By Kathleen Dyett
At just 6 centimetres in length and less than one month old, tiny grassland earless dragons are partial to a few insects at meal time.
"We are trying to add more ants into their diet but that is proving to be a bit of a challenge," said Canberra researcher Lisa Doucette.
"It's something you can't buy from your local supplier so we actually have to collect them from the wild on a regular basis to supplement their diet."
It is not the only challenge the lizards pose for researchers at the University of Canberra's Institute for Applied Ecology, who are overseeing a captive breeding program to bolster earless dragon numbers.
The lizard's population is dwindling and fragmented, mainly due to habitat loss.
The tiny reptiles can be found in the ACT's Majura and Jerrabomberra valleys, and near Cooma in southern New South Wales.
"No one has ever bred this species in captivity before so we're learning everything from scratch," said researcher Professor Stephen Sarre.
"There's all the difficulties associated with actually finding out what makes these animals tick."
But researchers have seen more success than they anticipated.
About 60 hatchlings arrived in recent weeks, offering new hope for the troubled species.
"That number is a combination of eggs that hatched in our breeding colony and eggs that were found in the wild," Dr Doucette said.
"We weren't actually expecting to find eggs in the wild so that has given a boost to our current captive population."
Professor Sarre says they are working to produce as many robust hatchlings as possible.
"We'll produce more hatchlings next year so the idea is we'll become totally self-sufficient in terms of producing hatchlings only from captive animals," he said.
The lizards will be kept in captivity for several months and will spend some time in outdoor enclosures before they are released into the wild in the autumn.
"Before they're released we'll be housing them in outside enclosures so they get used to that and they're away from artificial light," Dr Sarre said.