Here is just a sampling of the exotic lizards in the hobby.
In this article I will briefly discuss several exotic lizards which are easily attainable to the average pet keeper. The word exotic of course is open to the way you interpret its meaning. What may be an exotic lizard species to one reader may be a common or familiar species to a different reader, such as an introduced species from one area of the country to another. In this article however, we will discuss lizards typically kept as pets but not native to the United States of America.
Not all of the lizard species listed below are easily kept but rather have a broad range of care requirements. Whether any of the species listed are right for you depends on your level of experience and your dedication to proper care and maintenance. With thorough research and attention to their needs, all of the lizards listed below can make excellent saurian pets!
The author with his green iguana.
- Green Iguana: A staple in the pet industry, the Green iguana (Iguana iguana) is an impressive animal with bright colors and dramatic features. Primarily arboreal, the green iguana spends a great deal of time off of the ground and has enormous nails for climbing. This is a large lizard and you must plan ahead for an animal in its adult size of 4-6 feet in length. More often than not the green iguana is sold as a baby and will require much handling before it will trust you. Iguanas can inflict a nasty bite and at the same time they will use their long, streamlined tails as a whip to prevent themselves from being bothered. Additionally, the nails of the green iguana are literally razor sharp and many new keepers refuse to handle them because of all of these defense tactics. A pair of leather gloves and a pair of nail clippers will greatly reduce your chances of getting hurt. Green iguanas feed on fresh green vegetables and require these daily. Natural sunlight is vital to these beautiful lizards so a large, outdoor enclosure would be best. In the event that an outdoor enclosure is not an option, artificial full-spectrum lighting can and must be provided and a spacious indoor enclosure is a must. Read the green iguana care sheet.
Leopard geckos are one of the most popular pet lizards.
- Leopard Gecko: How could anybody NOT appreciate this adorable, soft skinned little fellow! The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) has been a familiar face in American pet shops for decades and due to its small size of only eight to 10 inches in length, makes for a very non-invasive pet. The leopard gecko is an invertebrate feeder preferring meals of live crickets, mealworms and roaches. They are of a southern Asian descent and prefer a warm, dry climate in captivity. This lizard species is naturally nomadic and does very well when kept as a single animal. The leopard gecko comes in a variety of human manipulated color morphs and although unsettled specimens have been known to bite it is generally very tractable, soon becoming a favorite with the hobbyist. Keep in mind, though generally calm the leopard gecko can move quickly and they have been known to lose their tails when handled aggressively! Read the leopard gecko care sheet.
An adult water monitor has the capacity to reach lengths of nearly nine feet (though six feet is more typical).
- Water Monitor: Among monitor enthusiasts, the Asian water monitors (Varanus salvator) are a common favorite. Found throughout Asia and second in size only to the Komodo monitors which are known only from a few islands in the Indonesian archipelago, an adult water monitor has the capacity to reach lengths of nearly nine feet (though six feet is more typical) and will require a great deal of room. Water monitors can inflict a very nasty bite (among other defensive characteristics such as tail whipping, scratching and fecal spraying!) and though juveniles typically take a great deal of time to settle down, many water monitors naturally seem to become more tame as they grow larger. Water monitors are meat eaters and a broad diet ranging from fish and rodents to beef and chicken should be supplied on a daily basis. Juvenile water monitors can be fed a primary diet of invertebrates such as roaches and crickets. A large enclosure and full spectrum lighting is a must for this species of exotic lizard. As the name implies, the water monitors absolutely love spending time in and around the water and a large basin should be supplied. Keep in mind that cleanliness is paramount to good health with this and other species of exotic lizards and water basins should be cleaned daily especially as the water monitors will typically defecate in the their water basin! Water monitors are best kept at ambient temperatures in the mid 80’s with access to an even warmer basking light. To prevent thermal burns, It is crucial that the monitor cannot come into contact with the basking light bulb. Watch the Asian water monitor Quick Care Video.
Blue-tongue skinks are native to Australia and some islands in Indonesia.
- Blue Tongued Skink: The blue-tongued skink is a popular, moderately sized lizard of about two feet when full grown and has an elongated body with short, stocky limbs. All blue-tongues are represented in the genus Tiliqua with several recognized species and numerous sub-species. Most inhabit the Australia mainland while others are found on various Indonesian islands and New Guinea. Though generally docile in captivity, the blue-tongued skink is capable of inflicting a nasty bite when mishandled and this coupled with very sharp nails makes the blue-tongued skink a rather formidable opponent. When feeling threatened by the presence of another animal, the blue-tongued skink sometimes exhibits an open mouthed gape at the potential intruder, thus displaying its bright blue tongue which may serve as an unexpected warning. As a pet the blue-tongued skink is relatively easy to maintain when kept at temperatures right around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and they feed on a daily variety of fruits, vegetables and small animals such as roaches and pinkie mice. Read the blue-tongue skink care sheet.
Frequently mistaken for a snake, the Scheltopusik differs greatly from snakes in that it has moveable eyelids and external ear openings.
- Russian Legless Lizard: Also known as the Scheltopusik, the Russian (or European) legless lizard (Pseudopus apodus) is an unusually large form of a widespread lizard type often known as Glass lizards – aptly titled due to the ability to disarticulate their tail when molested. Frequently mistaken for a snake, the Scheltopusik differs greatly from snakes in that it has moveable eyelids and external ear openings. Though usually very calm and handle able while in captivity, the Scheltopusik is capable of biting, musking and caudal autotomy (tail breaking to aid escape). These lizards may reach an adult length of over three feet and readily feed on crickets, roaches, rodents and commercial lizard foods. They should be kept in a moderately sized, dry enclosure. The Sheltopusik benefits from full-spectrum lighting and should always have access to fresh drinking water. Temperatures ranging from 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit will work well with these animals. Read more about the legless lizard.
This article is intended to provide basic information regarding the captive husbandry of common exotic lizard pets. Please be sure to do further research on the captive needs of any exotic lizards you wish to keep in captivity. The more you know ahead of acquisition, the greater your success will be.
When choosing an exotic lizard pet or any reptilian for that matter, please keep in mind that not all of these animals are legally kept throughout the United States. Some states or even individual townships within a state may prohibit or require a special permit for possession and or propagation. Save yourself a world of hurt and check your local regulations before purchasing a reptilian pet!
Leo Spinner owns and operates “The Spotted Turtle Herpetological Institute” & “Skin & Scales Exotic Animal Presentations.” He has over 45 years of captive care, research and breeding of Amphibians Reptiles and Invertebrates. Leo Spinner is a native of Cape Cod and resides in Massachusetts with his family.