How to Care for your Dragon (and Other Reptiles)

Reptiles are amazing creatures! In this blog, Lydia - one of our Animal Husbandry Coordinators - will tell you a bit about the best reptiles to keep as a pet and how to look after them.

First up, is the bearded dragon!

Bearded dragons are awesome pets! They are lovely lizards with great personalities - they are very friendly and docile, making for a great family pet.

Why are they called bearded dragons?

Although they are called dragons, they do not breathe fire or fly (however, it would be pretty cool). They get their name from their beard-like necks which can puff up and turn black to scare off other animals. The spines on their throat and sides make them look super scary to predators too (but super cute to us!).

Where do they stay in the wild?

These lizards are native to the arid, rocky areas of Australia. Their colour - a lovely brown/yellow which sometimes has bits of orange - is perfect for camouflaging in the sand to hide from predators. A favourite pastime of these sun worshipers is basking on rocks to soak up those all important rays.

How to look after your dragon!

An at home habitat?

To give your dragon the best life possible, their tank must be a good length as beardies are generally a ground lizard. My bearded dragon, Pancake (keep reading: i’ll explain the name) has a 4ft x 2ft x 2ft tank which is the perfect size for this lazy lizard.

As we mentioned earlier, bearded dragons love to bask. An at home habitat should have an enclosure that allows them to climb towards heat when required - they like using branches as platform to get nearer to their UVB tube.

Other enclosure essentials include: rocks which keep their nails short and hiding places, where they can feel safe or shade away from heat if they are too warm.

On the ground of their tank use newspaper, reptile carpet or similar. Do not use wood shaving, soil or sand - these can cause compaction if eaten.

What should we feed it?

Bearded dragons are omnivorous - they will eat plants, fruit, insects, small mammals and even other lizards! Their diet should consist of approx. 20% vegetation (mainly leafy greens) and 80% meat - e.g crickets, locusts, morioworms and pinky mice. Their food must be sprinkled with calcium powder 3 or 4 times per week.

What about lighting and heat?

Bearded dragons live in very hot climates where the sun gives them UVB naturally - this helps them process vitamin D. Therefore, it is a MUST to have a desert UVB fluorescent tube in their tank which must be changed every 6 months.

Without this they could develop something called metabolic bone disease (MDB), which is why my rescue bearded dragon is deformed and has a kink in her back and tail - leaving her very flat, just like a pancake.

They like a temperature of 30-36°C under their heat light to bask and a cooler temperature of 24-28°C elsewhere in their tank . At night they don’t need any extra heat, as in the wild the temperature would drop naturally.

The main responsibility of owning a bearded dragon is to make sure that they always have UVB light and calcium supplements. If you do this, you could have your brilliant little pet dragon for around 8-12 years.

Cool fact: Bearded dragons have a 3rd eye on top of their head! This allows them to spot predators from above.

My second favourite lizard is the crested gecko!

These cool lizards were thought extinct in the 70s and 80s; they were rediscovered in 1994 in New Caledonia after a tropical storm. They are now very popular as pets and have been reintroduced to the wild, allowing populations to increase - despite this they are still classed as vulnerable to extinction.

Their lovely eyelashes and beautiful eyes make these cute, sticky footed lizards one to definitely think about as a pet.

An at home habitat?

Crested geckos are brilliant climbers and use thousands of little hairs on their feet to create a force which enables them to stick to almost anything. This means that at home they need a tall tank. Ground space can be minimal but they must have space to climb, as this is what they would do in the wild.

They like their food dish and hides to be high up - you can buy them to stick to the side of their enclosure. They like to be misted with water twice a day; in their wild home of the rainforest the rain would help them to shed their skin.

What should we feed it?

Crested geckos are a fruit-eating gecko - however, your pet crested gecko will need to be fed a powder that can be bought online or at pet shops; you mix it with water and watch them lap it up with their long tongue.

What about lighting and heat?

They don’t need any extra heat - as long as they are kept in a warm room, which makes them a winner for most people. They also only need a small about of UBV at around 6%.

Cool fact: Crested geckos have no eyelids - they lick their eyeballs to keep them clean!

Another great pet is the leopard gecko

These lizards normally have spots like a leopard, hence the name. They are a fairly docile pet that can be handled easily. They originate from desert and arid areas of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan where the leopard spots help them to camouflage.

An at home habitat?

They are one of the rare forms of gecko that don't climb - they don’t have sticky feet like their crested cousin (an other unusual fact for geckos is that leopard geckos have eyelids). They prefer ground space to height, so a 3ft long vivarium would be the best size for them.

What should we feed it?

They will eat crickets, locusts, mealworms, morioworms etc… They like lots of bugs with calcium powder on them 3/4 times a week. They keep their fat reserves in their tails if (wild) food suppliers are low - a healthy leopard gecko should have a thick tail.

What about lighting and heat?

They need a day and night cycle - they are crepuscular and this helps them know when to come out. A low-level of 6-7% UVB is beneficial for them too.

They love heat, so the hot end of the tank should be 30-34°C and the cool end 24-28°C. They do not need a heat supply at night as naturally the temperature would drop in the wild.

Cool fact: Lots of lizards - including the three mentioned here - can drop their tails off when they feel threatened! They do this to prevent being eaten - they will drop their tail and wiggle it around to distract the predator, giving them time to run away. It hardly bleeds when they do this as the blood vessels contract before it drops.

Most lizards can grow back their tail - however, crested geckos cannot. The tail will never look the same because the new tail will be made of cartilage, not bone like the original.

Overall, if you are looking to buy a pet lizard you won’t regret it but please make sure you research them first.

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