Keeping Lizards as Pets

There are loads of different types of lizards to choose from if you fancy the idea of keeping one of these fascinating reptiles as a pet.  Those kept as exotic pets include chameleons, dragons, geckos, skinks and monitor lizards.  As with any exotic pet, it’s important to find out as much as you can about the species you’re interested in before you buy any kind of lizard, as some are harder to care for than others.


It’s advisable to handle your pet lizard with care.  Firstly, lizards can lose their tails if they think they’re being attacked, which may cause you to drop your pet in surprise, plus the tail won’t look as impressive when it grow back.  Secondly, your lizard could injure you with its sharp claws, teeth or tail.


In the wild, most lizards are very active, so in captivity they need a spacious tank to keep them as healthy and happy as possible.  What you put on the floor depends on your animal’s natural habitat.  For example, you’d use sand for a lizard from the desert, soil or bark chippings for a forest living one.  You should furnish the tank with appropriate items depending on whether your lizard is naturally land or tree dwelling, and always provide a bowl of water.

Most lizards kept as pets come from warm places in the wild, so will require some form of heating, from a heat mat or ceramic heater.  They also need a UV light to keep them healthy.


As most lizards are carnivores, they can be fed on a varied diet (depending on their size) consisting of live crickets, locusts and worms, as well as slugs and other bugs collected from the garden.  Supplements can also be used to provide optimum nutrition.  Find out what diet is recommended for a particular lizard as part of your research before you buy a new pet.


This group include several lizards that are popular to keep as exotic pets, such as bearded dragons and iguanas.

Bearded dragons originate from Australia.  They get the name “bearded” from the spines on their throats that in the wild they can make stand up as a defensive measure when threatened.  In captivity, they are inquisitive and friendly and enjoy being handled.  They can live around 10 years and grow up to 60cm long.

Iguanas can be tricky to care for, having specific requirements.  It’s essential to provide optimum living conditions and feed a varied, nutrient rich diet to avoid illness.  They can also grow from small baby lizards up to 180cm long.  Iguanas are better for experienced exotic pet keepers than novices.


Geckos are friendly, small lizards that can make good pets for those new to keeping reptiles, although it’s worth knowing they can live for over 20 years in captivity.  They come in a range of colours and sizes.  The leopard gecko is commonly kept as a pet as it’s easy to look after and has a docile nature.  Some others available from exotic pet shops include crested, African clawed and flat-tailed house geckos.


Skinks can make good pets for those keeping a reptile for the first time.  They are gentle natured and like to be handled.  They are also active and fun to observe.  The Berber skink is one of the most popular.  It can live up to 20 years and grow up to 40cm long.  The blue tongue skink is another lizard commonly kept as a pet and grows up to 50cm long.


There are several types of chameleons kept as exotic pets, including Jacksons, panther and veiled chameleons.  As they have very specialised needs, they are best kept only by experienced exotic pet enthusiasts.  They don’t like to be handled but can make interesting pets to watch.  Chameleons have unusual features, such as very long, strong tongues used to catch prey and they are able to change colour.  Some are more hardy than others.  Since chameleons can be susceptible to stress, it’s important to know how to care for them properly.

Monitor Lizards

Monitors can be kept as pets.  However, they are high maintenance and have special requirements that must be met to keep them in good health.  Monitors are best kept only by experienced exotic pet owners willing to put in the time and money to care for them properly.  They grow very quickly from small hatchlings to over 120cm in just the first year, so they need custom made housing.  They can also be aggressive and dangerous when fully grown.


Keeping Snakes as Pets

There is a lot to learn about how to look after a pet snake and you should make sure you do thorough research before buying one.  The snakes sold in exotic pet shops and online are not poisonous, as the regulations are very strict and you need a license to own a poisonous snake in the UK.  Boas and pythons can be dangerous as they are constrictors and in the wild wrap themselves round their prey to kill it, although a snake kept in captivity is unlikely to be large enough to do this to a fully grown person.  However, it’s best to have some experience of keeping exotic pets before buying a boa and python.   A variety of harmless smaller snakes are commonly kept as pets, such as king, milk, rat and corn snakes.  Snakes are beautiful and fascinating reptiles, with unusual features.  For example, they have no eyelids and use their tongues to smell!  How to care for a pet snake depends on the type of snake, but there are some general principles for keeping most types that are commonly on sale in the UK.


