In addition to snakes, I also keep and breed a variety of lizard species. I will be providing individual care and breeding tips for the species I currently keep in the near future. For now, I wanted to cover some general principles for keeping and breeding lizards, but keep in mind that individual species can and often do have more specific requirements that need to be researched well before the time of purchase.
Diurnal Basking Lizards
Many lizards fall into the category of diurnal species that bask in the sun at various points during the day. Those of us in the USA may be familiar with collard and fence lizards, two widespread varieties of lizards that fall into this category. Many of these species are easy to care for, but there are a few pitfalls that need to be avoided.
- You need a large enough cage for them. Diurnal basking species tend to quick and can quickly move. You do not want them crashing into the side of the cages on a regular basis. Additionally, you need a big enough cage to create a fairly hot basking area with an overhead bulb but enough space so that the cool end is sufficiently cooled that they can also get away from the heat when needed.
- You need UVB bulbs. Not all UVB bulbs are safe or effective. There are cheap bulbs from China which are fakes and even some bulbs from reputable companies that simply produce next to no usable uvb for your reptiles. I will provide some specific bulbs I recommend and trust below. Inappropriately designed UVB bulbs may emit UVB C and/or cause burns or eye issues. Additionally, each bulb has a certain distance is effective for use at. You need to measure how far from the bulb your reptile will be and choose an appropriate UVB bulb for that distance and animal type. Animals must always be able to move away from UVB rays, too.
- heat bulbs tend to dry out the environment. Unless a species is known to have specific humidity sensitivity, as with some desert species kept in humid regions, I would include a moist hide box for egg laying/shedding and ensure there is regular access to water by a bowl or spraying/dripper depending on the species. If you're keeping a species known to be very sensitive to humidity, check with an experienced breeder of that species for specific requirements.
- Find out if the animals you are keeping are known to drink from standing water. For some species, you may need to use a dripper or misting to keep them properly hydrated.
- Glass aquariums, cattle troughs, plastic boxes with screen rivetted on, enclosures, or racks of bulbs set over tubs can all be used successfully.
- Most basking species still like to spend some time hiding, so you'll still want to provide hiding places on both the cool and hot sides. Even basking species still need to be able to move away from UVB light, as well.
- If you have large cages, you may want to look into T5 bulbs or MegaRay bulbs. I use T8 bulbs as all of my lizards are terrestrial and kept in rather short cages (15inches or less). You can listen to an interview with the creator of MegaRay bulbs here where he presents a lot of detailed information on reptile lighting.
- UVB intensity can also be increased by using a reflector or adding reflective material such as the shiny side of cooking foil. A properly made/purchased reflector should nearly double the intensity of the UVB projected under the bulb.
- Large lizards need a basking spot that allows their entire body to heat up, not just a single bulb heating up a small section of their body. If you're planning on getting a large basking lizard, keep in mind that you'll to cover much of the animals body with heat and a big enough cage to ensure the overall ambient temperature does not become too hot. Large species can be very rewarding but in general are best left to those who are absolutely certain they want to make such a large and long term commitment.
Products which I use and trust:
Zoo med has a long reputation for high quality florescent UVB bulbs. Many years back there were some issues with the CFL bulbs, those issues were fixed long ago. However, I still recommend the long style tubes wherever you can use them. They spread the light over a larger area and have generally been regarded as more reliable by the reptile community. For species thought to have low UVB requirements or those with moderate requirements that can bask within a few inches of the UVB light, this 18" Zoo Med ReptiSun bulb should do just fine. However, you will note that for mid-day basking species, they would have to get very close to this lamp. If they enjoy basking on a favorite perch this may not be an issue, but if you have a terrestrial basking lizard, you may need to go with a stronger bulb. For frequent, full sun basking species or species that need UVB but you cannot get the light within a few inches of the animal, you may wish to go with this Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 bulb (select the size you want). The 10.0 strength bulb projects UVB further, but the strength of all bulbs decrease with distance. Knowing the minimum and maximum distance for safe UVB is very important. See this chart for recommended minimum and maximum distances. These UVB bulbs need to be replaced yearly. Another good brand is Arcadia which has a similar line of bulbs. The bulbs I have listed go into a normal T8 fixture like the ones you commonly have around homes. Here is a link to where you can get a t8 fixture at walmart for far less than what pet shops would charge. If you should find yourself with a very tall cage where the reptiles cannot bask within 12" of the bulb or you are keeping mid-day basking species, you may wish to look into Zoo Med or Arcadia T5 HO bulbs or Megaray bulbs. These bulbs have higher light output and can push UVB out further, but keep in mind that they also have minimum safe distances even for sun loving species. You need the right bulb, at the right distance from the closest point of contact for the right species. It may seem complicated at first, but it is well worth doing a little research to find the best possible combination. If you're unsure of which bulb you need, Light your reptiles has a reputation for assisting customers to find the right product. If you're buying anything online at Walmart, I would also recommend that you use a cashback website which can save you up to 8% on your purchases. Here's a link to ebates which you'll get a species bonus on when you sign up through my affiliate link.
