Enriching Your Lizards Life
By Chris M Jones

There are currently nearly 4’800 lizard species around the
world, all of which have slightly different habits and will require
specialised care if kept in captivity. It would be impossible to
create an information sheet that could apply to all species of
lizard. However, this article should give you a good idea how to
create the best possible environment for your lizard, and how to
keep its mind stimulated for a long, healthy and happy life.
Lizards with no mental stimulation can eventually succumb to
anorexia, hyperactivity, obsessive disorders and persistent
attempts to escape from the enclosure.

The first and foremost thing that you should do as a keeper is
to research the particular species of lizard you wish to keep.
Find out what country the lizard would naturally come from,
what habitat it prefers to live in and the temperatures and
humidity their habitat would be exposed to at different times of
the year. Find out how the lizard lives; is it nocturnal or diurnal,
insectivorous, carnivorous, herbivorous or omnivorous? Unlike
most species of snakes, a large proportion of lizards are social
animals that may live in pairs, groups or even large colonies in
the wild. Usually one male will dominate this group and control a
large number of females. Is it a solitary species or does it live in
families or groups? Is the species a fairly inactive species, or
does it regularly travel some distance in order to drink, hunt
etc…? Is your lizard terrestrial or arboreal (tree dwelling) or
perhaps even aquatic or semi-aquatic? Once you have
determined what categories your lizard will fall in to, you can
learn from the following points and enhance on the quality of
life your lizard has.

Most lizards will make good use of a spacious terrarium, and I
would therefore recommend that you provide the largest
amount of space possible. It has been documented that much
like fish; reptiles will grow slower, and perhaps not as large as it
could when kept in a small, confined enclosure. As a general
rule, most lizards should be kept in a terrarium which is a
minimum of double the total length of itself. This however is just
a general rule, keeping a 15cm Green Anole Lizard for instance
in a 30cm enclosure would not justify the high activity levels this
lizard possesses. However, keeping a 40cm Blue Tongued
Skink in an 80cm enclosure would be a little more reasonable.
Lizards are generally not intimated by space like many snakes
are, so providing a large sized enclosure will only benefit the
lizard. To ensure there is no intimidation, provide several hide
areas and a variety of décor across the terrarium.

Terrarium furnishings and substrate play an important part of
any lizard’s enclosure. Not only does it serve as more interest
to the lizard, but adding different substrates and varying décor
items will also make the terrarium more appealing to you. Give
the lizard varying depths and types of substrate. This can be
done to almost any lizard enclosure, no matter whether they are
a desert of rainforest dwelling species. You can create different
levels by forming natural barriers in the terrarium with rocks,
wood or cork bark. Depending on where your lizard originates
from, you could offer varying types of substrate to replicate
their natural habitat. A desert species may benefit from a mix of
dry soil, sand and small pebbles. Lizards that naturally occur in
rainforests may do well on a substrate with a mix of soil, leaves
and bark chips. Depending on the species of lizard, live plants
or small bushes could be planted in the enclosure. This will not
only look pretty, but will add new fragrances into the enclosure
potentially causing the lizard to explore more. Be careful which
plants you decide to use, many can be toxic if ingested so it is
vital that only safe, edible plants are put into the terrarium.
Plants should also be pesticide free, so be sure to spray it
down with water. Re-arranging the cage furniture from time to
time will keep the lizard stimulated and active.

It is important to realise not only what temperatures your lizard
should be exposed to, but also in what manner they are
offered. In the wild, heat is gained by use of the sun, but this is
not to say that every lizard must have a basking area with heat
or light from above. You should first find out where your lizard
comes from and the daily habits which it would naturally go

Nearly all diurnal snakes will bask in the sun; it is therefore only
natural to offer a spot bulb type of heat. This will mimic the sun
and should allow the lizard to bask directly underneath the area
which the bulb is pointing. The sun also moves throughout the
day, meaning that many a time, the lizard will also have to
move. Often, diurnal species do not bask during the middle of
the day; instead they will bask in the early morning and late
afternoon. By placing 2 spot bulbs in different areas of the
terrarium wired into a timer, you can mimic the effect of the sun
and give the lizard the chance to search out a new, better
basking site. If you have a large budget and terrarium to play
with, you can offer further basking sites for different times of the
day. You could even set up the lamps with timers on dimming
thermostats so that the temperature output could lessen or
greaten depending on the time of day. Diurnal species will also
require UVA and UVB rays normally gained through the sun.
This can be given in the form of a spot / UV bulb in one, or can
be offered separately in the form of a UV Strip Light.

Many nocturnal or rainforest dwelling species will not bask in
the sun, but should be exposed to a higher day time
temperature. Although it is recommended that you offer varying
temperatures, there should be an overall air temperature. This
can be achieved by using a power plate. A power plate is a
75Watt heater that is attached to the ceiling of your terrarium
and provides a wider range of heat from above, making it more
efficient at raising the actual air temperature than other
heaters. Lighting should still be offered for these species,
although in the form of a fluorescent tube. At night, a red bulb
or moon bulb could be used for background heat and to allow
better viewing of the lizard.

Nocturnal, terrestrial species that do not live in a rainforest
environment will often obtain their heat from the ground
surface, usually on flat rocks which have been exposed to the
sun during the day and allowed to heat up. This heat is
retained for some hours throughout the evening. Hot rocks are
available to mimic this behaviour, although it is only suggested
that you use these for a few hours at the appropriate time;
generally as lights go out until 4 hours later.

