Melissa has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and has a bachelor's degree in biology.
Vegetarian Pet Lizards
Due to the fact that most lizard species consume a primarily omnivorous, insectivorous, or carnivorous diet, owners of these reptiles are generally faced with having to feed frozen/thawed whole prey or even live insects to keep them successfully.
Lizards and reptiles in general that are mostly or completely herbivorous are less common, however, some do exist and can be owned as pets, providing an option for keepers who do not want to deal with live feeding or raw meat.
It should be noted that these animals have somewhat special needs and are not great pets for most people.
Green iguanas are, unfortunately, some of the most popular lizards in the reptile pet trade, however, they really shouldn’t be. Most casual pet owners aren’t too keen to construct a large walk-in enclosure that must be adequately lit with expensive specialty lighting that is in frequent need of replacement.
Green iguanas however do get a bad rap as being very hard to care for, when the real issue is that most people find their requirements to be more involved than what they are willing to put into a reptile. Green iguanas are reasonably easy to care for depending on who you are, and they require a 100% plant-based diet.
While some outdated information suggests iguanas can have some animal protein and that they might occasionally eat insects in the wild, the most current evidence points to even small amounts of animal-based foods being harmful to iguana kidney health .
Most animals, regardless of nutritional needs, may consume things they shouldn’t in the wild, but this doesn’t need to be replicated. Green iguanas are the obvious choice for a “vegan” pet reptile, however, there are other iguanids that can be fed a herbivorous diet when kept as a pet.
Lesser Antillean Iguana
These iguanas, nearly identical in appearance to green iguanas with the exception of their unique coloration, are also closely related to them, being of the same genus (their species is Iguana delicatissima).
As their name implies, they are native to the Lesser Antilles of which they are also endemic. Lesser Antillean iguanas are critically endangered as of 2020 .
They are uncommonly kept as pets however there are a small number of breeders who offer them for sale. They should receive the same exact care as green iguanas.
This beautiful and endangered iguana species will be included here, however, they are listed as Appendix I by CITES which prohibits their international trade except for scientific purposes. They are generally not seen being kept as pets in the United States however some people keep them in other countries such as Canada and there may be some present in the U.S. Unfortunately, these animals are most likely descendants of animals that have been illegally smuggled into the country.
These iguanas are, of course, native to Fiji, as well as Togo. Some owners believe they are omnivorous while others see no evidence they are not mostly plant-eating lizards .
Other Iguanas: Cyclura
This is a genus of iguanids that are known as the rock iguanas and there are a few species found within the pet trade. Rock iguanas as a group may be considered to be the most endangered lizards in the world .
Unlike green iguanas, some members of this genus are omnivorous, but even though those species can consume some animal matter they can be successfully kept on a completely plant-based diet .
This is a large, heavy-bodied rock iguana, and it is the most common rock iguana species in captivity. While some sources suggest that the rhinoceros iguana is an omnivore and can have a small amount of animal matter, as some rock iguanas have been observed consuming small animals and insects in the wild, it is not necessary to feed them animal protein. In fact, feeding them meat may do more harm than good as too much animal protein can affect their kidneys.
Like the green iguana, the rhinoceros iguana's large size makes it evolutionarily adapted to consume a plant-based diet, as they've evolved more complex colons to absorb more nutrients from plants .
Cuban Rock Iguana
As the name suggests, the Cuban rock iguana is distributed throughout Cuba in dry and coastal areas. This large iguana species is again, primarily herbivorous, however, there have been reports of Cuban iguanas opportunistically consuming crabs, birds, and even younger iguanas.
These lizards will happily accept insects in captivity, however, feeding them animal protein is, again, unnecessary and a risk to their renal health. Iguanas can gain all the protein they need with a varied and nutritious plant-based diet .
Grand Cayman Rock Iguana
Characterized by its powder blue coloration, this species is only found on the island of Grand Cayman and their populations have been scarce since their collection in 1938.
Declared functionally extinct in 2005, they were the most endangered lizard species in the world, making their collection for the pet trade illegal. However, recent reintroduction efforts have been largely successful and the species was downgraded from critically endangered to endangered in 2012.
Like other rock iguanas, it is a mostly terrestrial species and consumes a plant-based diet with some omnivorous leanings. In the wild, they may also eat dead birds, crabs, slugs, and insect larva .