Nocturnal and/or non-basking species
Housing is often simpler with these species, because you don't have to have an overhead basking lamp. Although there is no reason why you couldn't still use a basking lamp, ceramic heat element, or radiant heat panel with these species as they will hide under objects on the hot or cool side as they please. It is also possible that these species may benefit from low levels of UVB, but these species have generally proven to survive and reproduce just fine without it in captivity so long as all their dietary requirements are met. Some of these species remain fairly cool by nature and will not need any supplemental heat, especially if you are keeping them in a room dedicated for reptiles. For example, I do not use any additional heat with my cave geckos which remain in 70s most of the year. If a deep substrate is not required, supplemental heat may be provided by heat tape connected to a thermostat which will provide a warm end (generally no more than 1/3) of the enclosure. In rack systems with closed sides, the heat tape is sometimes on the back of the rack and the gradient is front to back. This works fairly well with the closed sides because it will hold some heat at the back. However, heat tape is less suitable for raising ambient temperatures if the room is not already somewhat close to the desired "cool side" temperature. A radiant heat panel would be an option for a large enclosure or a night bulb or ceramic heat element may work. Glass aquariums, plastic boxes with ventilation installed, and "snake style" rack systems can all be used with these species. Try to provide multiple hides including moist and dry hides unless the species you're keeping as a very specific requirement. Hides can be specific reptile hides, cork bark tubes and flats, or even an old pitcher lid.
Here are some of the products I use for both basking and non-basking species:
Reptile Hide Boxes
Reptivite: This is a good quality reptile vitamin and calcium powder that includes preformed Vitamin A.
Repashy Calcium Plus This is the other supplement that I recommend.
Not all vitamin supplements are created equal and it is possible to under and overuse any supplement. The two included above include preformed vitamin A and Vitamin D3. While it is thought that at least some reptile species can convert carotenoids into vitamin A, I prefer not to risk a deficiency by utilizing products solely on carotenoids. Calcium plus includes several natural carotenoid sources which if nothing else will help ensure your reptiles display maximum color especially if combined with carotenoid rich food sources and/or insects gutloaded on those.
For gutloading insects, I recommend using a large variety of feed types especially 24-72 hours before feeding off your insects. For crickets and roaches, provide a steady supply of high quality and well rinsed vegetables but do not allow the insect rearing enclosures to become overly moist as it will encourage disease. This is most easily accomplished by placing the moist food items on some kind of a plate on the cool side of their enclosure where the heat will not cause excessive evaporation and by keeping the egg crates from directly touching the food and wicking moisture from it. The best way to determine which vegetables are suitable is to consult lists built for iguanas and turtles and include as large of variety of items as possible. Here is such a list built for green iguanas. Additionally, ground alfalfa and non-medicated and diatomaceous earth free chicken layer mash can be given (check the labels as products from even the same manufacture differ). I also raise superworms and mealworms in the various types of chick feed. For mealworms, it is much easier to sift them out later if you first grind the chicken feed in a coffee grinder which will leave it as a fine powder. I also provide mealworms and superworms with small amounts of the same vegetables to increase their nutritional value and to provide them with some moisture. Ensure that the chicken feed does not get moldy or alfatoxins can result and be passed on through the feeders. Finally, I move some of crickets, roaches, mealworms, and superworms I feed into a separate container and offer them Repashy Superload for at least 24 hours prior to feeding them off. This is a gutload designed by a veterinarian and long time reptile breeder. Silkworms, hornworms, butterworms, and other insects with specialty diets will add additional variety and nutritional diversity into your reptiles diet.