You will need a tank or terrarium to house your pet snake.  How big it should be depends on the size of the snake, but it’s essential that it has a secure lid to prevent the snake from escaping, and it must be kept clean to maintain good health.

Snakes that would burrow in their natural environment will need soil or sand on the floor.  Newspaper or bark chippings can be used for others.  Snakes will also need places to hide, rest and climb, so provide things such as logs, rocks, branches or ready made snake caves sold in exotic pet shops.


You will need to check before you buy your snake what sort of heating and temperature is best for it.  It’s important to have a thermal gradient, which means having different temperatures in different parts of the tank, so your snake can regulate its body temperature.  This is usually done by having a heater at one end of the tank, and having a cooler spot at the other end.  Make sure you have a guard for any heat source so your snake doesn’t get too close and injure itself.  It’s best to use a separate lamp for lighting, so it can be switched off at night and provide a natural daily rhythm. You will need a reliable thermostat to make sure the tank temperature is not too hot or cold.


Snakes in captivity can be fed pre-killed prey, usually dead baby mice known as pinkies, which can be kept in a freezer and defrosted as needed.  Larger snakes such as boas and pythons will eat larger things such as dead rats or day old chicks.

Corn Snakes

These are good snakes for beginners.  Corn snakes have calm, docile temperaments and like to be handled.  They can grow up to 105-150cm long and come in a range of different morphs and colours.  They can live 15 years or more.

Milk Snakes

There are many varieties of milk snake.  Those that are commonly kept as exotic pets in captivity include Honduran, Mexican, Nelsons, Pueblan and Sinoloan milk snakes.  These snakes are quite small in size, growing up to 90-120cm long.  Although not quite so easy to look after as corn snakes, they make attractive pets, with colourful red bodies and black and yellow or white banded markings.  Milk snakes have been known to eat others, so are best kept singly.

King Snakes

King snakes are fairly easy to care for and are a good choice for people new to keeping an exotic pet.  The California king snake is one of the most popular to keep as a pet.  It doesn’t grow too large, only about 100-150cm long.  There are several colour morphs available, from those with black and white bands to albino, or chocolate and lavender.  King snakes are cannibalistic so should be kept on their own.

Rat Snakes

Rat snakes are hardy and straightforward to look after, so are generally good as a first snake for a beginner.  There are many varieties in this group.  Those popular as pets include Bairds, Everglades, Great Plains or Emorys, Red Mountain and Texas rat snakes.  The come in a huge range of colours and patterns.


Keeping Frogs as Pets

Poison Arrow Frogs

Poison arrow frogs – also known as poison dart frogs – get their name from the natural poison toxins secreted by their skin as a defensive mechanism.  The poisonous toxins from certain species are traditionally used by local tribes on the ends of their arrows and darts that are used to kill prey.  These frogs are popular as exotic pets not only for their striking bright colours, but because they are active during the day.  Many amphibians are nocturnal, making it harder to observe their behaviour.  They are very small frogs, generally measuring around an inch long when fully grown.

The skin secretions are actually made toxic by the poisonous insects the frogs eat in the wild.  So in captivity, when fed on an adult diet, the skin secretions are safe.  Be aware that frogs caught in the wild and sold as pets will remain toxic and dangerous for some time, so it is advisable to buy captive bred frogs for pets.  They aren’t the easiest of amphibians to keep as pets and are better for experienced pet keepers rather than beginners.  Among the easiest and most popular species to keep as pets are the Striped, Black Legged, Green and Black, Bumble Bee and Dyeing poison arrow frogs.

