Butterfly Agamas (L. gutata/belliana )
Trio of Male Giant Butterflies
Male Belly-Side Pattern
Female Head Profile
Butterfly agamas were once considered members of the genus Uromastyx but have long since been given their own genus, Leiolepis. The yare the only other living members of the Uromastyx family. Though fairly common in the wild, they are rarely kept in herpetoculture due to a poor survival record in captivity. This is primarly due to them arriving in terrible condition combined with most people having no clue as to how to properly house and care for them. The Leiolepis group as a whole is insectivorous but are noted as eating some vegetation as well. While listed as containing several species (some quite distinct looking) many of the various species tend to blend into each other as you move your way across China, Malaysia, Burma and into Vietnam and Laos. Many types likely interbreed where their populations overlap. One oddity of this interbreeding is the production of triploid specimens where species with different chromosome counts interbreed. Another of their claims to fame is the occurrence of several populations of parthenogenetic populations in which only females exist. No true breeding can occur but the females appear to lay eggs which initiate normal embryo development anyway. To my knowledge none of these races are currently in herpetoculture, but as Asian exports are expanding, they may show up some day.
The Giant Butterfly agama (L. gutata) is the largest species currently known and is considered the most vegetarian of the group. It is truly one of the most beautiful of a beautiful genus. We've always found the Butterfly Agamas stunning and when we were given the opportunity to handpick from a group of the rarely imported Giant Butterfly, we decided to try a group. Our largest male, "Monarch" shown in some of the photos above, is over 21 inches long (almost 2/3rds of that being tail however). Their build is very similar to the Indian Uromastyx, being very reminiscent of a walking bratwurst! The skin is very smooth, almost silky to the touch with just a hint of spikiness along the tail. The tail is thick and full and does not naturally break off. Unfortunately, no females were available for that group and we eventually had to give up on that project. Finally giving up hope of obtaining more gutata, we decided late last year (2009) to start looking for a good group of the nearly identical species, the Majestic Butterfly agama, L. belliana. They differ primarily only in size, with belliana being about 1/3 smaller overall.
Sexing is relatively easy, with the males being the much brighter colored of the sexes, often displaying a rose to orange blushing along the head, neck, and hips on a pale gray to almost silver ground color. They also display various shades of blue, black, and white irregular barring along their sides with narrow light pinkish-orange upper sides. The chest on mature males is often a faded bluish black with white circles reminiscent of a perente monitor. Our photos do not do them justice! The colors are more of a bright pastel, almost water-color like effect that our digital camera just can't capture. Females often have light yellowish to tan stripes running along their upper sides, but otherwise are various shades of light brown with unpatterned sides. Both sexes have faint to moderate ocellations along their backs, similar to the Spotted Butterfly Agama, but usually fewer, smaller, and less distinct. They both also have distinct yellow reticulations along the side of the face as well as possessing femoral pores. Only the males however develop the small but distinct hemipenal bulges. So far, no sexual or territorial aggression has been observed, however the general literature suggests multiple males per cage will result in fights. A few stray reports also suggest they are generally monogamous and multiple pairs may peacefully cohabitate.
Their temperament is initially very shy and flighty, so care should be given to let them settle in with as little disturbance as possible. Like Uromastyx, however, once they realize you're not a predator and in fact are supplying the food, many settle down and some will almost eat from your hand. They do not like handling and are really too fast to let loose or carry around (note they can run bipedally!). Oddly though, once acclimated to a specific cage, most don't overly panic once caught and actually often sit calmly in our open photo box and let us shoot away while they sit and watch. While they seemed to do well in 4 foot Vision cages, they did terrible in all glass tanks, never quite figuring out the glass and constantly darting into the sides. Odds are tanks with all but the front solid will be necessary to properly house them. We'd suggest no smaller cage than a 55 gallon tank and, if glass, cover the back and sides so as to provide a visual barrier so they don't injure themselves running inadvertently into the glass if startled. They are fast and can jump exceptionally well, so great care must be given to making their cage escape proof, especially when opening the cage to feed. A two-piece lid is advisable, so you only have to open one side of the top at any one time. We hope that once we hatch some in captivity and start them in tanks, they'll do much better in more typical housing.
Since we specialize in Uromastyx, and Butterfly Agamas are essentially smooth-tailed Uromastyx, we chose to set them up under similar, if slightly cooler, conditions as our Uros. We do however supply daily access to water in a relatively large bowl and each pen has a 3 gallon or larger nest box / hide box containing slightly moist sandy peat moss. The main cage bedding is coconut husk fibers (Core). This worked well for or gutata but only time will tell if it needs further tweaking for belliana. Otherwise we're keeping them hot (mid to high 90'sF floor temperatures with a basking spot of 105F) and dry main floor bedding. Our diet is 50% warmed frozen mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, corn, etc.) as well as small blooms when in season. The remainder is primarily insects. For most people, crickets and superworms would be the most logical species to offer, however we're trying dubia non-climbing cockroaches as the primary insect food. We were given a starter colony of these about a year ago but have almost no insectivorous reptiles. Thus the colony has exploded in numbers. They are cheap to rear and more nutritious than most commercially reared insects so we'll see how the bellianas like them. We rear a very small number of crickets as well so the diet will be supplemented occasionally with those as well. We use Uromastyx/ Veggie Dust as our daily vitamin/calcium supplement then add one day a week of Miner-ALL indoor calcium-mineral supplement as well. We dust both the veggies and the insects.
We bought a very few extra juvenile pairs for our customers and hope to have some captive born Majestic Butterflies late in 2010 or 2011. We keep a "Wanted" list and fill it as specimens become available so please e-mail or call us (360 435-2679) if you're looking to add a Butterfly Agama to your family. Odds are these will be around $25 each for acclimated field collected specimens and $75 each for captive bred juveniles.
We are avid supporters of captive breeding
and are always looking to support fellow breeders by
purchasing healthy captively produced clutches of Uromastyx. Please
let us know if you have an interest in wholesaling your clutches. We
hold all purchased specimens for several weeks after being shipped to us so we
can verify their condition and to let them settle in before being offered to the
public. So you can rest assured your hatchlings will be well cared
for. We occasionally buy exceptional adults as well. E-mail us
photos if you wish us to consider your specimens.
Copyright © 1992-2010 by Douglas Dix. All rights reserved for all photos and text