Alligators certainly don’t make good pets, but alligator lizards might, at least for the committed reptile enthusiast. Reaching no more than 6 inches in length, excluding tail, northern alligator lizards (Elgaria coerulea) are small enough to fit comfortably into a large indoor tank. As with any pet, consider the time, expense and space requirements before bringing one home. If you aren’t sure whether you can cope with these animals, don’t adopt one. Reptiles of any sort are not easy animals to rehome.
Northern alligator lizards can live for 10 years, meaning they are a fairly long-term commitment. They're not really a hands-on pet and shouldn't be handled unless necessary, because it can be stressful to them. Remember to wash your hands afterward, as lizards sometimes carry salmonella. For these reasons, northern alligator and other lizards might not be the best pet for children. The species is in no danger at present, with population trends stable, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. However, it is still advisable to acquire captive-bred, not wild-caught, individuals for health, temperament and animal welfare reasons.
Being a ground-living species, these lizards need a tank with a large floor area, rather than vertical space, and a deep layer of substrate, as they like to burrow. They can climb, though, and would appreciate a branch or two for this purpose along with a shelter, such as a large piece of bark or a hollow log. The size of the tank depends on how many lizards you wish to keep. The minimum is about 25 gallons, which would fit two lizards, although the bigger the better. Like most reptiles, they also need a basking lamp positioned at one end of the tank.
Aside from the basking lamp, northern alligator lizards shouldn’t need an extra heat source unless your home is exceptionally cold. The temperature below the basking lamp should be about 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature of the rest of the tank anywhere between 65 and 75 degrees. Temperatures should drop a little at night.
The diet of northern alligator lizards is fairly typical for a lizard -- they mostly eat small invertebrates. In captivity, they'll readily consume crickets, earthworms and mealworm larvae. Feed your pets a variety, and dust the food occasionally with a calcium and vitamin supplement for reptiles. If you garden organically, you could supplement store-bought food with creatures caught in your yard, such as slugs. Note that wild-caught bugs might be toxic themselves, for example in the case of certain moths, or might have been exposed to pesticides that may harm your lizards. If you aren't sure whether a food item is safe, err on the side of caution and don't feed it to your pet.
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.