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Lizard Care

Important Husbandry Requirements For Some Popular Lizards

Species Habitat/Vivarium type Temperature Range ºC Humidity Diet
Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) Terrestrial, arid scrub 25-30 20-301 Insectivorous Carnivorous
Green iguana (Iguana iguana) Arboreal, rain-forest 29-33 60-85 Herbivorous
Plumed basilisk (Basiliscus Plumifrons) Arboreal, rain-forest 23-30 70-85 Insectivorous/Carnivorous/ Herbivorous
Bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) Terrestrial, desert 20-32 20-301 Herbivorous/ Insectivorous
Water dragon (Physignathus lesueri) Arboreal, rain-forest 24-30 80-90 Insectivorous/Carnivorous/ Herbivorous
Bosc's monitor (Varanus exanthematicus) Terrestrial, arid scrub 25-32 20-401 Carnivorous/ Insectivorous/ Herbivorous


Housing: Consider arboreal (tall vivarium), terrestrial (long vivarium) and aquatic requirements (aquarium, large water bowl). For the bearded dragons and leopard geckos, simple terrestrial arrangements are adequate. Lizards tend to be much more active than snakes and must have plenty of room (e.g. neonatal leopard gecko can be maintained in a 30cmx20cm enclosure while an adult green iguana requires at least 2mx2mx1.5m, if not more. Any enclosure must be escape proof, with most made of plastic coated melamine, fibreglass or glass. Glass aquariums must have a completely mesh lid to ensure adequate ventilation, while melamine and fiberglass vivaria should have several ventilation panels. Access via lockable doors or lids permits appropriate cleaning. There is a tendency for owners to set-up naturalistic enclosures but more important is the hygiene of the captive environment and the need to routinely clean the enclosure. Newspaper and artificial grass (Astroturf) work well and can be more easily replaced or cleaned than the more expensive particulate materials such as sand or bark chips which must be replaced regularly. There is also a danger of ingestion and impaction, particularly with sand.

Hide-outs and retreats set at various sites and heights and large enough for a lizard to fit inside are essential - failure to provide seclusion is often a cause of stress and maladaptation of nervous individuals to captivity. A shallow water bowl must be large enough for bathing and for humidity provision. Some species such as the water dragon and iguana may actually bathe for hours on end, others such as the bearded dragon and leopard gecko may avoid bathing but water must nevertheless is constantly available. For those species that climb, especially iguanas, most geckos, and water dragons, secure branches should be provided. A humidity chamber is especially important for some temperate and desert dwelling species (especially the leopard gecko), so that skin shedding can occur normally. Tropical species require a constantly high humidity of 80-100% that can be achieved by regular spraying or water sprinkler/dripping systems.

Humidity: Humidity requirements will be significantly greater during skin shedding. Temperature requirements shown are air temperature gradients. In general, basking temperatures should be 5ºC greater, while at night these temperatures should fall, on average, by 5ºC

Heating: In order to provide a degree of back-up two heat sources should be used; 1) Constant background heating using heat mats or ceramic infrared heaters. But avoid under floor heating for burrowing species. 2) Daytime basking areas using overhead ceramics or spot lights (must be turned off at night!). A thermostat should control heating with the temperature monitored using a digital thermometer. All heaters must be screened from climbing lizards, as burns are a potential danger.

Lighting: Most diurnal species have a requirement for ultraviolet light for proper calcium regulation. Failure to provide proper light results in bone disease, anorexia and can ultimately be fatal. Broad spectrum lighting is therefore essential for all daytime active lizards and can be provided by: Regular access to unfiltered sunlight or positioning a broad-spectrum fluorescent strip light (ZooMed Reptisun 5.0) within 25cm of the lizard's basking area. These lights MUST be replaced every 6 months for growing juveniles and breeding females, and every year for other adults. Position the light in conjunction with the basking heaters to provide a light (and temperature) gradient in the enclosure, and maintain a 12-14 hour day 10-12 hour night, unless seasonal changes are required to induce hibernation or breeding. The leopard gecko does not require broad spectrum lighting.

Handling and Restraint: All lizards can bite and if the individual cannot be trusted then they should be handled with extreme care. For small lizards, place thumb and forefinger either side of the head while the other fingers gently encase the lizard's body as it lies in the palm of the hand. For larger lizards, hold the forelimbs against the chest and the hind limbs against the tail. In all cases, do not obstruct the chest breathing movements or pinion the limbs over the back as they can fracture. Always keep direct control of a lizard as they can move with incredible speed, and never grasp a lizard by the tail as many species can drop their tail in an attempt to flee!