Caring For Exotic Lizards
When your first born comes running up to you with eyes designed to melt your heart and asks for an exotic lizard for his/her birthday do your homework before you answer the question. This is the best advice you will ever get from anyone, anywhere. Lizards are fun, interesting and as their name implies-exotic. They are not necessarily a lot of trouble but if you want them to live happily in captivity, they will require their share of maintenance. They will eat-and not just anything. And lastly, they will grow-from a 6 inch hatchling the green iguana can reach up to 5 feet within the first 5 years of its life!
For those walking into the world of exotic lizard for the first time, here is your second best piece of advice. Start with a species that is easier to handle and care for. Before your youngster can talk you into an iguana or a Chinese Water Dragon consider the Leopard Gecko which is by far one of the best retiles to start with. It is small, easy to handle (doesn’t mind being handled), and does not need special lighting (UV-which can get expensive). Also the Crested and flat tailed geckos are good choices.
If your exotic lizard must be of a dragon variety, consider a Bearded Dragon as they are fairly docile and can be handled with few problems. They do get big and as they grow so will the need for their quarters to grow. They also need UV lighting. Both the Blue Tongued Skink and the Green Anoles are good choices, as well. Both are generally docile but do need special lighting. While the anoles will remain small the skink will grow and will need a larger tank in the end.
Another area to consider is food. Lizards fall into three categories: Though most eat meat (carnivorous), some feed on insects only (insectivorous) and others still, sport the vegetarian title (herbivorous). Typical food would include a range of mealworms, locust and crickets. These are sold at pet stores but serious retile pet owners ’grow their own’-especially crickets and mealworms. Always consider earthworms, slugs, or garden insects; just avoid catching the bugs for places where pesticides are used. For herbivores a variety of vegetables and fruits (with an occasional bug) will do.
Many exotic lizard owners dust their pet’s food with a mineral and vitamin supplement for animals to ensure good health. In the wild your pet would be getting plenty of what it needs by eating a variety of foods. In captivity this is not always so easy. Dust is one option for supplementation while a vitamin spray is another.
A short list of what is necessary includes calcium (its deficiency is the cause of metabolic bone disease or MBD), Vitamins A (vision, growth, strength to immune system), B (aids in breakdown of proteins-plant and animal, increases metabolism), C (helps build up natural defenses), D (bones), and E (development of muscle tissue).
Choose a 20 gallon tank as home for your first exotic lizard. Rocks, branches and half logs are good for hiding as well as climbing. Lizards are fairly active so their quarters should be spacious. With ground living or lizards that burrow the floor should be organic compost or bark chip, while desert lizards will prefer sand. Tree climbers, of course, will require sturdy braches at elevated levels for their enjoyment. If it is an iguana you have-these branches will need to be quite large and hanging out horizontally flat.
Offering water in larger dishes or trays or allowing for water movement (pump) or air bubbles will stimulate many exotic lizards to bathe and/or swim more readily, ensuring exercise. A drip or misting system will provide rainfall for pets native to rainforest areas.