Water is generally offered in a small water dish which doesn’t
even allow the lizard to fully submerse itself. Although this is
preferable for many desert dwelling species, other species will
regularly travel to streams, ponds or puddles to drink, bathe
and swim. Offering water in a larger dish, away from the heat
source will often stimulate many species of lizard to bathe and
swim more often, allowing for more exercise. Be sure to watch
for faeces in the water, as many lizards will commonly excrete
during bathing. Allowing water movement through a pump, air
bubbles or even a small waterfall will also stimulate the lizard to
bathe and drink regularly. For rainforest dwelling species, a
drip system and / or misting system will simulate rainfall in the
wild. This may be very important for some species such as
Chameleons that will predominantly drink from water droplets
that gather on leaves or branches.

Foods and feeding methods play an important role in
stimulating the natural responses of most lizards. In captivity, it
is ever popular to attempt feeding your lizard by hand. This may
be fun and rewarding for you as a keeper, but if done too often
will result in a lazy lizard with little self drive to hunt or forage for
its food.

Herbivorous lizards will naturally find their food in different
areas. They may have to climb to different levels on mountain
side to find their preferable choice of flower, or move from tree
to tree to find the best leaves. It is therefore only common
sense to realise that placing all of the lizards food into a bowl in
one area of the terrarium will not stimulate any natural feeding
responses and result in a lazy, overweight lizard that may
potentially succumb to anorexia or other behavioural problems.
Putting a different food item into the bowl from time to time does
not class as enrichment, as it does not change the way a lizard
feeds. However, placing the items in different areas of the
enclosure may change the way the lizard forages for food and
therefore does class as enrichment. Clips can be bought which
stick to the side of a terrarium and will hold leaves at different
heights for the lizard to reach. Placing a live, edible plant in the
terrarium will stimulate the lizards scent responses and will
make for a much more exciting meal that could last for days.
You could even try hanging a branch from the roof of your
terrarium so that it sways around as the lizard attempts to feed
on it. Some vegetable or fruit matter could even be hidden from
your lizard. Placing a peeled banana behind a rock or under
some leaves will tempt most herbivorous lizards.

Carnivorous and Insectivorous lizards can also benefit from
feeding techniques and food items offered. Unlike vegetable
matter, live insects will move, and different species of insect
may move and act in a different way. This may result in a
different hunting technique your lizard has to adapt to. Offering
brightly coloured or fast moving insects is something that
makes many lizard species extremely excitable. Try catching
and feeding the occasional Daddy Long Legs; many lizards will
go crazy over these. It is important that your lizard’s staple diet
has been ‘gut-loaded’. This means that your lizard’s food item
should also be fed itself, after all, there is little point in feeding a
malnourished cricket to your hungry lizard. Applying the
appropriate calcium and mineral supplements is also important.
Research should be carried out as to what supplements and
which foods should be fed to the particular species of lizard you
own. Many keepers will place live food into a bowl where they
cannot escape from, or they may dismember the insects so
they cannot move. This certainly makes life easier for the lizard,
but certainly not a natural one. A slow release insect feeder is
recommended, and will overcome the problem of lots of insects
running around at the same time, resulting in hidden, uneaten
insects. Many species of lizard; Monitor lizards and large Skinks
in particular will eat small mammals and birds. Live mammals
and birds should not be fed in captivity and are not necessary.
In fact, many of these lizards will primarily feed on carcases of
dead animals. Hiding the food underneath leaves or even
burying it under the substrate will stimulate most monitor lizards
to dig and find the food. You can also try hanging the food from
the roof of the terrarium.

It is not wise to tie the food with string or other non-digestible
material; however, a mouse tail for instance could be trapped in
the lid of the terrarium or some kind of clip. With the force of the
lizard tugging at the food, it should break free. This will make it
a little harder for the lizard to feed, as the food will sway around
as it attempts to bite it. Tease feeding is an excellent method to
re-create a wild animal’s movements. With a pair of long
forceps you can grip the food item and move it around,
simulating the movements of the animal in the wild. If the lizard
shows interest, move it further away and around the enclosure,
enticing the lizard to chase and hunt the food.

Handling your lizard on a regular basis is a similar situation to
taking your dog for a walk. It is a way of taking the lizard out of
its usual environment to provide exercise and an array of
unusual smells. Many wild caught lizards, or lizards not used to
being handled should have limitations on the amount of time
spent handling. The last thing you want to do is stress the lizard
by over-handling. Captive bred individuals that are regularly
handled will however enjoy human interaction and the chance
to move around different surfaces. On a warm day, take your
lizard outside in the garden and let it roam around on the grass.
The natural UVA and UVB rays the sun produces will also
benefit the lizard more than any commercial bulb is able to do.
Be very careful not to take your eyes off the lizard though, the
last thing you want is for it to quickly burrow into the ground or
worse still, grabbed by a passing predatory bird. Being able to
handle your lizard will not only allow exercise and scent
stimulation, it will also allow for easier maintenance and
veterinary care if needed.

Although human interaction will stimulate the responses of your
lizard, other lizards may also be beneficial. Bearded Dragons
for instance will naturally live in groups of one dominant male to
several females and perhaps juveniles of both sexes. Many
geckos will live in large colonies, often having the same nesting
area for a large number of females. Some skinks live in families
and their young may not depart the family for many years.
Other lizards may sometimes provide the natural stimulation a
captive lizard needs, and depending on the species and sex of
your lizard, should be considered for the health and wellbeing
of your pet.

Lizards can make wonderful companions and can live for many
years. By providing a fulfilling and happy life for your lizard you
will no doubt prolong it and get more enjoyment out of it
yourself. This article, together with your own ideas should
prevent your lizard from become overweight or inactive, further
resulting in behavioural problems.

We would love to hear if you try any of our methods, or have
your own methods you would like to share with us. Please visit
our web site and let us know how you and your lizard are
getting on!

By Chris Jones
Director of Pet Club UK Ltd.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Chris_M_Jones
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