A lizard might be the right pet for you if you are looking for something a little different or sometimes need to leave your pet to fend for itself for a couple of days. Some of their positive pet qualities follow. They generally don't take up much space and most do best with a 2-3 times a week feeding schedule. They are quiet pets that as a rule don't seek or really appreciate handling.
There are completely herbivorous and carnivorous verities as well as omnivores to choose from. There are common low-cost varieties like the anoles and some geckos as well as very pricey exotics like Blue-tongued and other fancy skinks from Australia. However once you buy the lizard care and feeding cost are usually inline or lower than many similarly sized pets.
Types commonly kept as pets range from some very easy care species like Leopard Geckos or Bearded Dragons and some that require a lot of work and experience like all Chameleons and the larger Monitors. Of course with Thousands of species and hundreds that are normally available there are a bunch that fall in between any of these extremes.
Lizards probably sound pretty good so far but there are a few less positive considerations. First off a significant number have specific dietary, environmental and/or lighting needs that absolutely need to be met for them to survive. Life spans also vary with the shortest being about three years the average probably around 10-12 years and still others that are counted in decades. In a very general way the larger lizards tend to have longer life spans and the long-lived bigger lizards are usually the hardest to find a suitable new home for.
While a healthy lizard is normally pretty economical to keep the vet bills for a sick lizard, normally brought on by improper care, can easily run into the hundreds of dollars. Another big consideration is that not everyone in the household may find them as endearing as you do and some may even make having them in the same living space an intolerable situation.
Now these past couple of paragraphs touched on some highlights to consider when deciding on keeping a lizard as a pet there are bunches of others with many specific to the type of lizard that you choose to keep. Below are some basics on the common types meant to help you narrow down your search for the perfect pet but even they don't provide enough information to even successfully bring a lizard home. The more informed you are when deciding on what type might be best for you the higher the chances of both you and your lizard being able to live with your decision.
The Agamid family of lizards contains roughly 300 species that are widely distributed in the Old world. This family includes the popular Bearded and Water Dragons, Saifin lizards, Uromastyx and of course the Agamas. They are found in the Old World but are often compared to the New World Iguanids because they tend to fill similar ecological niches. In fact both families are found in the Iguanian taxonomic line.
The agamids found in Africa and the middle east are usually native to arid or desert regions and tend to have a wide flattened body shape like the uromastyx while many of the asian species are found in wooded habitats and have a higher body shape. Their coloration also tends to match their environment with the arid area dwellers leaning towards tans and browns that blend with the earth and the forest dwellers favoring various shades of green.
Most of the agamid lizards are medium sized and are either insectivores or omnivores. Some species tend to be excitable occasionally striking at the glass with enough force to damage themselves. This tendency can be controlled somewhat by providing a high perch in their enclosure as having a good vantage point seems to lessen the stress of captivity.
Popular Agamid Species
The gecko family Gekkonidae contains more species than any other family besides the skinks. There are more than 700 species of geckos found around the world except for the Polar Regions. The Geckos are small insectivores that frequently coexist with man and providing insect control in their homes. The Geckos are best known for their amazing climbing ability provided by very small hair-like structures found on their feet that allow them to get a grip on surfaces as smooth as glass. With the exception of a group called the Day Geckos most are nocturnal.
Most Geckos are in the 6 to 8 in size range but even the biggest species only reaches a little more than a foot in length. The gecko's skin differs from most other lizards by being covered in small bumps called tubercles rather than overlapping scales. Many species don't have eyelids using a clear scale like covering called a brille similar to snakes instead. Overall the geckos are an undemanding group of lizards with the vibrantly colored Day Geckos of Africa and the Indian Ocean area the most difficult due to an omnivorous diet that needs to include soft fruits and nectars and the requirement for a warmer and more humid environment.
Popular Geckos Species
by Doug Beckers
The skinks make up the largest family of lizards with around a thousand species plus or minus a couple of hundred depending on who you talk to. They are found worldwide except for the Polar Regions with the majority of species found in the Old World. The average species is a foot or less long and has an elongated cylindrical smooth scaled body with short limbs and a pointed snout and tail. This shape is specialized for burrowing through soil and leaf litter in search of worms and insects. However there are a few arboreal and even aquatic species but these are not normally kept as pets.
