Caring for Lizards
Coming in a variety of colours and a range of sizes – from a few inches in length to over ten feet – and with some kinds that scurry, some that burrow, others that can climb vertical glass and even ones that parachute or walk on water, the appeal of lizards is clear.
Keeping lizards as pets – and they can make excellent ones, if you meet their needs properly – has grown in popularity enormously and today there’s no shortage of these fascinating animals to tempt you.
As with most exotic pets, a big part of successful lizard keeping largely involves knowing what you’re letting yourself in for before you buy; many an enthusiastic pet owner has been caught out when that cute little 4-inch (10cm) youngster ends up 5ft (1.5m) long in a few short years!
Housing LizardsLizards in general are fairly active in their way of life – whether that involves burrowing, scurrying about or climbing – though the slow-moving true chameleons (Chamaeleo sp. and their close relatives) are an obvious exception! For most, however, this means that their quarters need to be as spacious as possible to allow them to behave as naturally as they can.
The shape of the tank depends on the type of animal it is to contain – with ground living or burrowing types, the floor area is likely to be more important than the height, while for tree-dwellers, this is obviously reversed. Likewise the floor covering will reflect the animal inside – compost or sterilised bark chippings for ground lizards, sand for desert burrowers and so on. Always provide a suitable water bowl – even for the desert dwellers.
Heating and LightingAlthough there are various kinds of lizards found throughout the cooler temperate zones of the world, they really begin to come into their own in the warmer parts of the globe – so most of the species offered as exotic pets will need at least some additional heat in their tank. There are a variety of options for warming things up, including hot rocks, heat pads and ceramic heaters.
In addition to heat and ordinary lighting, most of the lizards sold as pets also need regular exposure to ultra-violet light to keep in good health. This used to be a big problem for lizard keepers, but today there is a good range of specially designed UV lighting tubes and associated equipment readily available to meet this need. However, it’s important to realise that these tubes don’t last forever – some kinds drop to around a quarter of their “as new” efficiency in as little as a year – so follow the manufacturer’s recommendations about when to replace them; it could make all the difference to your pets’ lives.
Food and FeedingMost lizards are carnivorous, and even the “vegetarians” amongst them like the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) are partial to the occasional insect, especially when young. Typical lizard fodder includes the usual range of mealworms, crickets and locusts sold as live food by pet shops, but your pets will appreciate some wild-caught supplements when available. Depending on the size of lizard, earthworms, slugs, garden insects and woodlice will all prove acceptable – but avoid catching bugs for them anywhere where pesticides have been used.
Many lizard keepers dust food items with a good brand of mineral and vitamin supplement.
HandlingLizards can be handled – and some even seem to come to enjoy it – but it needs to be done with care. On the one hand, many kinds have the ability to shed their tails – known as “autotomy” – done in the wild to confuse an attacker and offer an easy meal while the lizard itself makes good its escape. Be very careful when handling lizards and never grasp the tail; a shed tail will re-grow eventually, but it will never be as good looking as the original. On the other hand, there is the possibility of injury to you yourself – especially with larger species. The claws of monitors (Varanus sp.) are sharp and attached to some of the strongest legs in the lizard world, while an upset iguana can use its tail in a way that rivals Indiana Jones’ bullwhip and others like the Tokay (Gekko gecko) simply settle for giving a really painful bite!
Handling lizards – large or small – is a skill that needs to be learnt, so find someone experienced who is prepared to show you how. In the long run, it’s likely to be the safest approach for all concerned.
Choose the kind of lizard you intend to keep wisely, meet their feeding, housing and general welfare needs properly and you can look forward to enjoying the company of your new pet for years to come.