When considering getting a pet lizard, there are many factors to take into account to determine what type will make the best pet for you or your family. Lizards come in a huge range of sizes, life spans, care requirements, temperaments, and costs. With over 6,000 species of lizards in the world, it can be daunting to decide which is right for you.
What are the most popular types of pet lizards?
Some of the most popular types of pet lizards include:
- Leopard geckos
- Crested geckos
- Bearded dragons
- Blue tongue skinks
- Green anoles
These types of lizards are common pets because they are relatively easy to care for, have interesting appearances and behaviors, and are readily available either wild caught or captive bred. Let’s look at some key factors to help determine which might be the best fit for you.
Size of the lizard
Lizards come in a huge range of sizes from just a few inches long like anoles to over 10 feet long like monitors. Consider the size of enclosure you have room for and the size of lizard you feel comfortable handling and caring for. Some good starter size lizards include:
- Small: 3-6 inches – anoles, dwarf geckos
- Medium: 6-18 inches – leopard geckos, crested geckos, gargoyle geckos
- Large: 2-4 feet – bearded dragons, blue tongue skinks, tegus
Lifespan of the lizard
Different types of lizards can have very different lifespans ranging from just 1-2 years for some small lizards and up to 15-20+ years for larger species. Make sure you are prepared to care for the lizard for its entire life before bringing it home. Some expected lifespans include:
- Short: 1-3 years – anoles, some geckos, small skinks
- Intermediate: 4-8 years – leopard geckos, crested geckos, gargoyle geckos, bearded dragons
- Long: 10-20+ years – monitors, tegus, large skinks, chuckwallas, uromastyx
Costs of care
The upfront and ongoing costs to properly care for a pet lizard can vary widely. Things to factor in include:
- Purchase price of the lizard
- Size and type of enclosure needed
- Heating and lighting equipment
- Food costs
- Vitamins and other supplements
- Vet care/check ups
Some relatively affordable lizards to keep can include leopard geckos, crested geckos, anoles and skinks. More expensive setups are needed for large lizards like monitors and tegus.
Ease of handling
Some lizards enjoy being handled or tolerate it well, while others can be nippy, flighty or stressed by handling. Think about how much you plan to handle the lizard and your comfort level. Good lizards for handling include:
- Leopard geckos – slow moving, enjoy human interaction
- Crested geckos – allow handling but can be quick
- Blue tongue skinks – tolerant of handling with a mild temperament
- Bearded dragons – Generally docile and easily tamed
Lizards that do not handle well include:
- Anoles – very quick and easily stressed
- Chameleons – handling causes stress
- Monitors – can be nippy and need experienced handlers
Some lizards are fine in relatively simple setups, while others need specialized caging that can be expensive and take up a lot of room. Key factors to consider for caging include:
- Size – larger lizards need enough room to move and climb
- Security – escape proof with proper closures
- Ventilation – screen tops or vents for air flow
- Substrates – reptile carpets, newspaper, bark chips, etc
- Hides – shelters for security and humidity
- Climbing/basking – branches, rocks, logs
- Plants – live or artificial plants help recreate native habitats
Relatively simple housing is needed for leopard geckos and crested geckos. Large custom-built enclosures are required for lizards like monitors and iguanas.
Heating and lighting needs
Proper heating and lighting is essential for a lizard’s health. Options can include:
- Under tank heat pads
- Ceramic heat emitters
- Basking bulbs for daytime heat
- UVB lighting for calcium metabolism
- Thermostats to control temperatures
Some lizards require more specialized heating and lighting than others. For example, chameleons need bright daylight heat bulbs and faded or dark lighting at night.
Some lizards need specific humidity levels to thrive which requires specialized setups:
- Low humidity: Around 30-40% for bearded dragons and uromastyx
- Moderate: 40-60% for leopard geckos, anoles, skinks
- High: 60%+ for chameleons and crested geckos
You may need to mist cages daily or provide humidity hides to meet some lizard’s needs.
Common health issues
Lizards can be susceptible to issues like:
- Metabolic bone disease from lack of calcium/UVB
- Parasites – both internal and external
- Mouth rot
- Respiratory infections
- Eye infections
- Egg binding in females
Being aware of potential health issues and providing proper husbandry and vet care helps keep lizards healthy long-term.
Feeding your lizard an optimal diet is key to their health. Most eat insects, though some large lizards can eat small animals, and herbivorous lizards eat vegetation. Examples include:
|Insectivores||Crickets, worms, roaches, flies, larva|
|Omnivores||Insects plus fruits, vegetables, small vertebrates|
|Herbivores||Leafy greens, hay, flowers|
Supplementing feeder insects with calcium and vitamins is essential. Having an exotic pet store or online retailer that provides suitable feeders is recommended.
Providing proper enrichment helps keep lizards engaged and active. Ideas include:
- Climbing branches and logs
- Live or artificial plants for cover
- Varied substrates and textures
- Hide boxes
- Misting reptiles that enjoy water
- Providing toys and treats for food-motivated species
Rotating new climbing routes, cage decor, and food delivery methods provides mental stimulation.
Spending time interacting with your lizard helps socialize them. This may involve:
- Direct handling for lizards that tolerate it well
- Hand feeding for shy or nippy species
- Having a safe lizard-play area outside the enclosure
- Slow movements and hand feeding helps build trust
- Using a soft paintbrush to pet shy lizards
Start slow, be consistent, and build up the lizard’s comfort level with interaction.
When choosing the right lizard, think about your own preferences for size, handling ability, costs, and complexity of care. Good starter lizards include leopard geckos, crested geckos, and bearded dragons. They tend to be easy to handle, have reasonable care requirements, exhibit interesting behaviors, and live 4-8 years. For experienced owners looking for a show-stopper display lizard, monitors and large tegu species make great choices but require significant commitments of time, money, and space.
Do your research, make sure you can provide the optimal environment, and choose a lizard with a personality and activity level suited to your lifestyle. With their unique behaviors, attractive appearances, and generally calm demeanors, lizards can make fantastic pets for the right owner.