Skinks tend to be shy and spend quite a bit of time hiding as a general rule the more streamlined and shorter limbed a species is the more time it will spend buried. Some of the most popular and distinctive skinks come from Australia and the South Pacific. These include the Blue-tongued with its brightly colored tongue that gives birth to live babies verses eggs and Helmeted Skinks with armored scales and long well formed limbs.
Overall skinks tend to be relatively easy to care for but due to the number of varieties and species which don't look or act like the "typical" skink it is important to research the specific species you plan to keep.
Popular Skink Species
The Anoles are most easily recognized by the large dew flaps that hang under the chin of the males. They include around 350 species in the Iguanidae family found in three genera Anolis, Norops and Polychrus. The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) is the most popular variety kept as a pet and also the most northern ranging species. The Norops genus includes another popular pet species the Cuban or Brown Anole (Norops sagrei) and are most widely spread throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Together these two genera make up almost all of the anoles but the third genus Polychrus known as the Bush Anoles contains a little over a half dozen species and are the southernmost ranging group. The Polychrus are not often seen in the pet trade.
The wide distribution of the anoles along with a willingness to occupy urban areas and their low cost in the pet trade make them the most popular first lizard for many keepers especially in the Americas. Their small size allows them to be kept in a small enclosure but also makes the common insectivorous lizard's diet staple crickets, too large for many to handle. The males tend to be territorial but again their small size often allows for a community to be set up in a medium sized enclosure especially if it has an abundance of plants. Being mostly tropical lizards they tend to like a warmer more humid environment than found in most homes and being arboreal or tree-dwelling lizards they are good climbers making a secure tight fitting top an absolute necessity.
Popular Anole Species
The name Iguana immediately brings to mind the popular Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) but their are several other closely related "True Iguanas". The various true iguanas are either classified as those species in the subfamily "Iguaninae" or in the family "Iguanidae" under two of the most accepted definitions. Along with the Green Iguana these groups include the rhinoceros or island iguanas (Cyclura species), the chuckwallas (Sauromalus species) and the desert (Dipsosaurus), spiny (Ctenosaurus), land (Conolophus) and Fiji iguanas (Brachylophus). Just about every nature documentary that has anything to do with reptiles usually has the last member of this group as a guest star, the marine iguanas of the Galapagos (Amblyrhynchus).
The true iguanas are big lizards, usually between 3 to 6 feet when grown, a fact that escapes most when they buy their 10-gallon aquarium and 8-10 baby green iguana at the pet store. Their herbivorous diet appeals to many keepers but not many realize that the green iguanas are amongst the most intelligent lizards. Their care is demanding though due to a need for daily feeding, a warm humid environment and lots of UV light to stay healthy. Because of their size and care many green iguanas are given to shelters as they grow.
Some True Iguana Species
The Uromastyx are heavy bodied strong limbed lizards built to burrow into often sun baked ground of hot arid regions in Northern Africa and the Middle East. They require a hot 90degree dry environment and developed health problems if one is not provided. Given the typical scarcity of standing water in their natural habitat they get most if not all of the moisture they need from the vegetation that makes up their diet.
They require a strong basking light and a considerable amount of substrate to burrow in. A fair number of larger rocks in the enclosure provide heat storage, basking areas and vantage points that help to make the uromastyx feel more at home. While they are very unforgiving if their environment doesn't meet their requirements if provided overall care is not difficult for a lizard of their size.
Popular Uromastyx Species
by Florence Ivy
The Chameleon's distinctive appearance and behavior probably make them the most easily recognized group of lizards. There are between 80 and 90 species of chameleons found in the old world with most species native to Africa and Madagascar.
Unfortunately despite their appeal chameleons are best left to the more experienced lizard owner. They are shy lizards that stress very easily and need a densely planted, well-ventilated yet high humidity enclosure. However just about every reptile owner wants one.
Popular Chameleon Species
Monitors & Tegus
The Monitors & Tegus have many similarities in care requirements despite coming from two different families found on opposite sides of the world. The Tegus are mainly found in South America and belong to the Teiidae family and the monitors belong to the Varanidae family, which includes the infamous Komodo Dragon and are found in Africa and Oceania.
These tend to be large aggressive lizards that require a large enclosure to keep. These are demanding lizards that are hard to provide for in captivity and definitely not recommended for beginners. However the Tegus and the Savannah, Nile and Water Monitors are popular amongst big lizard keepers.
Popular Monitor & Tegu Species