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How to Care for Your Sheltopusik

How to Care for Your Sheltopusik

Sheltopusiks (Pseudopus apodus) are large, diurnal, fossorial lizards native to southeastern Europe and western Asia. They are known to inhabit a wide variety of habitats, from humid and densely vegetated areas to dry, rocky slopes.

Sheltopusiks are capable of growing up to 4’ long, and their signature trait is their remarkably snake-like appearance due to a complete lack of limbs. However, what distinguishes them from snakes is the fact that they have eyelids, external ear openings, less flexible jaws, and a lateral groove. Also, most of their body is tail, rather than ribcage. Coloring is solid tan, brown, or black depending on locality, with a pale or yellowish underside. 

Sheltopusiks are intermediate-level pet reptiles. When cared for appropriately, they may be capable of living up to 50 years.

How much space do sheltopusiks need?

Because sheltopusiks are snakelike in appearance, it’s easy to think of them as smaller than they really are, keeping them in enclosures that are too small for them to stretch out fully and explore. It’s important to keep in mind that sheltopusiks are the largest lizards in Europe, and quite active! The minimum for appropriately keeping one adult sheltopusik is 48”L x 24”W x 24”H. This is just the minimum, so using larger dimensions is beneficial and will be happily used!

Cohabitation (keeping multiple sheltopusiks in one enclosure) is not recommended.

Do sheltopusiks need UVB?

Yes! Sheltopusiks require high-quality, appropriate-strength UVB lighting as part of their enclosure. UVB gives reptiles all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally promotes enhanced wellbeing.

The best UVB bulbs and distances for sheltopusiks are:

  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0 — 11-12” (no mesh), or 9-11” (mesh)
  • Arcadia Forest 6% — 11-12” (no mesh), or 9-11” (mesh)
  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0 — 17-18” (no mesh), or 13-15” (mesh)
  • Arcadia Desert 12% — 17-18” (no mesh), or 13-15” (mesh)

The UVB bulb should be roughly half the length of the enclosure, housed in a reflective fixture by Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics, and placed close to the heat lamp. The basking platform should be the closest surface to the UVB lamp, with the above distance requirement being the distance from the lamp to the animal’s back when on the basking platform.

Lights should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter with gradual adjustments in-between. This helps encourage more natural hormonal rhythms and better health.

What basking temperatures do sheltopusiks need?

Like other reptiles, sheltopusiks are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.

Sheltopusiks should have a basking surface temperature of 86-95°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 75-80°F. These temperatures can be measured with an infrared thermometer.

Provide heat for your sheltopusik by imitating the sun with a cluster of at least two halogen heat bulbs placed on one side of the enclosure, positioned over a flat stone basking surface. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

What humidity levels do sheltopusiks need?

Sheltopusiks need different humidity levels based on subspecies. Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about humidity for the eastern subspecies (P. a. apodus), but the western subspecies (P. a. thracicus) prefers a more coastal humidity primarily characterized by significant increases in humidity at night. 

To do this, mist the enclosure with a pressure sprayer every evening. Alternatively, you can run a reptile fogger for a few hours every night.

Whichever subspecies you have, it’s good practice to make a humid hide available to your pet. This is an appropriately-sized hide box placed on the cool side and lined with moistened sphagnum moss.

What substrate is good for sheltopusiks?

Sheltopusiks require a thick layer of moisture-retentive substrate to cushion their bodies, provide a burrowing medium, and help maintain healthy humidity levels. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive! Ideally, this substrate should resemble what sheltopusiks naturally live on in the wild: sandy soil. It should have small particles and hold moisture well. 

We recommend Zoo Med ReptiSoil as a substrate for sheltopusiks. Alternatively, you can mix clean topsoil and play sand together in a 60:40 ratio by volume. Either way, layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can help with humidity and provides additional enrichment value.

Substrate should be at least 6” deep (including leaf litter) and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

What decor can you use in a sheltopusik terrarium?

It’s stressful for a reptile to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and a water bowl. 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.

At very least, you will need at least a couple of hiding places, as well as some live or artificial foliage to provide additional cover. However, it’s best to go beyond the minimum. Additional environmental enrichment options include:

What do sheltopusiks eat?

Sheltopusiks are carnivores. In the wild, this means that they eat mostly invertebrates with whatever meat they can find, but as pets, most experts recommend a balance of 60% invertebrates and 40% whole prey/meat.

Juveniles should be allowed to eat essentially as much as they will take, but adults should only be fed as much as they can eat within about five minutes. Each insect should be smaller than the lizard’s head.

Food options for sheltopusiks: black soldier fly larvae, crickets, dubias, discoids, grasshoppers/locusts, snails (captive-bred only), mealworms, superworms, hornworms, silkworms, earthworms, young rodents, quail eggs, button quail

The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet is VARIETY, so make sure to rotate the feeders that you use.


You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your pet from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all food, excluding whole vertebrate prey.


Of course, don’t forget a large water bowl for your lizard to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

Do sheltopusiks like to be handled?

Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and sheltopusiks prefer to be left alone rather than handled on a regular basis. When startled, they will attempt to bite and may drop their tail. They are also capable of moving extremely fast when they feel threatened.

If you absolutely need to pick up your sheltopusik, be gentle but firm, and pick up the animal from below rather than from above. Avoid chasing it around the enclosure. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick it up by its tail!

*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.

"File:Sheltopusik 057.jpg" by Ltshears is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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