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 different animal.
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 and social.
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 beneficial.”
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.
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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.