Habitat & Feeding

Poison arrow frogs need a humid and warm environment to thrive, as a substitute for their natural home in the forests of South and Central America.  It depends on the species, but generally the temperature should be 25-28C during the day, 21C at night, with humidity of 70-100%.  They need a spacious terrarium with a suitable substrate such as bark chippings and plenty of places to hide.  Exotic pet shops sell a range of accessories for decorating your tank, such as model waterfalls.  Several frogs can be kept together in the same tank, but they can get territorial when fully grown, so the tank needs to be large enough to give them all room.

Because they are such small frogs, they need small prey such as aphids, baby woodlice and small crickets.

Clawed Frogs

The African clawed frog (xenopus laevis) is the most commonly kept species of this aquatic frog, which comes from South Africa.  Its body and head appear flattened and it gets its name from the sharp claws on its hind feet.

Habitat & Feeding

You will need to keep your clawed frogs in an aquarium.  The water temperature should be around 20C, so many pet owners don’t heat their tank, just keep it in a warm place.  These frogs don’t like sudden changes in temperature, so be careful when doing partial water changes, which you should do often.  Gravel can be used on the base of the aquarium, as long as it’s large enough not to be ingested by the frogs.  You can add plants if you wish, but it’s not necessary and the frogs are likely to uproot them.

Clawed frogs aren’t generally fussy about what they eat.  Fully grown ones can be fed earthworms, maggots and bits of raw fish.  Younger frogs can eat tubifex, whiteworm and bloodworm.

Tree Frogs

As the name suggests, tree frogs naturally live in trees rather than on the ground or underwater.  There are many varieties that can be kept as pets, such as the African Green, the African Big Eyed and the Red Eyed tree frog.  Their size varies according to the species, with the large Cuban tree frog growing up to 15cm long, the White’s or “Dumpy” tree frog from Australia measuring around 10cm and the smaller European tree frog being around 5cm long.

Habitat & Feeding

Tree frogs in captivity need to be kept in a terrarium that is large enough for them to move and jump fairly long distances, with bark or sphagnum moss on the floor.  Like any type of frog, tree frogs will need places to hide, so large pieces of cork back or shop bought accessories can be used.

Tree frogs will need a small bowl of water, which will help with the humidity as well.  It’s important to keep the tank clean and free from mould, so you should clean it out every 3 weeks or so.  Because tree frogs come from warm places in the wild, the terrarium should be heated to about 25C during the day and 20C at night, depending on the particular species you choose.  If you use a lamp to heat your tank, make sure it has a guard to protect your pets from burns.

Tree frogs can be fed a variety of live food, depending on their size, such as crickets, earthworms and insects collected from a garden.

Keeping Reptiles

Reptiles are cold-blooded creatures that have scales rather than fur or feathers.  Snakes, lizards and tortoises fall into this category.  There are many different and unusual types of reptile that can be kept as exotic pets.  Before you buy any reptile, it’s essential you find out about how to care for it and make sure you have the right supplies and equipment.  You will need to try to replicate your pet’s natural environment within the confines of it tank and feed it a balanced diet to keep it well and stress-free.  Here is some general information about keeping reptiles as pets.


Unless you buy a fully-grown reptile, your pet is going to grow larger and you must bear this in mind when choosing its enclosure.  You should leave at least one third of the floor clear to give your pet space to move around.  You may need to upgrade to a larger tank as your pet grows.

In the wild, reptiles use external temperatures to regulate their body temperature and metabolism, which is key for healthy bodily functions such as digesting food.  For instance, snakes can be seen basking in the sun to warm themselves.  When reptiles are kept as pets, they will need thermal gradients in their tanks to offer them a range of temperatures.  This can be achieved by placing a heat source in part of the tank, using heating pads or overhead lamps.  You can create a hot spot for your pet to bask by hanging an incandescent lamp at one end of the enclosure, over a suitable area such as a pile of rocks.

