Below is a summary of the habitat and dietary requirements of NZ native lizards, along with information about common diseases and health issues. The Department of Conservation, together with Auckland Zoo, have put together a comprehensive guide to keeping New Zealand lizards in captivity.


In captivity you are unlikely to be able to provide an exact replication of the natural diet of your lizards, however with some creativity and time, it is certainly possible to provide a diet to fulfil the nutritional requirements of your animals. For a full dietary guideline, as well as handy tips for harvesting food items see the Guide to Keeping NZ Lizards in Captivity.

Below are some important considerations for captive lizards:

The life pattern of your reptiles

NZ lizards are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plant and animal material. Having evolved in a seasonal world their diet varies according to the seasonal availability of fruits and flowers. As they are cold blooded they do not eat as much as warm blooded birds or mammals.

The type of enclosure your lizards are housed in

This will determine to some extent the size and type of prey they may be given and how long they can survive, and even thrive, in the cage. A lot of cages have waste space or air space that insects occupy, but lizards don't: can lizards easily access areas the insects favour and do so whilst staying handy to security? Prey/insects will congregate in certain parts of the cage such as the top 25% of the side facing the sun.

Number of individuals and species in an enclosure

Often skinks and geckos do well together as they eat a wide range of insects. For example: skinks will forage spiders and other ground insects, but geckos often won't bother. Cages with a number of lizards and possibly both skinks and geckos can be loaded with food more effectively with less wastage than a single lizard on its own.

Size of and age of lizards

Juveniles and breeding adults require a larger quantity of food than non breeding adults. Non breeding adults in captivity are prone to obesity; obese individuals may need to be fed less frequently or be given smaller amounts. Larger skinks may require supplementation with a variety of things such as: fresh fish, crayfish/crab flesh or body matter, liver (lamb, chicken, fish), mince, egg, snail (sliced into earthworm sized strips).

Balance and supplementation

A wide variety of food should be provided to ensure that lizards have a diet which has adequate amounts of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Lizards in captivity should be given multi vitamin/mineral powders on a regular basis to avoid conditions such as metabolic bone deficiency (MBD). Animals also need to be able to access an adequate amount of UV to synthesise Vitamin D.

Ground cover as a food reservoir

Leaf litter provides cover to both lizards and many insects as well as a breeding and living space for many insects, grubs, beetles etc. A good leaf litter base can provide a food source 365 days of the year so lizards can access food when they choose and conditions are right (in their opinion and not the keepers opinion). Leaf litter/soil can be foraged and dug through by a lizard so insects hiding there can be found day or night. Such natural food will be present in a variety of sizes, therefore suiting different sized lizards.


Certain insects can be toxic if ingested by lizards, in particular geckos. The following should never be fed to captive lizards, and should be removed if found in enclosures: ants, wasps and bees, centipedes, monarch butterflies, caterpillars, spiders of the widow family (including the false katipo and false widow), white tailed spiders and the endemic katipo spider (do not kill these – they are a threatened species). Spiders with a leg span greater than 1.5cm should be removed from enclosures.