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Exotic Pets: Lizards, Starring the Leopard Gecko

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Exotic Pets: Lizards, Starring the Leopard Gecko

The fun, friendly leopard gecko is a great "starter" lizard.

Photo by Psyon/Wikimedia Commons
In the realm of exotic pets, lizards currently are among the “in” critters.

(As further proof of their popularity, a particularly cute little Australian-accented devil even stars in a well-known TV commercial for car insurance.)

Depending on the types of lizards, they’re easy to care for, have nice dispositions and are a good choice for people who suffer from allergies to traditional pets, such as cats and dogs, or who spend long hours away from home.

Here is background information and guidelines for pet shops who wish to work with these red-hot-right-now pets.

The Most Popular Pet Lizards

I would suggest sticking with the low-maintenance models for starters.

As such, these lizards make good pets for beginners:

The leopard gecko is one of the easiest and most popular pet reptiles, so let’s start with this little guy.

A Lovely Lizard

First, here’s some background info: The leopard gecko is a nocturnal lizard and insectivore (insect eater) that traces its origins to India and Pakistan.

Some Reasons Why Leopard Geckos Make Great Pets:

  • They remain relatively small, from 8 to 10 inches.
  • Unlike many other lizards, these do not require special UV lighting.
  • They’re pretty, with cute faces and cool markings.
  • They’re friendly; they bond easily with their human families.
  • These lizards are easy to train.
  • They are odor-free.
  • They enjoy longevity, and can live for up to 20 years.
  • They’re inexpensive.

The Care and Feeding of Leopard Gecko Lizards

Habitat. Of course, all pet lizards need a place to live. This is another advantage to the leopard gecko’s small size. Experts recommend aquariums with screened tops between 10 and 20 gallons.

I advise the 20-gallon size, so the little guys have room to move. However, the tank should not be bigger than that because this would diminish their access to the heat source.

Important note: Male lizards should not be kept together in the same tank; you’ll have to break up the equivalent to a herp barroom brawl!

The same goes for housing male and female lizards together. No, they won’t fight; quite the contrary. You will wind up with little lizards. Only do this if you plan to breed the lizards. (More about that in an upcoming article.)

If you do choose to house lizards together, females are fine.

Substrate. Newspaper, paper towels or special lizard carpets work well. Some lizard fans recommend sand. I do not, because the lizards can ingest this, which could cause intestinal obstructions.

Hide box. These lizards also require hide boxes, another product pet shops should carry. These are available in a variety of cool, attractive designs. These range from the simple and practical to the more elaborate.

The area at the bottom or under the box should be covered with moist substrate, such as moss or dampened paper towels. Make sure that the paper towels are white; they should not contain any colored ink.

Not only does this afford lizards a place to chill out and enjoy some privacy, the hide box also helps to aid with any potential shedding issues.

Lighting and heat. Leopard gecko lizards do just fine with a low-watt bulb, such as 40, set above the screen of the tank. Heat pads placed on one side under the tank, to allow temperature variation, also are recommended. Heat rocks are a no-no, as these can potentially burn the lizards.

Feeding Leopard Gecko Lizards

These lizards are strict insectivores that do not eat fruits or veggies, they fare best when fed crickets and mealworms. Some experts suggest occasionally feeding these lizards pinky mice, but this is not a good idea because mice are mammals, not insects, and they contain too much fat.

Gut loading. This is important. Any insects these lizards consume must be fed a special diet about 24 hours before being fed to the lizards, to ensure that the insects pass on the proper nutrients to the lizards. This process is called “gut loading.”

Pet shops that are planning on dealing with lizards are advised to carry a good commercial brand of insect food for this purpose, as well as insects for sale to their customers.

To gut load, place the insects in a plastic container, with a secure lid, that has been perforated for ventilation, to avoid suffocation of the critters. Be sure to include a moisture source, such as a piece of potato or small rag dampened with water.

The insects also should be dusted with a special vitamin mixture to ensure maximum nutritional benefits for lizards.

Important note: Never feed lizards wild crickets you catch yourself, as these may contain harmful chemicals such as pesticides, or have diseases.

Only feed these lizards waxworms as occasional treats, because they contain too much fat.

Water. This is also important; lizards should have access to fresh water at all times. Pet shops would do well to carry small pet water towers that are appropriate for lizards.

Handling Leopard Geckos

First, always wash your hands before touching lizards. And please be gentle; they have sensitive skin that is easily bruised. Experts recommend the removal of rings and other jewelry before handling lizards.

Very important note: Never, ever hold a gecko by or pull on its tail. It might fall off! This is called “tail dropping.” The tail does grow back, but this is not a lizard’s idea of fun.

Lizards Need Love, Too!

Above all, please be kind to lizards. They are sensitive creatures who fare best when treated with TLC.

With the proper care, attention and love, leopard gecko lizards make especially lovely pets.

Resources

One of the best resources for lizards I have found is the Reptile Channel. This site provides a great deal of information about leopard geckos, as well as various other reptiles.

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