The Worst of the Worst Beginner Lizards

The Worst of the Worst Beginner Lizards
It’s that time again! It’s the last article in another reptile and amphibian related series. This week, we’ll examine some of the most common WORST lizards for beginners. These lizards were selected due to their high maintenance requirements, large adult size (in the case of monitors and iguanas), and sensitivity (in the case of true chameleons).

True Chameleons
I’m a huge fan of true chameleons, but I will probably never own one again. The care required is advanced and involved. Proper UV lighting is extremely important. They’re very visual, so suitable amounts of vegetation must be provided to limit stress. Handling should be kept to a minimum. Chronic low level stress from handling can bring on health problems that seemingly have no source to the unaware pet owner.

Among complications experienced by chameleon owners is fasting due to insufficient variety of prey items provided, eggbinding in females, Metabolic Bone Disease, dehydration (moving water is required), kidney failure (due to long term low level dehydration), and parasite infestation (so many are wild caught even now and those that are captive bred can contract parasites from water or food).

If you must own a True Chameleon, please build your skills up first, then read everything you can. Make sure there is a source of moving water for the chameleon. A drip system is helpful. Give the chameleon plenty of visual obstructions. They should not be able to see other animals or you, if possible. Make sure there is nothing reflective. They will find their own reflects very stressful. KNOW your reptile vet. Take a fecal sample to the vet every 6-12 months. Use a quality calcium supplement, and make sure to change your UV bulbs regularly. A full spectrum fluorescent will continue emitting light long after they quit emitting the life giving UVB that True Chameleons need.

Large Monitor Lizards
Size says it all. Even the easy to care for varieties of larger monitors like Savannah monitors still require considerable food and housing space and frequent cleaning, and a high fat diet (dog food) that many people choose to feed their monitors can result in Hepatic lipidosis and an untimely death.

The biggest issue besides housing and feeding is handling. The potential for injury from an insufficiently tamed/handled monitor is high. If you don’t acclimate your young monitor to handling while it’s young, you may find yourself with an adult monitor capable of doing serious harm. The same is true for Iguanas.

Other complications include escape. If his cage isn’t completely escape proof, your home needs to be.

A full grown Iguana can snap a dog’s leg with a well timed whip of its tail. Imagine what damage that tail (or even the mouth) could do to you. Untamed Iguanas can really HURT you. Taming and handling at a young age is absolutely necessary. This and the dietary and enclosure requirements are why Iguanas are not good beginner lizards.

Iguanas require large cages with ample height and enrichment items (branches, for example) for climbing. Humidity must be sufficient to satisfy their needs, and ample full spectrum lighting must be available. Metabolic Bone Disease is a long slow bone softening death for a reptile. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you will end up with a sickly and/or aggressive animal you can’t keep or control properly.

All the words I can type won’t sufficiently express what poor pets Iguanas make for beginners. I once met a man who insisted his Iguana was fine eating crickets. Kidney damage from excessive protein is a real risk. I’ve also seen more than my fair share pass away in the care of pet stores where I worked in my early 20s.

Final Word
Large lizards seem to be symbols of strength or masculinity for some people. These are living breathing creatures that deserve the best chance at a quality life in captivity that’s possible. If you don’t do the best possible job, you may find yourself with a dead lizard or you may find yourself attempting to rehome an aggressive, sickly, animal whose chances at finding a new home have been greatly diminished by the poor keeping methods of many beginners and even many careless advanced keepers.

The moral of this story is to read, research, and learn before buying any animal. Do the best job possible, and don’t buy a lizard or any other pet that is beyond your skill level. Be honest with yourself about that skill level as well. The mistakes you make can be lifelong prices paid by the pets in your care. Large reptiles are not status symbols. Work your way up. You will appreciate the reptile more, and it will appreciate your experience and show you by living a long healthy life.

Happy Herping!

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