As a rule, only certain lizards are good for beginners. Many species have fairly complex care requirements for heating, lighting and diet. Some are quite delicate and difficult to care for, and others get quite large and aggressive. There are a few species that are quite hardy and easy to tame and others that are not.
Bearded dragons are generally docile, and their aggressive displays are rarely seen in captivity. It is reported that even wild bearded dragons will sometimes allow themselves to be picked up without a struggle. Popular as pets, bearded dragons or "beardies" are moderately sized lizards native to Australia. They are not inexpensive to care for as they have, like many other lizards, strict nutritional and environmental requirements that need to be met for them to thrive. With an adult size of 18-24 inches (reached by about 2 years of age), a good sized tank/cage will be required. The expected life span of a bearded dragon is anywhere from 4-10 years, although with good attention to nutrition and the ideal environment, the high end of that range should be expected. However, they are social and easy to tame and handle, and show a range of fascinating behaviors that make them interesting to watch.
In the wild, bearded dragons are omnivores, eating a mixture of invertebrate and vertebrate prey as well as plan material. In captivity, they should be fed primarily an insect diet, primarily crickets, with a variety of other cultured insect prey. They are prone to impaction of their digestive system, and the chitinous exoskeletons of insect prey can cause problems. This is especially true of crunchy bugs like mealworms - so it is best to feed these in limited quantities. Feeding insects right after a molt will help reduce the chance of an impaction as the exoskeletons are not as tough. Crickets also should not be too large, especially for baby bearded dragons (a rule of thumb: no larger than 1/3 the size of the dragon's head, and no longer that the distance between its eyes). Pinkie mice are also an acceptable food item for adults, and do not pose the problems with impaction that insects do. Insects should be gut loaded (fed nutritious food that is then passed on to the lizard) prior to feeding, and lightly dusted with a calcium supplement (with no phosphorus), and with a multivitamin about once a week.
In addition, they should be fed a mixture of green leafy vegetables, orange fleshed squash, carrots, other vegetables, and some fruits. The plant portion of the diet should be about 20-30% of the diet. Feed in a shallow bowl, although leafy vegetables can be clipped to the cage furnishings for snacking. Typically, they should be feed daily (more frequently as babies), and given as many insects as they will eat in 5-10 minutes. Veggies can be left in the cage all the time (changed daily, of course). Commercial diets are becoming available - but so far the long term success of these diets is not well known. I feel that feeding a varied diet is preferable, so if these diets are used they should probably not be the sole source of nutrition. One caution: do not feed fireflies (lightning bugs) as these are believed to be highly toxic to bearded dragons! If any wild caught insects are used beware of pesticide contamination.
Water should be provided in a shallow dish, such as a shallow jar lid. Misting is also advisable as dragons are designed to get their moisture primarily from their food and licking dew drops. However, do not mist too much as to make the environment wet or humid.
Bearded dragons come from dry, arid areas, and are semi-arboreal, often observed climbing on rocks and branches. Therefore, a cage should be set up with a dry substrate, hiding areas (at each end of the temperature gradient, and rocks and branches to climb on. The branches and rocks should be securely placed so that neither they nor the dragon falls while climbing on them. Many people use sand (washed play sand, not silica sand) as a substrate, although some use paper towels, indoor/outdoor or reptile carpet, or paper. Avoid corn cob or walnut shells as substrate.If sand is used, feces can be scooped out daily, but the cage will still need a good cleaning/disinfecting several times a year. Many owners construct their own cages from wood and welded wire, which is acceptable especially as it often allows more room for the dragons. For a single bearded dragon a bare minimum of a 40 gallon tank will be necessary, but bigger is better. A secure lid will also be necessary.
