Saturday, 8 September 2007

Discovering Pet Lizards: Leopard Gecko Care

As pet lizards go, leopard gecko care is less challenging than the care of other pet lizard species, and consequently often recommended for a herp beginner.

A Leopard Gecko in captivity, will only reach about six to eight inches in length when mature, compared with the iguana who can reach up to six feet when fully grown.

The average life span of captive leopard geckos is around nineteen to twenty-two years.

The Leopard Gecko’s Origins
In the wild leopard geckos are found in South-Eastern Afghanistan, most of Pakistan and Northwest India. His natural habitat is mostly the rocky, dry, semi-desert grasslands of these countries.

Hunting for insects at night, he spends much of the day hiding under rocks to escape soaring temperatures and only emerges at dusk.

His New Home
Your leopard gecko’s new home should reflect his natural habitat as closely as possible. The minimum size of your terrarium should be about twenty gallons. The floor of the terrarium should be covered in reptile carpet, or newspaper, but not sand. Leopard Gecko’s have a tendency to eat sand, which becomes impacted in the gut and often leads to death.

A temperature of eighty-five to ninety-five degrees should be maintained. For this purpose a heat mat may be placed under the terrarium, but never place hot rocks in the tank, as all too often lizards have been burned by them.

An important piece of ‘furniture’ to provide him with is somewhere with a little privacy, such as a hide box.

Unlike some of his herp cousins who like to be sprayed with a water mist, the leopard gecko isn’t fond of high levels of humidity; in fact too much humidity can cause him respiratory problems.

Leopard feed primarily on insects, including crickets, locusts, mealworms, waxworms and earthworms. Waxworms shouldn’t be offered more than once a week, due to their high fat content and each mouthful should be no larger than the width of the gecko’s mouth, to prevent choking.

Every couple of weeks ‘pinkies’ (baby mice), may be offered. Mammals store essential nutrients in their flesh and bones that reptiles do not have. However, avoid this food source for leopard geckos less than fourteen months, as they may choke, due to their smaller size.

Prey should be coated in a calcium supplement to aid strong, healthy growth of your gecko’s bones, particularly the jaw and legs.

Although coming from a highly arid habitat, your leopard gecko still needs to drink. A shallow dish for offering water, which can’t easily be tipped over and is kept clean at all times is ideal.

As in all geckos, the leopard gecko will shed it’s tail if frightened or alarmed. Although having the ability to regenerate a new tail, the new growth will be more bulbous and differ in appearance to the original. In the wild, tail shedding serves the purpose of distracting a predator, enabling a quick getaway, while the would be assassin wrestles with the snapped off portion of the tail.

Leopard geckos handled regularly from an early age, can become accustomed to human interaction and because of their small size and ease of care are a good recommendation for a first pet lizard.

From a cleanliness angle, leopard gecko care has it’s advantages too, as in captivity these creatures often only defecate in one corner of their enclosure.

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Monday, 27 August 2007

Discovering Pet Lizards: Bearded Dragons

Discovering Pet Lizards: Aggresive Bearded DragonThe Bearded Dragon Lizard, belonging to the genus Pogona, is probably the most popular of all pet lizards. He gets his name from his spiney covered throat which is beard-like when puffed up. Adult bearded dragons will grow to around 20" in length, with males being slightly longer, but females slightly heavier.

Life Expectancy
In captivity a well cared for bearded dragon can be expected to live about 8 to 12 years - although there have been reports of 'beardies' living up to 15 years.

Discovering Pet Lizards: Bearded DragonThe Bearded Dragon's Origin
Bearded Dragons have been exported worldwide as pets, but are native to Australia, where they live in rocky, arid, semi-desert areas and open woodland, basking on rocks and exposed branches in the sun. Today, most pet dragons are captive bred, as export from Australia is limited and even illegal for some species.

His New Home
Your dragon's home should reflect his natural habitat, as closely as possible. A 20 gallon terrarium is fine for a juvenile bearded dragon, but as his growth increases 55-60 gallons will be nearer the mark.

A steady temperature between 76F and 86F is vital, rising to 90F to 100F in his basking spot. At night precautions must be taken to ensure the temperature never drops below 70F.

Like other lizards, like iguanas, bearded dragons need to be exposed to UltraDiscovering Pet Lizards: Bearded Dragon Violet light, on a daily basis. A special bulb can be purchased for this purpose. Although the very best source of UVA and UVB light is the sun, it's not always possible for your beardie to be outdoors and placing him in a spot by the window won't help him much, as glass filters out most UV rays.

