiful adult females.
- And most of all, Thanks to my husband for tolerating my obsession!
©2002, Marcia E Bradley - FroggieB
Photos on this website and "FroggieB" logo are property of Marcia & Miles Bradley and may not be reproduced in any way without permission. "FroggieB" logo designed by Marcia Bradley.