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Are You Making First-timer Mistakes With Your Lizard?
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Are You Making First-timer Mistakes With Your Lizard?

Critter Culture Staff



Keeping lizards is pretty fun, and reptiles generally tend to be easy on the beginner since they don't have extraordinary demands. Set up a good enclosure, feed them right, and avoid sources of stress, and you're generally good to go. There are some common mistakes, however, that beginner lizard keepers should know about.


Feeding mistakes

hand feeding bearded dragon with leaf Claudia Nass / Getty Images

It can be hard to guess your lizard's specific dietary needs. Even if you get just the right combination of lettuce leaves and crickets, they may need vitamin and mineral supplements, antibiotics and fiber, medicine, and other health supplies. Beginners also tend to feed their lizards too much or not quite enough. Speak with your vet about how much of what types of food your lizard will need, and watch for signs of trouble.


Enclosure too small (or too big)

Father and son looking at pet lizard Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Unless you've brought home a Komodo dragon, your lizard's space requirements probably aren't too much for an apartment. They do need some room, however, and tight quarters can cause stress and a lot of health issues. This is especially true if they share their enclosure with other lizards. Find out the space requirements for each lizard you plan to keep, then add 10% for safety. Don't go too big, or you're wasting space.


Getting humidity wrong

Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) Alexandra Jursova / Getty Images

Lizards come from lots of different wild environments, and they have a wide range of temperature and humidity requirements as a result. Desert lizards are obviously more tolerant of dry air (during the day, at least) than others, but jungle lizards typically need some moisture in the air to stay healthy. Find out your lizard's needs and set up the enclosure accordingly.



woman holding brown gecko JackF / Getty Images

Lizards are cool, but they honestly aren't cuddly like puppies. In nature, anything touching a lizard is probably trying to eat it, so they tend not to like being handled. Most species will tolerate some handling from humans, but try not to overdo this. Small reptiles are easily stressed; they don't have the kind of brain that understands you're being nice. You don't have to totally avoid handling them but do it sparingly.


Underestimating UVB rays

Emeral Tree Monitor (Varanus prasinus) or green tree monitor Aaron Hawkins / Getty Images

Reptiles need ultraviolet energy to keep healthy bones, but beginners often get confused about how to set this up. UV coils can save energy but have a much lower output than UV bulbs. If you go with a bulb, remember that it wears out and has to be replaced every 6-12 months. Set a schedule according to your vet's advice and what the literature for your species of lizard calls for.


Assuming all lizards have the same needs

chameleon Kacper Rzepecki / Getty Images

People keep a lot of different lizard species, and they don't all have the same needs. Bigger lizards, for instance, are less sensitive to heating and cooling issues than smaller ones, while the feeding needs of all species vary by a lot. Read up on the specific needs of the lizard you're thinking about getting before you take them home, and keep up with the latest products and care supplies for them.


Bad heating, incorrect bulb placement

Green iguana relaxing and warming up under the red glow of a heat lamp in the tank Marina Vedernikova / Getty Images

It's a myth that reptiles take on the temperature of their surroundings, but they do have a really wide range of body temperatures that react to the environment. Beginners are prone to mistakes here. Put out a rock that's close enough to the warming bulb for artificial sun, but make sure there's also shade for cooling. Your lizard will move between these spots as comfort demands.


Skipping visits to the vet

Veterinarian using digital tablet in clinic, lizard on examination table. simonkr / Getty Images

Trips to the vet are part of responsible pet ownership, whether you're caring for a cat or a dog, a parakeet, or a bearded dragon. Check in with a vet who treats reptiles at least once a year when everything is going well and as needed if you think Lizzie's getting sick. Consult with the vet before making changes to diet, adding a friend, or changing anything else about their care.


Not cleaning enough (or cleaning too much)

The boy looks at an iguana sitting in an aquarium Elena_P / Getty Images

Lizards are not messy animals, but their enclosures do need to be cleaned. Owners who don't keep up with this put their lizards at risk of bacterial and fungal infection from droppings. Fresh water is a must. Don't clean too often, though. Enclosure cleaning can be stressful for lizards, so doing it every one or two days puts a strain on them. As a rule, once a week is fine for most lizard species.


Using loose substrate

Wild southern mallee ctenotus (Ctenotus atlas) on sand substrate with bushland in background

Lizards need something to walk on that isn't bare plastic, and substrate is usually it. You have to be careful with this, however. Lizards will sometimes eat substrate if it's too loose. This may be an accident while they're trying to eat normal food, or they may do it out of boredom if their enclosure isn't stimulating enough. Avoid the problem by using reptile carpet, tile, or newspaper as a substrate.



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