Some of you are shuddering and backing away while a few of you are saying ‘Cool!” Most of the lizards in the world live in the wild even though thousands are kept as pets. The majority of lizard keepers are most likely young people. However, I must confess, that my husband and I had a lizard as a pet at one time. That is a story for later in this article.
They are fairly easy to care for and will live for a long time. If you like to have a pet around for a long time, the lizard is your choice.
Lizards live almost everywhere, except in Antarctica. They are cold-blooded creatures and prefer living in warmer climates. They need very little water, dine on leafy plants and insects, and bask in the sunshine.
There are more than 6,000 species of lizards. Only three species have venom: the Komodo, the Gila monster and the Mexican Bearded. These are NOT pets .
Otherwise, all the little guys that scamper off under the bushes are companionable. Now that I have calmed your fears, we will begin to learn how to keep lizards as pets.
Most lizards are small and can be kept in an aquarium tank. Not too small– they like to move around. Some will tolerate other lizards living with them–Bearded Dragons and some Geckos are fairly friendly. It is still best to separate male and female.
Work with a reputable pet store to learn about your lizard companion. Some lizard species will continue to grow until they fill their space. Most species are small and will stay relatively small all their lives.
Don’t ever try to catch a lizard by the tail. The tails are very brittle and will break easily. It is a defense mechanism. When a larger animal grabs a lizard, the predator usually is left with a small piece of inedible tail. Meanwhile, the lizard has escaped and will live to grow another tail.
As a lizard’s tail grows back, it will be a solid color. If a lizard species has stripes or color blotches over a somewhat solid body color, the tail has a tendency to grow back without the markings.
Lizards are active during the day. They scamper about, except when they are sunning themselves. They are very interested in their surroundings–the head moves around in quick movements and the eyes are very bright, watching everything that moves.
Some lizards have ways to disguise themselves. Some will puff themselves out and end up looking twice as large as they really are. Chameleons are lizards who can change their skin color. They also have independently movable eyeballs- which gives them sight in all directions.
I am familiar with chameleons. They are prolific in Florida, where I grew up. They change color almost immediately. One can be brown on the ground and jump up on a green bush and turn green right in front of your eyes.
I tried to catch one when I was a little kid and unfortunately ended up with part of his tail in my hand. The rest of the lizard was long gone. I was really concerned and told my mom what had happened. She assured me that the lizard was not hurt and he would grow his tail back.
I managed to catch quite a few after that and was amazed that they would change color right on my hand. No, I never grabbed a tail after that first time. I would put my hand just under the leaves and stay real still. Usually the lizard would feel the heat of my hand and slowly walk from the leaves into my hand.
Their bodies are cool and very dry. If I stood very still, the lizard would stay in my hand and snap his head to one side and the other to see where he was. If I moved slowly, I could transfer him to another bush.
Lizards have legs designed to allow them to jump quite far. The hind legs are larger and longer than the front legs. Hind legs have two joints and spread sideways, These legs give them, what you might call, a flying leap. The front legs have two joints and spread out front, which finishes the “flying leap.” They have long thin toes, with long talons, which gives them instant gripping on rocks or rough ground.
Best lizard species for pets.
Three of the best lizard species to consider keeping for a pet are the Bearded Dragon; the Leopard Gecko and the Crested Gecko. I personally prefer the bearded dragon. Geckos have larger heads and they don’t appear as trim as the dragons. All three of these species sell well.
These species of lizards make the best pets and are readily available in pet stores:
- Anoles (change color from green to red to brown)
- Day Gecko
- Crested Gecko
- Leopard Gecko
- Bearded Dragon
Lizards live a long time with few enemies in the wild. With good care they also live a long time in captivity. Lizards can live 20 or more years.
They have no fur so it is unlikely that anyone would be allergic to them. They do not eat a lot. Many live on leafy greens.- The one I had ate lettuce. Some will eat small insects. Check with your pet store.
If you need to be gone for a day or so, you don’t need a pet sitter. Be sure their home is clean, they have a little water, and some fresh greens, and they will be fine. They don’t need training or daily walks.
In return, they are very attentive. They see everything that is going on around them. After a while, they will respond when you come up to their cage. They will learn to eat out of your hand. They will let you pick them up. Mine sat on my shoulder while I walked around the house. Be watchful, when your lizard wants to move around, be ready to put them back in their cage.
Housing for Lizards
If you go to a reliable pet store, someone will help you with a suitable home for your pet. Decide on the species of lizard you want first and then build the home for them. Basically, their home is an aquarium tank with desert type of finishing. The size of the tank depends upon the lizard and how large it may get.
You are building a desert-like place. Coarse sand for the bottom of the tank is advisable. Put some rocks in the tank. Lizards like to climb up on things. Also, some desert -like plants, probably not real, will make the tank look nice. Leave your pet room to move around.
You will need a flat dish to place greens or other food on. Lizards don’t drink much, so a small dish for water is sufficient. Lizards are fairly clean, but the tank will need cleaning periodically. A small rake that will move and pick up droppings is a necessary utensil.
Periodically, you will need to remove the sand and replace it. The lizard won’t mind being moved to a new place while his home is cleaned. A light-weight open wire mesh makes a good top for the tank. A lamp can be set above the mesh top. I had a lamp for my lizard. She sat on a rock and soaked up the warmth almost all day.
Finally, lizards are clean, quiet, and interesting to watch. They will interact with you, if you want them to. Move very slowly. Like all animals, quick moves will startle them. Don’t try to pick them up right away. Just touch them lightly on the head with a finger, and use a slight stroking movement.
If they move away startled, you must move slower. Put you hand down, palm up on the floor of the tank and let them crawl up on your hand. Everything slowly. Move your hand up with the lizard in the palm of your hand. If he makes a quick move, let him down into the tank. It will take several times before he lets you hold him for a time. Cup your hand lightly over the lizard’s body, so you can enclose him, if he decides to jump. Don’t squeeze!
By the way, there is a way to tell the sex of your lizard. I have forgotten how I found out that my lizard was a female, but your pet salesman should know. It can be size, or coloring or some difference in the body.
Lizards have very little smell around them. If you clean the tank routinely, you will hardly notice a smell.
One warning only: Lizards can carry salmonella — always wash your hands after handling them– and never, ever put your mouth on them. This is a good warning for handling all pets and all animals.
I’m Barbara Nelson and I hope you liked this feature on lizards as pets. Please contact me if you have questions.