LAUDAKIA STELLIO PICEA

Special thanks to Rob Verhoeks and Tom Greb

General information
Laudakia Stellio , common name Hardun, ranges from Southeast Asia to Northeast Africa and in some regions of Greece. The subspecies Laudakia stellio picea lives in Southwest Syria, Southern Lebanon, Northern Isral and Northwest Jordan. In areas where population density is low the animals live in pairs, otherwise they form large family groups (Literature: Beutler, 1981). Picea average 2 to 3 clutches a year. The clutch size varies between 4 and 12 eggs.

Habitat
Agama stellio picea live in dry, desert like, arid areas. These animals typically inhabit black lava flows. They are active at temperatures between 25 and 40C with a night-time drop in the temperature. Parker(1933), Daan (1967) and Werner (1991,1992) all state this melanistic lizard is endemic to these black lava deserts. Study results have determined that this subspecies is totally isolated form L. stellio stellio.

Description
Picea have a maximum total length of 25 to 30 cm. They have a rough scale structure. The ground color is dark black/blue with intensely colored darkyellow to orange spots which leads to bands on the tail. The head is almost totally black in males but can vary from grey to dark grey in females. The males have a grayish belly and throat. (The picea pictured on the right is a male).

My first experiences with the Picea
When I fist saw a picture of these beautiful agamas I immediatelly fell in love with them. After much research I decided to try to locate some and give them a try. The experiences of other herpotologists was that the picea is the only Hardun that will become tame enough in captivity to display its natural behaviors without streaking for the nearest hiding spot in the presence of humans. The quest lead us to Germany were a Belgium breeder had a group of these lizards. These animals were from unrelated stock but unfortunately the breeder had mixed all the hatchlings in one viavrium, so it was a bit difficult to be sure we had unrelated animals. The only way we were able to distinguish that the animals were unrelated was by a slight size difference since there was a few weeks between clutches. The youngsters were bred in 2004. The two females I bought were housed with a male I purchased here in the Netherlands. They were fed a varied diet of: crickets, buffalo worms, wax worms (the larvae of the wax moth), wood lice, locusts, wasps and once a week finely chopped protein rich veggies.

Housing
I housed this trio in a 1.2 (width) x 1.0 (depth) x 0.65 (height) meter vivarium. Since these very active lizards love to climb and prefer hanging vertically the back and side walls are treated with gypsum blocks which are shaped and covered with concrete to make a climbable surface. With the lizards able to utilize these vertical surfaces the vivarium size was quite comfortable for them. Sand with a grain size from 0.25 3 mm was used as the substrate. The lighting consists of a ReptileUV Mega-ray (100W) and a 60 W incandescent spot lamp. UVB lighting seems to be very important for the proper growth and behavior of these lizards. Without it these animals cannot process calcium and will quickly become calcium deficient and parish. The lamps are on for 12 hours a day. Animals inmediately bask when the lights come on and become active almost immediately. The temperature under the UVB-lamp is 48C and a few degrees cooler under the 60W spot lamp. Nightly temperature can be dropped to about 20C.

Care
Multiple females can be housed with one male. Two males in the same vivarium should be avoided as they will stress one another and more that likely fight. This stress will end up causing the death of the weaker, subordinate animal. Mature animals are fed 3 to 4 times a week while hatchlings and juveniles are fed daily. They eat mostly live food but will take vegetable matter on occasion. A very important aspect of the diet is to vary the insects fed to these insect loving lizards. Animals were fed: crickets, buffalo worms, wax worms, wood lice, locusts, wasps and once a week finely cut proteine rich veggies. Veggies are mixed with rasped carrots, dandelion (flowers and paksoi(which they rlish). The seeds of paksoi are not eaten. The food is powdered with a calcium and vitamin supplement. A fresh bowl of water is offered daily. The vivarium is misted daily about an hour before the lights are turned off to increase night time humidity. The humidity in the hide rises up 70%. The daytime humidity must be low, preferably about 30%.

When a female is gravid one corner of the vivarium must be kept a bit more moist. In this corner the female will lay her eggs.

Breeding experience
Agama stellio picea can become sexually mature after one year but this can vary with different growth rates. Literature states that a reasonable cooling period is needed for them to breed. The first year the animals cooling period was only 5-8 degrees cooler than the temperatures listed above and this was enough to trigger breeding. First year breeding resulted in both of the females producing three clutches with about a 50% fertility rate. Breeding behavior is as with some other lizards; the female dances around the male, her back arched and wagging her tail. The male answers this display with a display of his own, head bobbing. If both animals are interested the male will bite onto the back of the females neck or flanks and copulation takes place. I witnessed the animals mating a few times after the seasonal increase in temperature. After 5-7 weeks the female started digging in all the corners of the vivarium. From this moment on I kept two corners moist to accomodate both females. After few days of digging she laid her clutch. One day when returning home from a day of work I noticed a very deflated picea and one corner of the vivarium was firmely covered with sand. She laid six eggs but only three were fertile. Two weeks later the other female laid eggs in the same corner. 5 weeks after laying the first clutch both females laid their second clutch. Again after 5 weeks the third clutch. The females always were two weeks from each other. I removed the eggs and placed them in the incubator.

Incubation of the eggs
The eggs were put in a container with some predrilled holes with moist vermiculite. The vermiculite was mixed with water at a rate of 1:1 bt weight. The eggs were buried in the vermiculite leaving about 30-50% of the eggs about the surface. Literature stated the incubation time is 50-60 days at a temperature between 28 and 30C (Gunther Kohler) I set the temperature in the incubator at exactly 30 C. 50 days later all three eggs hatched. Two weeks later the first clutch followed the other clutch and so on.

The youngsters
The hatchling picea are exact copys of there parents. They are extremely active and beautifully dark coloured. The youngsters are housed as the mature animals but in a smaller vivarium. They immediately eat small crickets and wax worms. Do not feed buffalo worms to the hatchlings because their shell is too hard anf they will have problems digesting them and it may end up causing impaction. Feed the hatchlings insects generously coated with a calcium/vitamin powder. Every day they are given fresh drinking water and misted twice. The three animals first to hatch were 2 females and 1 male. The second clutch was 3 males and 3 females. The temperatures (day and night) in the vivaria of the youngsters is equal of those of the parents.

Conclusion
These fantastic animals stole my heart. They may become so tame that they eat wax worms from your hand. They are easy to manage, very beautiful, display nice behavior and are very active!! These animals are well combined with Uromastyx. Keep young animals of different species divided.

Literature
Obst, F.J , K. Richter & U. Jacob, 1988, The completely illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the terrarium. T.F.H., Publications, Inc, Neptune City.

Khler, Gunther., Inkubation von Reptilieneiern, Offenbach : Herpeton 1997.

Ulrich Manthey and Norbert Schuster, Agamid Lizards, T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Neptune City, 1996.