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How to Care for Your Emerald Swift

How to Care for Your Emerald Swift

Emerald swifts (Sceloporus malachiticus) are a small, diurnal, semiarboreal lizard native to Central America. They prefer to live in tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest.

Emerald swifts are typically 6-8” long, with a stout body, long toes, slim tail, blunt head, and stiff, heavily keeled scales that give them a rough, spiny appearance. Males are bright green with vibrant blue splotches on their belly, and sometimes a blue tail. Females are generally brown with dark spots.

Emerald swifts are not very common in captivity, so most of the ones available for sale are wild-caught. Although eye-catching, they are generally not very popular as pets due to their low tolerance for handling and short lifespan. Due to their lack of popularity, not much is known about them, but they can make good display animals.

How much space do emerald swifts need?

A single emerald swift should be housed in no smaller than a 36”L x 18”W x 18”H enclosure. Despite their small size, emerald swifts are very active little lizards, so even larger would be better!

Cohabitation (keeping multiple emerald swifts in the same terrarium) is possible for one male and one or more females, but that will require a larger enclosure, and should only be considered for breeding. Keeping males together or overcrowding is likely to result in fighting and severe injuries.

Do emerald swifts need UVB?


Emerald swifts require UVB lighting to stay healthy in captivity. They are a diurnal species often observed basking in the middle of the day, so they need fairly high levels of UVB. The best UVB bulbs for an emerald swift housed in a 36” x 18” x 18” enclosure are:

If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking area 7-9” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking area 11-12” below the lamp. The basking area should be the closest surface to the UVB bulb. The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture and placed on the basking side along with the heat lamp. Also note that UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your lizard UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.

In addition to UVB, since emerald swifts are day-active lizards, it’s beneficial to provide an additional daylight-spectrum lamp to make sure the enclosure is brightly illuminated. Use a strong 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent plant grow light for best results.

Emerald swifts should get 11 hours of light per day during winter and 13 hours of light per day during summer. This simulates natural seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms.

What basking temperatures do emerald swifts need?

Emerald swifts should have a basking surface temperature of ~95°F, with a cool side temperature of 75-85°F. Nighttime temps can drop as low as 68°F, but should be no higher than 75°F. Measure your temperatures with a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the desired surface. 

Provide heat for your emerald swift by imitating the sun with a halogen heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. For best results, the basking surface itself should be a natural wood branch or flat stone.

What humidity levels do emerald swifts need?

Emerald swifts are a tropical species, so they need fairly high humidity levels in their enclosure: 60-80%. 

Misting your lizard’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels. If you have difficulty maintaining high humidity levels, running a reptile humidifier at night can help.

What substrate is good for emerald swifts?

Emerald swifts enjoy burrowing as well as climbing, so it’s a good idea to provide a thick layer of substrate to help accommodate this instinct. Substrate also helps maintain healthy humidity levels and contributes to the enclosure’s overall attractiveness.

We recommend the following substrates for emerald swifts:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.

Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

What décor can you use in an emerald swift terrarium?

It’s terribly boring for an emerald swift to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with! Emerald swifts tend to appreciate a fairly densely planted enclosure, which can make their terrarium a great piece of home décor!

At bare minimum, you will need a couple of branches for your pet to climb on, some live or artificial foliage for it to hide in, and a hideout on the ground. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:

What do emerald swifts eat?

Emerald swifts are primarily insectivorous, which means that they need to eat insects (preferably live) in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Juveniles should be fed daily, and adults should be fed 3-4x/week. Offer as many insects as your lizard can eat in one sitting.

Feeder insects for emerald swifts: dubia roaches, discoid roaches, red runner roaches, crickets, black soldier fly larvae, small hornworms, mealworms, mealworm beetles


You will need calcium and vitamin supplements to help prevent your emerald swift from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all of your lizard’s feeder insects. It’s okay to skip a dusting every once in a while.


Provide a small water bowl where your lizard can always get a drink when needed. Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

Do emerald swifts like to be handled?

Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and emerald swifts are not one of them. Instead of interacting with your lizard by holding it, try hand-feeding it instead with a pair of feeding tweezers

*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. 


 (photo credit Reptile Facts)

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