Cage temperatures are also extremely important. A temperature gradient should be provided, as well as a basking spot at significantly higher temperatures. The gradient should be provided end to end and also vertically (by arranging a basking spot on a branch or rock off the bottom of the cage). The lower end of the gradient should be about 76 F (24 C), and the higher end 86 F (30 C) , with a basking temperature of 90-100 F (32-38 C) . Heat should be provided via an incandescent light or ceramic heater (make sure a ceramic socket is used) - experimentation with wattage and distance from the cage can be used to provide appropriate temperatures. Place thermometers in the cage (at either end and where the lizards bask) to monitor the temperatures - do not rely on estimating temperatures! Night time temperatures can fall to approximately 70 F (21 C). If needed, supplemental heat can be provided using an under the tank heating pad or heating strips. This may be necessary at night if the room temperature is very low. Avoid heating overnight with a light, as a consistent light-dark cycle (12 - 14 hours light) must be provided. Using the lights on a timer is the best way to ensure a consistent cycle.
Bearded dragons are generally docile, and can be easily handled with minimal socialization or effort into taming. It is important to scoop them up under the belly and support their belly in the palm of your hand with your fingers gently curled over the body. Their nails do get sharp, and should be trimmed regularly. They can be trimmed in a similar fashion to iguana claws.
Blue Tongued Skinks
Blue tongued skinks are quite and gentle, and quite easily tamed and handled. It is reported that even wild blue tongued skinks will sometimes allow themselves to be picked up without a struggle. Popular as pets, blue tongued skinks or "skinks" are moderately sized lizards native to Australia. They live in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, forests, rainforests, and deserts. They are now found all over the world as pets. They are not inexpensive to care for as they have, like many other lizards, strict nutritional and environmental requirements that need to be met for them to thrive. Fairly large at mature size of around 20 inches (snout to vent length of 12 inches), a good sized tank/cage will be required. The expected life span of a blue tongued skink is anywhere from 10-20 years, although with good attention to nutrition and the ideal environment, the high end of that range should be expected. However, they are social and easy to tame and handle, and show a range of fascinating behaviors that make them interesting to watch.
- Need a large enclosure such as a 40-55 gallon tank.
- Being ground dwellers they don't need branches for climbing, but still need a secure lid.
- Substrate: aspen wood shavings, cypress mulch, or even newspaper. Make sure they are not ingesting wood substrates.
- Temperature: gradient from 75-85 F (24-29 C) with a basking spot of 95 F (35 C). A combination of undertank heating and a basking light on one side of the tank works well. Make sure the appropriate temperature gradient is provided by measuring temperatures in various spots around the tank. Night temperature can drop to about 70 F (21 C).
- Light: in addition to the incandescent basking light, provide a full spectrum UVA/UVB light for 10-12 hours per day.
- Water: provide a large shallow sturdy water dish. Skinks like to bathe in their water but often defecate there so frequent cleaning is required for the water dish.
- Hides: a couple of sturdy hiding spots should be provided for skinks, which like to burrow and hide. Cork bark, wood, rocks, PVC pipes, or other hides can be used. Make sure wood pieces or rocks are firmly places so they will not fall on the lizard. A humidity hide (e.g. a plastic storage box with moss or cypress mulch to holds moisture) will help with sheds.
- Skinks are true omnivores, which should be reflected in their diet.
- Variety is the key to providing a nutritious diet, and a calcium/vitamin D supplement should be added to the food.
- Vegetables/fruits: beans, summer or winter squash, carrots, parsnips, leafy greens. Can be shredded or pureed and added to meat portion of diet. Fruits can include strawberries, bananas, melon, etc.
- Meats: low fat canned dog food is a good staple in the diet. This should be supplemented with other items such as superworms and pinkie mice (larger for adults).
- Species: Anolis carolinensis.
- Sometimes also called American chameleons, although they are not true chameleons. They can do a color change from green to brown, especially when stressed.
- Quite readily available in the pet trade.
- Life span averages around 4 years, although they can live longer (up to 8 or more years if well cared for).
- Adult length of around 8 inches (including tail) in captivity (typically slightly larger in the wild).
- Males are larger than females and have a large dewlap (flap of skin) on the throat that is used in behavioral displays.
- Usually inexpensive to buy an anole, but the equipment needed to set up a proper tank is quite costly.
- Reasonably easy to care for if you can set up a proper tank.
- Can be very stressed by handling, and can drop their tails if grabbed by the tail.
