Chinese Crocodile Lizard

Image Credit : Underground Reptiles

Shinisaurus crocodilurus is brown colored, with a variation of reddish, white, yellow, black and grey marking. On the head, the scales are plated, with ridged scales behind the eyes.

Perhaps its most distinctive features are the rows of enlarged, bony scales down its back and muscular tail that resemble those of a crocodile. A rare and little-studied lizard, it is listed in CITES Appendix I, which regulates international trade of specimens. For Europe an eu-certificate/article 10 certificate is required.

  • Scientific name : Shinisaurus crocodilurus
  • Distribution : China (Guangxi, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hunan), Northern Vietnam
  • Average Size : 0.40 m (1.3 ft)
  • Life Span : 15 years or more
  • Difficulty : Intermediate


Animals can be kept individually, as breeding pair or in groups. When keeping in a pair, be cautious that the male does not try to mate to often annoying the female with aggression as a result (hence I separated my pair). When keeping in groups, the most obvious is to keep one male with more females but there are cases in which more males were kept together as well. Aggression might also take place in groups so always just be very cautious and separate when required. For a single individual an aqua-terrarium size of 1.1 x 0.5 x 0.6 meters (3.6 x 1.6 x 1.9 feet) is minimum, and for a breeding pair I would suggest 1.5 x 0.5 x 0.6 meters (4.9 x 1.6 x 1.9 feet).
In general, they don’t move a lot but will use every part of the aqua-terrarium when active. Ideal is an aqua-terrarium which can hold at least 0.15 meters (0.5 feet) of water. More aqua-terrarium height can be added as Shinisaurus are excellent climbers and will make use of all branches, cork pieces and other decorations. Especially branches placed above the water area are desired because when threatened they can easily drop themselves and escape in the water.

Hide box

Provide hiding places such as cork bark rolls. The good thing about cork bark rolls is that they can be placed (partially) in the water as well without growing moldy. Plants may also be added to cover up areas of the aqua-terrarium for hiding.


I do not provide any substrate as the whole aqua-terrarium is filled with 0.15 meters (0.5 feet) of water, with big plant pots standing in the water containing substrate. If any substrate is provided, then this can any mixture of natural soil substrates and mosses. In the water area substrate can be provided, such as stones or sand, but this makes cleaning more difficult.

Lighting – Heating

Provide a bask area of around 35 ºC (95 ºF), for example on a big piece of slate standing in the water on (pvc) pillars. The ambient temperature of the enclosure can go down to 20 ºC (68 ºF). Create this by using a UVB bulb an if needed an extra halogen spot. Although sometimes kept without UVB or with low intensity UVB, I use HID (High intensity discharge) bulbs but would also recommend HQI (halide) or Mercury vapor bulbs. Make sure the bulbs are placed on the correct distance away from the animals.
Hibernation : Shinisaurus hibernate in the wild. I recommend to hibernate captive animals at least 3 months or longer if possible. During September and November the Shinisaurus will start eating less, and you can start lowering bask temperature and day length until no lighting is provided anymore. The Shinisaurus will become less active and might hide more. Make sure the Shinisaurus has not eaten for 2 week or more before moving it into a hibernation box. Fill the box with a thick layer (0.2-0.3 meters (0.6-1 feet)) of soil and wet moss for digging in. Also provide a water dish and some cork rolls. The Shinisaurus might dig itself into the soil or might sleep on top of the soil. Place the Shinisaurus in the box and move it into a cold room (15 ºC (50 ºF)) with some daylight.
Check for a few days if the Shinisaurus goes to sleep or even digs itself in. If that happened the Shinisaurus can be moved to a dark and cooler room (10-15 ºC (50-60 ºF)) such as a basement. They might occasionally wake up and move around so make sure the water dish is refresh regularly. To wake the Shinisaurus up from hibernation simply place the box into room temperature and the Shinisaurus will wake up within 2 days. From the beginning on 35 ºC (95 ºF) bask temperature can be given again but I would recommend to gradually extend the daylight length. Hibernation is the the key difficulty of keeping Shinisaurus so if you are not able to give that then you should no keep them.


Provide as much water are as possible as Shinisaurus are aquatic lizards. With 0.15 meters (0.5 feet) of water depth, the (adult) Shinisaurus can still walk through the water on their hind legs, with their heads tilted just outside the water. If a deeper water area is provided make then sure that enough horizontal or diagonal branches are available for the Shinisaurus to rest just with their heads outside the water, but with their bodies submerged. Shinisaurus can stay underwater for many minutes but might still be able to get stuck in between cork, stones, branches etc. Take this in mind when decorating the aqua-terrarium. Water temperature should be 20 ºC (68 ºF). BE CAREFUL with high water temperatures in the summer when the ambient temperature might be high as well when it goes over 27 ºC (80 ºF) or so change with partially cold water to cool it down.
Make sure a strong filter is used to clean the water. As filter content I use Siporax, blue filter sponge, and filter wool. Once the quality of the water is balanced (after +- a month of functioning), only clean the filter if the output slows down. Clean the filter just roughly as you want to maintain the bacteria culture which has been established on the filter material.


Although they are aquatic lizards, they should be able to dry up completely as well otherwise skin problems might arise. As the whole aqua-terrarium is filled with water already, I would say it is not necessary to humidify extra depending on your location. The animals do however seem to enjoy it when it ‘rain’ because they become very active.


Any type of insects available in the reptile industry can be fed (crickets, grasshoppers, cockroaches, butterworms, silkworms, calciumworms, wax moth larvae etc.) but earthworms seems to be favorite. Besides fish, crabs, lobsters and shrimps can be fed (and can also be added alive to the aquarium itself).
Occasionally a pinky or fuzzy mouse/rat can be given as well. Rephashy also supplies powdered nutrition which has to be mixed with water and becomes a gel. This Repashy Grub Pie can be fed to Shinisaurus as well. More info about feeding can be found on FB Group SCB.


Shinisaurus can be very tame and relaxed lizards. Whereas one of my individuals will easily walk out the enclosure on my hand (and I don’t expect him to ever bite), the other one is more jumpy and sometimes flees away. A Shinisaurus bite is known to very powerful so always be cautious when handling.


Once in a while I clean the water area by siphoning any debris from the ground using a siphon vacuum aquarium cleaner (or simply put a tube in the water an suck briefly on the other end). As the Shinisaurus might jump in the water from any overhanging branches, the glass of the aqua-terrarium might become wet and you might get calcium deposits. Use a window scraper, citric acid or other natural cleaning detergent in low concentration to remove these (but always make sure it cannot harm any animals).


Shinisaurus don’t seem to shed often. When they do a lot of the skin will end up in the water area. Shedding can be quite difficult and might end up taking several days, thus different compared to other lizard species. In case it seems to take longer than usual, Zoomed’s Shedding Aid can be used (although I have only started using it recently and am not sure about its success yet) or you could help by soaking the lizard in the water and try to remove some shed parts.

Potential Health Problems

In general, Shinisaurus seem very though lizards which can be kept without many problems. They can be difficult eaters, stopping ahead of the hibernation and starting with some difficulties again, or even stopping when temperatures are still hot and day length is still long. Always evaluate if the Shinisaurus is still active, alert and the tail base is still ‘filled’ (fat reserves), as there might be other underlying health problems causing this and contact a reptile vet when doubt.


Joey Markx

The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.