Your bearded dragon's home will need to be furnished with natural rocks and branches for basking and climbing. Never use hot-rocks, available at some pet stores, as your dragon's skin can be burned by these. Apart from using rocks for basking, dragons will rub against them when shedding skin.

Another important consideration for your dragon's home is a hide-box, or at least somewhere he can get away and have some privacy.

Bearded Dragons are omnivores, eating a variey of insects and vegetation. Diet is typically made up of 20% prey, and 80% vegetation. Feeding him too much protein may damage his kidneys.

Discovering Pet Lizards: Bearded Dragon's DietBearded Dragons can suffer from intestinal blockages or seizures if their food is too large and cannot be digested. As a rule of thumb, a piece of food should be no more than 2/3 of the size of his head.

Variety is the spice of life and variety is key when feeding your dragon, to ensure he ingests all the valuable vitamins and minerals required to keep him healthy. Additionally, sprinkle his feed with a calcium supplement, 3 or 4 times a week.

Bearded dragons eat crickets, cockroaches, a variety of worms and even mice and other small prey in the wild, although in captivity most are fed on crickets and gut-fed worms. He will also enjoy a vast array of vegetables and fruit, including but not limited to; leafy greens, squash and turnip greens, broccoli, peas, grated carrots, figs, melon, peaches, apricots, strawberries, plums and bananas. Care should be taken to give him different fruits and vegetables each day.

Bearded Dragons are perhaps, the most interesting of pet lizards to study. Naturally curious explorers, most beardies take well to being handled and seem to actually enjoy interacting with their human companions.
Discovering Pet Lizards: Submissive Bearded Dragon
If your dragon feels threatened, he will bob his head aggresively while flattening his body, so as to appear bigger. 'Arm' waving, on the other hand, is a submissive gesture - a bit like waving a white flag!

On the whole, if your dragon is cared for properly and feels safe and secure, you'll likely not see his aggresive side - unless he's startled.


Friday, 24 August 2007

Pet Lizards - Are They For You?

Before considering a purchase, you should first become knowledgeable about pet lizards. Although the cost of pet lizards may be quite low, there's a whole host of equipment that you must provide, in order to keep your lizard healthily and happily - and here's where it can get expensive. First consider the type of lizard you wish to be your companion. Some species are easier (and cheaper) to keep than others.

Discovering Pet Lizards: Leopard Gecko Lizard
Leopard geckos
are small, easy to handle and don't require UVA/UVB lighting and so make an excellent choice for the beginner.

Discovering Pet Lizards: Bearded Dragon Lizard

Similarly, the impressively named bearded dragon is easy to handle - but not so small. Setting up a much larger terrarium than the leopard gecko's home, and providing appropriate lighting will be a necessity.

Other types of gecko, including the Madagascar ground gecko and the fat tailed gecko are manageable for the pet lizard beginner.

Discovering Pet Lizards: Blue Tongued Skink

The blue-tongued skink requires a large enclosure and UVA/UVB lighting for basking. Though curious, this little fellow is quite docile and with careful regulation of his environment makes a good beginner's pet.

If you're looking for a more challenging pet lizard, iguanas and chameleons may just fit the bill.

Discovering Pet Lizards: IguanaIguana care involves a more expert approach. An iguana may be small at first, but growing to an average six feet in length, he needs a very large enclosure, with UVA/UVB lighting for basking, strict temperature and humidity control and preferably an additional outdoor enclosure for the daytime, weather permitting, with partial sun and shade.

Discovering Pet Lizards: Chameleon
The chameleon, famous for his amazing colour changing ability, is wholly a tree dweller. His enclosure must provide ample climbing materials, and hiding places where he can retreat when stressed. It doesn't take much to stress a chameleon and a stressed chameleon may soon become a sick one.

These are the most commonly kept pet lizards. Other species are kept in captivity, but for a beginner the leapard gecko, bearded dragon or blue tongued skink are your best option. Chameleon and iguana care, though a bit more tricky, can be acheived by the novice.


Choosing Healthy Pet Lizards

Discovering Pet Lizards: Choosing A Healthy Pet Lizard

Your pet lizard's home should be set up and acclimatised before you consider the actual purchase. When you're ready to buy your pet lizard, a few pointers will help you choose a healthy one...

Is the lizard alert?Are there any signs of scratches, swelling or other marks on him?

Is his mouth a healthy pale pink? Green, white or yellow patches on his tongue may indicate illness.

