Pet lizards are great for families. Interesting but low-maintenance, these reptiles will surprise you with the fun they bring.
My daughter kept asking for a lizard for her 8-year-old birthday. Full disclosure: I'm not a pet person. It just doesn't occur to me to add an animal to any scenario. But I'm a Mom of four, so we got a dog a few years ago, and he's been great. And I thought I was done. We have a dog! Pet Box checked!
That's not how it works, apparently. So take someone who's a reluctant pet owner, already vacuuming dog hair and administering animal allergy pills, and ask her for a pet reptile. Under what scenario is that going to happen?
It's going to happen under the Pandemic-Virtual-School-All-Things-Canceled-People-Wearing-Masks-at-Your-Drive-Through-Birthday Scenario. Does anyone else want to buy their children all the things this year? Especially if it's a thing that goes in the house we live, school, and spend every waking hour.
But I was especially nervous about this pet. It felt too reptile for me. How close would it put me to the snake table during the Reptile Owners Holiday Party? I suggested a turtle. She didn't go for it.
We went to the pet store, got a brochure, talked to a salesperson, and did a brief internet search. All in all, I invested about 20 minutes worth of research. I was interested in anything that said "beginner reptiles" or "first-time lizard." I do not plan on becoming a cold-blooded animal expert.
It came down to the leopard gecko or the bearded dragon. Both breeds are good for beginners and appeared to be low-maintenance.
Other beginner lizard options include the blue-tongued skink, the crested gecko, and the uromastyx. These breeds are similar in size and disposition, but my choice was based on Pet Smart's offerings.
I eventually went with the leopard gecko over the "Beardie" because it stayed small, and any growing reptile scared me.
Another one of my hesitations in owning a lizard was knowing they required a heated tank. But it's a lot less work to heat a terrarium than I anticipated. Pet stores sell reptile beginner kits, complete with a gallon tank, heat lamp, and "enclosure features" such as a small cave.
When we first gave my daughter her pet lizard, we were concerned that he wasn't eating or really emerging at all. Was he going to die? Did we need to make a veterinary appointment for a 7- inch pet lizard?
But then we remembered we had been told the heat lamp while maintaining the correct temperature for our gecko could be disturbing to his eyes. We switched to a blue light bulb, and it was magic. "Lemmy the Lizard" came out to live his best life.
Lizards are low-maintenance. Also, an 8-year-old is completely capable of their care. She cleans out the tank once a week, replacing moss from a supply we keep in the garage. Each morning and evening, she feeds him his mealworms.
I'm sure our lizard, like any reptile pet, would enjoy more exciting live insect entrees, such as crickets, but we have gotten into a routine with the mealworms. They're cheap and come in a small white container that I pretend is a condiment because we keep it in the fridge.
I have been surprised to join the many people who already knew reptiles are good pets. This pet reptile is less work than fish! He's more interesting than a turtle but not as interesting as a snake. I don't want anything that interesting.
Plus, this leopard gecko creates just the right amount of chores for my daughter. Our lizard is easy-going, and can I say it? He's cute.
Oprah says, "Change your mind about one thing each year." I have my thing: Lizards are great pets. Good thing I made this switch, too, because leopard geckos live around 15 years. Barring any reptile disaster, I'll be feeding Lemmy mealworms after all the kids have left for college.