Setting Up the Tank
- Anoles can be housed in a fairly small tank - a 10 gallon is sufficient for a single anole, or perhaps a pair. Larger is better, and if housing multiple anoles, lots of space is necessary. You should only keep one male anole per tank. Females will get along fine, as long as the tank is roomy enough and there plenty of basking spots and places to hide. A secure fitted lid is necessary.
- Substrate/furnishings: A substrate of peat moss and soil with or without a layer of bark (e.g. orchid bark) is an ideal substrate for anoles. Live plants help maintain humidity and provide cover - try Sansevierias (snake plants), bromeliads, philodendrons, ivy, orchids and vines. Pieces of bark and branches should also be provided for climbing and basking.
- Temperature: during the day, provide a gradient from 75-80 F (24-27 C) with a basking spot of 85-90 F (29-32 C). A combination of under tank heating and a basking light on one side of the tank works well. Make sure the appropriate temperature gradient is provided by measuring temperatures in various spots around the tank. Night temperature can drop to a gradient of 65-75 F (18-24 C). Do not use basking lights to achieve night time temperatures - use heating pads and/or ceramic heating elements.
- Light: in addition to the incandescent basking light, provide a full spectrum UVA/UVB light for 10-12 hours per day.
- Water and Humidity: a humidity level of 60-70% is necessary for anoles. This can usually be achieved by misting the inside of the tank daily. It is a good idea to measure the humidity level to make sure it is adequate for anoles. Misting systems are available although they are quite expensive. If you are having a hard time maintaining the humidity level, try covering part of the top of the tank and/or increasing the number of live plants. Misting also provides drinking water for the anoles as they often will not drink from a bowl (they will lick droplets of water off the misted plants).
- Anoles are insectivores and are generally good eaters.
- While crickets can be the main part of the diet, it is best to feed a variety of insects. Wild caught insects can be offered as well, if pesticide free.
- Crickets must be gut loaded with nutritious food prior to feeding.
- Feed appropriate sized prey items - about 1/2 the size of the anole's head is a good guideline.
- Can usually feed every other day, and 2-3 appropriately sized items per feeding.
- Crickets and other prey should be dusted with a quality vitamin/mineral supplement.
Scientific Name: Eublepharis macularius
Life Span: May live 20 or more years.
Size: Approximately 8-10 inches long
Appearance: Appearance: commonly yellow and white with black spots (hatchlings start out striped, and gradually change to the spotted appearance). There are several color (e.g. high yellow, leucistic and pattern (e.g. jungle, striped) variations.
Habits, Temperament, and Other Bits: Nocturnal, ground dwelling, and generally docile and easy to tame. They do not have the toe pads like other geckos so do not climb very well. They do have eyelids, also unlike other geckos.
Housing: A 15-20 gallon tank is large enough for 2-3 geckos, but there should only be one male per tank (and only keep males and females together if prepared to deal with offspring!). Half logs provide hiding and climbing space, as can commercial reptile caves and simple cardboard boxes. A damp hide box can help with shedding (a plastic container with a hole in the lid, with moist soil or moss inside).
Substrate: Young geckos shouldn't be kept on sand, as they may ingest it and get a blockage. Paper is absorbent and easy to change, and indoor outdoor carpet works well too. Avoid wood shavings. Whatever is used, make sute it is not being ingested along with the gecko's meals.
Light and Heat: Being nocturnal, leopard geckos require no special UV lighting. A regular incandescent bulb could be used to provide a basking spot, but leopard geckos probably prefer dimmer conditions so consider using a red bulb or ceramic heating element to provide the temperature gradient. Undertank heaters can also be used.
Daytime Temperature: basking spot of 90 F (32 C) with a gradient to low 80s F (around 27 C)
Night Temperature: can drop as low as mid 70s F (around 25 C)
Water : A shallow dish of water should be provided, and cleaned very regularly.
Feeding: Leopard geckos are insectivores: feed a variety of crickets, waxworms, mealworms (in moderation only) and even an occasional pinkie mice for adults. Insects must be gut loaded for at least 24 hours prior to feeding, and coated with a calcium/D3 supplement (every feeding for young lizards, every other feeding for adults). Feed juveniles daily (a few crickets), adults can be fed every other day (6-10 crickets).