It’s also essential to provide the right lighting in your pet’s tank, with a cycle of light and dark to simulate night and day.  Certain reptiles, including most lizards, tortoises and turtles, require an artificial source of UV light in order to stay healthy.  This is needed to stimulate the production of vitamin D3, which would be acquired from sunlight in a natural environment and is essential for the proper absorption of calcium.  Supplements can be given, but are not as effective as a UV light, which can be purchased from exotic pet shops or online.

You will need to maintain the right level of humidity for your pet, but spraying the tank regularly with water.  Another way to manage humidity is to place a plastic container with a hole cut out for access in the tank and put some sphagnum moss inside.  Another advantage of doing this is you will provide somewhere for your pet when they are shedding their skin.

You will need to find out before you buy your pet what type of substrate you should use in the enclosure.  Astroturf or reptile bark are commonly used and can be found in exotic pet stores.  It is possible to add pieces of bark or leaves from the garden, but it is essential to make sure they are clean and sterilised first.  You should also offer your pet some hiding places, which you can create yourself with bits of wood or card, or you can buy a purpose built reptile cave.  To give your pet an interesting environment, you can add things like stones and branches to climb on, just make sure they are sterile and secure and won’t fall on your pet.  Some pet owners like to put plants in the tank, mainly because they look nice.  Artificial plants can be used and are an easier option than live plants.  Real plants are likely to be damaged by reptiles and it’s important they aren’t toxic as your pet may eat them.


Like other exotic pets, in order to thrive, reptiles need to eat food similar to the prey they would naturally live on in the wild, rather than commercial pet food.  In their natural habitat, reptiles will eat a variety of mammals, birds, insects or fish.  You will need to find out what is the best food for feeding your particular type of reptile.  You need to make sure you don’t feed your pet something that is to large, which could cause them serious injury or even kill them.  As a general guide, you shouldn’t feed a snake anything wide than the widest part of it body and with a lizard, its prey should be smaller than two thirds of its head.

The colour of the food may be an issue with certain species too.  For instance, some reptiles prefer rodents that are the same colour as those they would eat in the wild and some will eat green insects out of preference.

You will need to research the natural feeding habits of your pet in the wild, such as what time of day or night they would eat and how often.  The frequency of feeing will depend on different factors, including age, size and diet.

Feeding an exotic pet live foods in captivity can be an issue.  Some prey such as rodents  will put up a fight and could scratch or bite your pet when it’s killing them.  If your pet isn’t hungry, if live prey is left in their tank, the prey could cause problems.  For example, rats might try to eat a snake’s skin.

Generally it’s easier for most reptile owners to use frozen, pre-killed prey, which can be stored in a freezer and defrosted when needed.  Many people have a special freezer just for keeping their pet’s food, such as dead mice, rats and day old chicks.

A Naturalist’s Diary: 14

A curious phenomenon yesterday. I was walking back to my quarters in the afternoon when I heard a loud splash at our waterbody. I investigated as I assumed a Rhesus Macaque had fallen from one of the overhanging branches of a mango tree, into the water. Sure enough I spotted a young macaque swimming strongly and confidently. It reached one of the islands and clambered out, bedraggled, but otherwise unscathed.

But when I was returning from my quarters it happened again! And I could hear several splashes. The macaques were deliberately jumping into the water.

I watched them for about a half-hour today and there were three young macaques who kept repeating this! At one point I thought that one came up with something and ate it, but I am not certain. Yesterday was a warm day, today completely sodden and wet. I just spoke to the Resort Manager and he says that this is a regular phenomenon.

It rained the entire day today. By 10 am the river had risen by about four feet and the waters were fast and turbulent. I found three river crabs on the steps leading down to the spa, a good fifteen feet above the river.

To Ramnagar in the evening. A tree had fallen towards Mohan and blocked the road. So hundreds of people walking through the forest towards town. When the boundaries of the park were drawn up, how did they not extend it to the river?

B. striatus fished avidly all through the rain, but moved to the resort bank. By six-ish the rain had let up and the waters had already receded by a foot. When I checked the spa steps I could not find any of the crabs. Jolly Uncle tells me that that today’s rain is not a ‘real’ rain since it is not raining in the hills.