Is the lizard's breathing regular? If he appears to ‘pant' open mouthed, his recent living conditions may be too hot, or he may have a respitory infection.

Are his eyes bright and clear? Look out for a runny nose or eyes.

Has the lizard a good amount of flesh coverage? You shouldn't be able to see any protruding bones, eg: hip bones or tail bones.

Is his skin supple? Dull, dry skin is a good indication of dehydration.

Check out the lizard and his living quarters for cleanliness. If he has fecal matter on his underside, he may have been kept in overcrowded conditions. If he has fecal matter on his back, this could be an indication of weakness - kept in overcrowded conditions he may have been unable to climb to the top of the pile.

Take time to handle the lizard, see if he's active and alert.

Learning how a pet lizard should appear and how he should be kept, before you go to purchase, will give you a good understanding of whether or not you're buying from someone who knows about lizards and is taking good care of them.

Care should be taken when handling any lizard - a percentage, thought to be as high as 70% of pet lizards carry the salmonella virus, which can be passed to humans. Always wash your hands after touching pet lizards, or entering his cage.


Taxonomy of Pet Lizards and their Relatives

The taxonomy, or classification of pet lizards.

Scientific Classification
- the method by which biologists group and catagorize species and organisms

Kingdom: Animalia - from the Latin ‘animal', animalia is plural - group of organisms, multiceullular, responsive to environment and feed by consuming other organisms (or parts of them)

Phylum: Chordata - group of animals that includes vertebrates and several closely related invertebrate. They are defined by having, at some time in their life cycle, a notochord, a hollow dorsal nerve cord, pharyngeal slits an endostyle and a post-anal tail.

Superclass: Tetrapoda - from the Greek tetrapoda, Latin quadruped ‘four legged' - vertebrates with four feet, legs or leglike appendages.

Class: Sauropsida - represented by four surviving orders; crocodilia (crocodiles, caimans and alligatore) 23 species; sphenodontia (tuataras from New Zealand) 2 species; Squamata (lizards, snakes and amphisbenids or ‘worm lizards') approximatedly 7,900 species; Testudines (turtles and tortoises) approximately 300 species.

Order: Squamata - ‘scaled reptiles' is the largest recent order of reptiles. Distinguished by their skins, which bear horny scales or shields.

Suborder: Lacertilia - ‘lizards'

Family: Forty Families

Lizards are cold-blooded reptiles, characterised by having four legs, external ear openings and movable eyelids. The presence of eyelids and ears distinguishes lizards from true snakes, as does the lizard's tail, which can break off as a defence mechanism. Many lizards are capable of regenerating a lost limb or tail.

They also possess movable quadrate bones, making it possible to move the upper jaw relative to the braincase - particularly noticeable in snakes, which can swallow relatively large prey by opening their mouth very wide.

The adult lengh of lizards ranges from a few centimetres, for example Carribean Geckos, to nearly three metres - the Komodo Dragon...

Discovering Pet Lizards: Komodo Dragon

Many lizards can change color in response to their environments or in times of stress. The most familiar example is the chameleon, but more subtle color changes occur in other lizard species too.

New Findings
Until very recently, it was thought that only two lizard species were venomous: the Mexican beaded lizard and the closely-related Gila monster, both of which live in northern Mexico and the southwest United States.

However research at the University of Melbourne, Australia and Pennsylvania State University has revealed that in fact many lizards in the iguanians and monitor (lizard) families have venom-producing glands.

Typically these pose little danger to humans, as their poison is introduced slowly by chewing, rather than subcutaneous injection as with venomous snakes. Nine toxins previously thought to only occur in snakes have been discovered, as well as a number of previously unseen chemicals.

Before this discovery, swelling and bleeding from lizard bites was believed due to bacterial infection but is now known to be due to venom injection. These findings have caused a re-evaluation of the classification system for lizard species to form a venom clade and may result in radical changes to the beliefs regarding the evolution of lizard, snake and venom.

Most lizard species are harmless to humans
Only the very largest lizard species pose threat of death; the Komodo dragon, for example, has been known to attack and kill humans and their livestock. The venom of the gila monster and beaded lizard is not deadly but they can inflict extremely painful bites due to powerful jaws.

Lizards in the Scincomorpha family, which include skinks (such as the blue-tongued skink), often have shiny, iridescent scales that appear moist. Like all other lizards, they are dry-skinned and generally prefer to avoid water. All lizards are capable of swimming if needed and a few (such as the Nile monitor) are quite comfortable in aquatic environments.