How to Create Aquariums So Lizards and Fish Can Coexist

Create an educational fish tank that is stimulating for lizards and amphibians without a messy and unhealthy dirt substrate. More surface area for running can be created.


  1. Image titled Create Aquariums So Lizards and Fish Can Coexist Step 1
    Get a fish tank (the larger the better), several pieces of slate (about 5 inches long and 1/2 inches thick), and two large tubes of aquarium sealant.
  2. Image titled Create Aquariums So Lizards and Fish Can Coexist Step 2
    Draw a removable straight line all the way around the tank on the outside glass 1/3rd of the way from the top. (2/3rds of tank will be water, 1/3rd is lizard habitat.)
  3. Image titled Create Aquariums So Lizards and Fish Can Coexist Step 3
    Set the tank on its side with the top facing you and glue pieces of slate on the inside of tank on your line. Each piece must be level with each other and spaced so that a lizard can hop or swim from one to another, but not too close (so the lizard can get out of the water). The slate will act as a beach.
  4. Image titled Create Aquariums So Lizards and Fish Can Coexist Step 4
    Wait for the sealant to dry, then glue more slates on the remaining 3 sides of tank.
  5. Image titled Create Aquariums So Lizards and Fish Can Coexist Step 5
    After the glue is dry, use more sealant to strengthen the bond between glass and rock.
  6. Image titled Create Aquariums So Lizards and Fish Can Coexist Step 6
    When the glue dries, and the tank is set up for fish, fill tank up to the main slates.
  7. 7
    Cycle the tank. This step is important to the health of the fish.
  8. Image titled Create Aquariums So Lizards and Fish Can Coexist Step 8
    Buy community tropical fish (small ones that won't drag lizards under) and lizards that are comfortable with water and won't eat your fish.


  • Watch new lizards to see if they are adept at swimming back to the slate when they fall in the water, though most lizards are expert swimmers and buoyant. Jackson chameleons are not good for this.
  • Glue coarse gravel around the tips of the slate so the lizards have extra gripping power.
  • Air hoses and heater wires must not block the lizard from swimming. Glue them to the glass with just a few spots of glue above the water line to get them out of the way.
  • Gluing the slate properly (thick enough edges, clean/dry slate/glass, following glue instructions) should hold them for at least 7 years, the ones above the water line even longer. Don't touch them once glued, but if you need to, use minimal pressure.
  • Build an upper-level rock food dish, or 'pen' for the meal-worms.
  • It is more aesthetic to leave the entire front of the tank clear of slate but this leaves a side sans a beachhead but lizards will swim up against the glass and go to a corner. Make sure each corner has a smooth transition to land.
  • Amphibians can be used with (if the species get along!), or instead of, lizards. They are cheaper (no reptile heater) and easier to care for.
  • More slate must be glued above the beaches, for more real-estate. This can provide more surface area to run than traditional arrangements. It can also be more stimulating. The more elaborate the better, so create caves, etc. This can be done when the tank is operating, as cups, etc. can hold the slate until glue dries but should be done during step 3.
  • Rinse the slates often.
  • Slates at the water line MUST BE LEVEL with each other so it is easy to get to them after falling in the water. This cannot be over-stated. If some are a bit low, another piece glued on top might fix it. But a slate too high is no good. But if one is too high, remove it with a razor blade and lower it. But never remove glue you placed on one of the four original seals holding the tank together. Measure it right initially.
  • Only use a filter not requiring a full tank, such as an Eheim or sponge. The latter is fine and cheap, just change the water often. An undergravel filter is bad as cleaning it is too disruptive and the slate prevents its removal.
  • A lizard may thrive even without a reptile heater, as long as the fish like warmer waters, like tetras, etc.
  • Don't skimp on the glue (ONLY use aquarium sealant) though finish it smoothly, like grout.
  • This "caving" effect can be utilized with the traditional dirt substrate, having lizards, amphibians go vertical as well.
  • Water vapor will collect on the glass in the top 1/3 of the tank, obscuring the view, so drill SMALL holes in the CLEAR PLASTIC REMOVABLE FLAPS (if they exist) on the back cover of hood. NEVER drill tank glass. If unable to vent water vapor, magnetic algae scrapers can wipe it away.
  • A cork bark floating platform (often used for turtles) can compensate for some of the water level issues. It will rise and fall with the water level, assuring your lizard of a haul-out point even if the water level falls (like while you're on vacation).
  • You don't have to use slate, any rock or even 2 tiles glued atop each other can be used but it must be thick enough for the glue to hold it up and a flat side for a flush fit.
  • Lizards and tropical fish like when the water is from 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Change water more often than a regular tank, as lizard waste can contain disease. Water is better than other substrates such as dirt/chips as they get rancid quickly, are expensive and environmentally unsound when changed often. The above lizard, who spends an equal amount of time in and out of water (on a partially submerged slate), purposely excretes in the water.
  • Make an upper-level "sandbox," using sand gravel. Place it on the opposite side of the filter intake, so sand is not sucked in when some falls in the water.
  • Ideally, the slate should be 12 inch (1.3 cm) thick. But the base where the heater is must be solid.
  • Build a spot for the reptile heater on an extra thick-sided slate, at least 2 inches (5.1 cm) above water, securing it so it won't fall in. Use extra glue securing the base, and glued pebbles prevents the heater from moving, or use a sticker-pad heater.
  • Lizards love to climb so put a thick tree branch in the water.
  • Instead of using slate, you can use a turtle dock.
  • Fish such as neon tetras, corydoras, bettas, guppies, minnow and even some danios are compatible with lizards and amphibians. But, on the other hand, oscars goldfish, silver dollars, knife fish, and cichlids are horrible choices!
  • Make sure you give the animals in the aquarium some type of stimulant so they don't get bored.


  • Lizard waste can carry disease.
  • A secure top is a must.
  • If slates are too close, they can create a 'pinch-point', where tails can get stuck. However, some species of lizard can live without their tail.
  • Some lizards will not thrive in this environment, as they need room to run around, catch their prey, and not have the constant threat of falling into the water in their sleep. Make sure you get the right type of lizard- an aquatic one that would be best suited for this- or get a turtle/amphibian.
  • Keep an eye on all new lizards.
  • It would be a really good idea for the lizard keeper to thoroughly investigate the needs of the particular lizard they are wanting to get before doing anything like this.
  • Make sure reptile heater does not fall in water.
  • It would be a good idea to read up on "Species Mixing Disasters" before putting lizards with fish in such a way. It might not be an issue in a 70 gallon (265.0 L) or larger aquarium with very large land area.
  • This setup can cause stress to lizards. Most lizards do not hang onto things very tightly. Some lizards need an arid desert environment with about 20% humidity.
  • The fish tank heater must be the submersible type.

Things You'll Need

  • Fish tank, the larger the better.
  • 2 large tubes of aquarium glue.
  • 20 pieces of slate or more (depends on tank size), each piece having a flat edge about 12 inch (1.3 cm) thick.
  • Tank hood with UV (special for reptiles) fluorescent bulb.
  • Gravel, thermometer, underwater heater and filter (not requiring a full tank).
  • Knowledge of lizards, amphibians and fish.
  • Reptile heater.

Article Info

Categories: Aquariums