Bearded dragons, green iguanas and geckos as pets

Pet Profile: Leopard Gecko

Portrait: Personable in appearance because of his very large eyes, the Leopard Gecko is one of the most popular lizard pets in the US. He has a pleasant yellowish-tan body with black spots and grows to about six to nine inches. The male has a larger head than the female.

Eating: The Leopard Gecko pretty much sticks to insects—live ones, like crickets, mealworms, wax worms, butter worms, or wingless flies. Three to six insects per day will fill his belly, but it’s important to give him a calcium supplement, such as Tetra ReptoCalTM, about three times per week for juveniles and once to twice a week for adults. Also, because feeder insects are frequently emaciated and malnourished from shipping, it is recommended to feed (gut load) them for a day or two with a multi-vitamin/mineral powder prior to usage. Tetrafauna® offers PlusTMReptoLife for enhancing feeder insect nutritional value.

Home: Leopard Geckos are among the easiest of lizards to house and care for. An adult needs a 29-gallon aquarium with reptile-safe sand, newspaper, sterilized mulch or AstroTurf lining the bottom. Sand or loose, dry soil is also an option, as it is their natural habitat and makes your environment look more realistic.

Heat/light: For the best basking, your Leopard Gecko needs a temperature of 82 to 86o F. To accomplish this, provide him with a radiant heat lamp placed over a flat rock, log or basking area. Remember to give him a place to hide from the heat source, as well, such as a flower pot on its side. This allows him to self-regulate his temperature and offers shelter and comfort. He’ll also need a light bulb that provides UVB waves.

Fun fact: Geckos do have a “voice,” which can sound like a squeak or a whistle. None, however, have an Australian accent.

Pet Profile: Green Iguana

Portrait: This reptile is one of the most popular reptile pets in the United States today. As juveniles, they are a very appealing lime to forest green color. At maximum size, an adult iguana can reach five feet in length, half of which is the tail. The males have a very impressive dewlap or “beard” that flares out when stressed or challenged. Large, spike-like scales run the length of his back. These scales, like the toes, will not grow back if broken off.

The Green Iguana can be a very good pet if cared for responsibly and properly. The only way to keep an iguana successfully is through education and lots of dedication. It’s important to understand the dangers they present, especially to children and small pets. The Green Iguana should never be an impulse purchase.

Eating: No other area of iguana care has more misinformation than eating habits. The Green Iguana is entirely herbivorous (plant-eating) from birth and throughout life. In the wild, they do not require any animal protein at any age. While they may grow faster if fed large amounts of animal protein, you risk causing ongoing health problems, reducing their life span.

For the optimal health of your iguana, feed him an 80-20 diet…that is, 80% calcium-rich vegetables and 20% fruit and flowers. The best vegetables include collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, mulberry leaves, fresh peas, parsley, squash, snow peas, grated carrots, grated pumpkin, grated zucchini, and/or thawed frozen mixed vegetables. The best fruits/flowers include strawberries, mangos, papayas, kiwis, melons, apples (no seeds), prickly pear cactus flowers, hibiscus, and dandelion flowers.

To help with your iguana's nutritional requirements, try feeding Tetrafauna®ReptoMin® SoftGel on a daily basis. It’s also important to give iguanas a calcium supplement; Tetrafauna offers ReptoCal® and ReptoLife Plus®.

Home: What many new reptile owners fail to see is just how fast an iguana reaches its 5' length. In just six to 12 months, a juvenile iguana can outgrow a 55-gallon aquarium. Then it’s time for a larger enclosure; adult iguanas need at least 4' x 4' x 6'. They prefer to spend their time high in the branches, so a tall cage is a must. There are no “stock-size” aquariums large enough for an adult iguana, so it probably will be necessary to custom-order or build your cage.

Provide plenty of tree branches and rocks to climb on, but be sure to sterilize them first. The easiest-to-clean material for the bottom of his cage is newspaper. Other options, such as wood shavings, actually can harm your Iguana’s respiratory system.

Heat/light: Being a rainforest animal, Iguanas thrive in humidity—75% is the ideal. You can achieve this simply by misting their environment once daily. They’re most comfortable in temperatures ranging from 85 to 100o F during the day and about 77o F at night. It will also be necessary to provide a full-spectrum light with UVB. Your local pet shop or herp society can advise you on the best choices. Traditional methods are use of a radiant heat device (ceramic heat emitter or incandescent bulb) and specialized, UVA/UVB fluorescent bulbs. For your pet’s safety, be sure he doesn’t have direct contact with heat devices.

Fun fact: Scrambled or over easy? Iguana eggs are sometimes sold as a novelty food.

Pet Profile: Inland Bearded Dragon

Portrait: For the novice and the expert, the Bearded Dragon is one of the best pet lizards to purchase. They are active reptiles that display a lot of personality. They rarely bite or show aggressive behavior and have a fairly simple upkeep. The iguana may be popular now, but the Bearded Dragon is more suitable pet for reptile hobbyists.

Bearded Dragons grow to a nicely manageable, easy-to-handle size: just under two feet for males, and about 16 inches for females. The “beard,” found under the jaw, is actually an inflatable pouch that puffs up and bristles out when challenged or stressed. His beard turns a black color that offers an interesting contrast to the yellow mouth lining. His body can range from brown, tan, orange and red to pastel, gold and sometimes gray-green.

Eating: The Bearded Dragon loves to eat, readily consuming both plant and animal matter. His first choice? Crickets, of course. But he won’t turn down mealworms, king mealworms, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, silkworms and wax worms. Crickets and all insects should be dusted with a calcium supplement such as Tetrafauna® ReptoCalTM. Don’t forget his vegetables: try mustard greens, collard greens, kale, dandelions, green beans, peas, grated carrots, corn, chopped apple, orange, broccoli, and grated yams.

Home: Your Bearded Dragon needs a cage that’s about 48" long x 13" wide x 20" high with a sloping branch or rock. In the bottom of his cage, use reptile-safe sand (most like his natural environment and the most aesthetically appealing), newspaper or AstroTurf. Non-reptile-friendly sand can cause problems in his digestive tract. Add artificial plants, since some live plants are poisonous to your dragon, and some decorative rocks and logs.

Heat/light: Your Bearded Dragon will do best at 105o F with a cool zone of 75 to 80o F. Dragons also require an ultra-violet light to help synthesize vitamin D. Do not use a UV light designed for plants, because it does not have the proper frequency for your dragon. Get a full spectrum light specially designed and labeled to provide UVB wavelengths. The UV light should be kept on for 12 to 15 hours a day. Make sure a hide box is available to shade the dragon from the light when desired.

Fun fact: Bearded Dragons are one of the few reptiles that seem to enjoy being held and petted.

Back to Learning Center