Meet a real-life forest dragon. A forest dragon you can keep in your own home, and hold in the palm of your hand. Also known as the Mexican arboreal alligator lizard, the Abronia Graminea is a reptile still relatively uncommon in the pet trade. They are primarily found in the cloud forests of Central America, with significant populations in Mexico and Guatemala. The abronia was first documented in 1864 by the herpetologist Edward Drinker Cope. While it was a common enough reptile at the time, a definite decrease in its numbers in the wild have been noted since. Because of the distinct biome the abronia inhabits, deforestation and land conversion for agricultural uses are the most obvious culprits behind its slowly dwindling population. For that reason, reptile enthusiasts have an even greater reason to keep a forest dragon in their home: conservation and preservation.
The abronia graminea is a hardy lizard if kept properly, but it is not for the faint of heart, nor for the easily bored. Its unique native home, the cloud forests of Central America, makes creating a proper and naturalistic set-up more difficult than for some other reptiles. While the abronia itself is quite small (six inches of body length at the most), its habitat needs are relatively demanding. A cloud forest (also called a water forest) is characterized by a frequent low-level cloud cover at the canopy level. At these high altitudes, temperature drops during the evening are quite common, and abronias in the wild would be used to enduring significant temperature changes. In the cold season, it can even get to below 40 degrees- in the warm season, above 90.
A Proper Dragon Den
This means that any set-up with an abronia must do its best to mimic these seasonal and daily temperature changes. Some alligator lizard keepers even have outdoor set-ups during the summer for the natural light and warmth the abronias can receive. Indoor or outdoor, the abronia’s cage needs to be mesh screen, not glass. It is recommended that a vertical tank of at least 20 inches by 20 inches and 30 inches high be used for an adult pair of abronias. Because these forest dragons live in the treetops, height is more important than width. A taller tank is better, and a great deal of foliage and shelter will need to be provided for the abronia to climb and hide as it would in the wild.
The Brighter The Better
The abronia graminea is a vivid emerald green in the wild. You’ll know an unhappy or an unhealthy forest dragon when you see faded colors or even a bluish tinge on an abronia. This is often due to an enclosure not having the proper lighting or not providing a varied enough temperature range for the dragon in question. There are, however, other species of abronia which feature different colors, like the abronia lythrochila. It’s known colloquially as the red-lipped arboreal alligator lizard, and is true to its name. Its colors are much less vibrant, featuring grays and rusty reds, but it too will show different hues as a sign of its general dissatisfaction.
The abronia isn’t necessarily picky, but it does need a wide variety of foods to be healthy and happy. In the wild, the cloud forest would have provided the alligator lizard with a huge assortment of prey items to choose from. Therefore, in your home, your dragon needs to be fed with more than just your average PetSmart crickets. It’s recommended that abronias be fed everything from grasshoppers to mealworms and caterpillars. You can feed your dragon by hand or with tweezers, or let them hunt on their own. If you’re working with a young or sick abronia, it’s best to feed them directly to make sure they’re actually eating.
But they’re awfully hard to find. The abronia graminea reptile trade is still just barely getting off the ground, and you certainly won’t find them at any mainstream pet store- you probably won’t even find them at a specialized reptile shop. But this is one seriously incredible lizard. The abronia graminea has the potential to live for over 15 years, and will probably max out at just 12-inches long, half of that being their tail alone. They genuinely look like little dragons, and their temperament is mellow. More than that? These lizards are slowly dying out. Bringing a captive-bred cloud forest dragon into your home means you’re helping to perpetuate the species. For once, our selfish pet habits can happily coincide with a greater, less selfish goal.