If you are about to obtain your first pet lizard, congratulations. Lizards are, in my view, the most wonderful, fascinating and beautiful creatures on Earth. Part of their appeal is their incredible diversity; there are more species of lizards than all the mammals or amphibians, and they range from three-inch legless burrowers to the mighty 200-pound Komodo dragon. Some are coloured with somber tans and ochre, and others rival the most ostentatious of butterflies with gaudy green, red, and yellow markings. Some glide on fragile wings, some run across the water, and some can stick to ceilings. With my sincere apology to Samuel Johnson, it is my opinion that “when a man gets tired of lizards, he is tired of life”!
That said, here are ten valuable guidelines to help you and your lizard get off to a good start, and stay on a safe and happy course. I speak with a wee bit of experience, having kept lizards since 1961, and going on to spending over 30 years as a professional herpetologist. These tips are just a starting point, but they cover ten really important points!
1) Start by getting a lizard that is easy to care for! Many lizards are very demanding in captivity, and those should be left to experienced keepers. Among the best starter lizards are the Australian bearded dragon and blue-tongue skinks, which grow to a total length near 13-inches. They do not become stressed when properly handled, are generally tame, and eat a wide variety of foods, from fruits, vegetables and flowers to insects, moist dog food and small mice. Savanna monitors are also good for beginners, but get a young specimen and raise it to adult size; freshly imported adults may be aggressive, but captive bred/raised specimens are excellent animals for beginner keepers.
2) Avoid getting a species that people think of as “pets” but are really very challenging to keep properly. Among those species to avoid: iguanas, Nile monitors, chameleons, and small species that grow to only 3 – 8 inches in length.
3) Read up about your lizard, because there is no excuse for doing a poor job as its keeper. For books, you can consult Bibliomania! at http://www.herplit.com, one of the largest reptile book dealers in existence. Then subscribe to one of the magazines published for reptile keepers, which include REPTILES (www.reptilechannel.com/rmrc_portal.aspx), REPTILIA (www.reptilia.net/html_english/inter-print2.html), REPTILES AUSTRALIA (www.reptilesaustralia.com.au/), and Britain publishes REPTILE CARE (www.reptilecareuk.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10&Itemid=11).
4) Remember that lizards and snakes are very closely related groups of animals, but lizards need very different care. Unlike snakes that may need food only once a week or month, lizards usually need to eat every day, and sometimes more than once per day. But do not leave rotting or dirty food in the terrarium, because it could be contaminated with germs and cause your lizard to become sick. (Continued…)