Living with Lizards
March 24, 2011
You love pets. You may have grown up around dogs and cats, or
even horses. You are ready for the responsibility that owning an
animal entails. However, you want something a bit more unusual than
the normal pets of choice. Why not try a pet lizard?
According to Teresa Shisk-Saling, registered veterinary
technician at the Texas A &M College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, there are several species of lizards
that are good to keep as pets, depending on your level of expertise
as a reptile keeper.
"In my opinion," says Shisk-Saling, "Bearded Dragons and Leopard
Geckos make good beginner level lizards, Chinese Water Dragons and
Blue-Tongue Skinks make good intermediate level pets, Argentina
Tegus and Savannah Monitors are good pets for the experienced
reptile keeper and, for the really brave (and experienced), there
are Water Monitors."
Of course, there are pros and cons to each species and other
factors to consider when deciding which is the right lizard for
you, such as how long each lives and how big they get. It is also
important to consider what each lizard eats. If the idea of feeding
live crickets makes you squeamish, you may want to consider a
Bearded Dragons live 10 to 12 years and can grow up to be 8 to
10 inches long. Their smaller size is part of what makes them good
beginner pets, along with the fact that they are very personable
Notes Shisk-Saling, "they are fairly easy to feed, but they can
be picky eaters if you are not committed to feeding them right, for
they cannot live on crickets alone. They can also be kept in
readily available containers."
"Leopard geckos are also a good pet since they stay small (about
5 to 10 inches) and can be kept in a 10 gallon aquarium their whole
lives (roughly 10 to 12 years)", says Shisk-Saling. "They are
fairly easy to feed, and they require no special lighting. However,
since they are nocturnal, they can be a little nippy when their
beauty sleep is disturbed!"
If you are looking for a slightly more challenging pet, a
Chinese Water Dragon or a Blue Tongue Skink may be the pet for you.
Each lives about 12 to 15 years. The skink can grow up to 12 to 14
inches, and the Chinese Water Dragon, at 2 to 3 feet with its tail,
is a bit larger.
"Blue Tongue Skinks are a bit more of a challenge but a nice
sized lizard with impressive looks," says Shisk-Saling. "They [and
Chinese Water Dragons] can be tamed down with some handling and are
fairly easy to feed. A downside to these lizards, however, is that
without handling, they can be flighty. They also need warm
temperatures, high humidity, and special lighting, so a prospective
owner needs to be aware of their maintenance needs."
Two more unusual lizards are the Argentina Tegu and the Savannah
Monitor. Both live around 10 to 12 years, with the former growing
around two to three feet and the latter growing to around three
feet. Shisk-Saling states that these are not for beginners, but
they can be very nice, personable pets, and they will even leash
train. When it comes to feeding them, however, these are not for
the faint of heart, as they are carnivores. They also need quite
large enclosures and, like the Chinese Water Dragon and the Blue
Tongue Skink, warm temperatures and special lighting.
The final lizard, the Water Monitor, is a very impressive
animal. These huge lizards can grow up to 7 to 9 feet long and can
live as long as 15 years. For the very experienced reptile keeper
they can be handle-able and personable, but keep in mind their
size, because they can weigh up to 30 pounds.
Adds Shisk-Saling, "it is always best to research the animal
that you want to keep. The worst reason to buy a lizard is because
it's cheap! Some of the meanest, nastiest animals available (Nile
Monitors, Tokay Geckos) are very inexpensive. Make sure you know
what requirements you need to provide and what to feed, and be
prepared to care for the animal for its whole life. Above all, if
the animal is acting ill, call a veterinarian. Do not try to get
rid of it on Craigslist."
Once you have decided which lizard is right for you, what are
some initial items you need to buy?
"Depending on the species, you may get by with as little as just
an enclosure (such as an aquarium, plastic tote, or a wire cage)
with a hide box and water bowl," says Shisk-Saling.
Generally, however, people enjoy decorating their cages to make
them look like the animal's native habitat.
"Enclosures can also be as extensive as a multi-level enclosure
with plants, hides, waterfalls, aspen shavings, etc," explains
Shisk-Saling. "Remember that many lizards may need heat lights, UVB
lights, or misters, so timers and power strips could prove
Owning a pet lizard can be a fun and educational experience, as
long as you do your research before bringing your pet home. Not
only can you learn a lot about reptiles in general, but you can
also amaze your friends and family with your new knowledge and your
new pet. If you will commit to their care, lizards can give you
many years of enjoyment.
ABOUT PET TALK
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
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