GCR x Cuban Rock Iguana
While a "pure" Grand Cayman rock iguana is illegal to keep as a pet there are Cyclura Lewisi hybrids that are mixed with the Cuban rock iguana and these are allowed as pets. Their husbandry requirements are the same as both of these Cyclura species .
These are iguana species of the genus Ctenosaura. These lizards are technically omnivorous, although they consume more animal prey as juveniles when their protein demands are higher. As adults, they should be fine with high quality sources of plant protein. Some species that are found in the pet trade include:
- Ctenosaura Melanosterna (Honduran spiny-tailed iguana)
- Ctenosaura Palearis (Guatemalan spiny-tailed iguana)
- Ctenosaura similis (Black spiny-tailed iguana)
- Ctenosaura Acanthura (Northeastern spiny-tail iguana)
- Ctenosaura pectinata (Mexican spiny-tailed iguana): The diet of juveniles is more than 80% insects, however, they rarely consume animal protein as adults.
- Ctenosaura defensor (Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana): May prefer more animal protein than others.
- Ctenosaura bakeri (Utila iguana): Needs animal protein as a juvenile.
- Ctenosaura flavidorsalis (yellow-backed spiny-tailed iguana).
- Ctenosaura conspicuosa (San Esteban Spiny-tailed Iguana)
- Ctenosaura Palearis (Guatemalan spiny-tailed iguana)
- Ctenosaura hemilopha (Cape spinytail iguana)
This United States native is a relatively large lizard that prefers dry, rocky areas in the Southwestern regions. In fact, they are the largest non-venomous lizard in the United States. While these lizards can be offered animal protein at younger ages this is probably not necessary and they should be fed only plants as adults.
Chuckwallas have very similar dietary requirements to green iguanas, although they are very uncommonly kept as pets in comparison .
Uromastyx or Spiny-Tailed Lizard
Though similar-looking to the chuckwalla, the uromastyx is native to North Africa and the Middle East. These desert-dwelling lizards prefer very warm temperatures with a basking spot that should be 100-110 degrees F. Dietary-wise, they are predominately vegetarian, but some owners chose to feed insects. This is unnecessary, however, and a uromastyx that is fed a well-supplemented plant-based diet should have no problem with the omission of insects .
Solomon Island Prehensile-Tailed or Monkey-Tailed Skink
This highly unusual lizard, native to the Solomon Islands, is unique for a few reasons: it is crepuscular and nocturnal, it has a prehensile tail as its name suggests, and it is a primarily herbivorous non-iguanid. These skinks should have an arboreal cage set up with high humidity.
Diet-wise, again, a salad designed for green iguanas would be adequate if it is accepted. Finicky eaters can be offered sweet potato baby food or the shoots of the fast-growing pothos plant. This species may practice coprophagia, consuming its own or other skink's feces .
Honorable Mention: Gargoyle Gecko
This species of gecko that hails only from the island of New Caledonia gets a mention here because while like most small lizards they consume some insects in the wild, it is often practiced and even recommended to feed this species a commercial diet that contains mostly a mash of fruit exclusively (it is designed for crested geckos). Insects may be offered as a treat, however, this is not necessary, and some individuals may not even accept them.
Crested geckos are very similar to gargoyle geckos however most hobbyists suggest supplementing that species' diet with insects .
- Animal Veterinary Hospital of Orlando. Chuckwallas.
- Candy, Cameron. Husbandry Guidelines: Rhinoceros Iguana. 2009
- Crutchfield, Tom. Cuban Rock Iguana Care Tips. June 16, 2014
- Durtsche, Richard D. "Ontogenetic plasticity of food habits in the Mexican spiny-tailed iguana, Ctenosaura pectinata." Oecologia 124.2 (2000): 185-195.
- Egnatios-Beene, J. 2002. "Cyclura cornuta" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 30, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cyclura_cornuta/
- Kaplan, Melissa. Animal protein and green iguanas. 2001.
- SEAVS. Uromastyx Husbandry and Preventative Healthcare.
- Lemm, Jeffrey, and Allison C. Alberts. Cyclura: Natural history, husbandry, and conservation of West Indian rock iguanas. Academic Press, 2011.
- Malfatti, Mark (2007). "A look at the genus Ctenosaura: meet the world's fastest lizard and its kin". Reptiles Magazine. 15 (11): 64–73.
- Marie Egurom, Marie. Care of Cyclura. 1998.
- Maryon, Daisy & Brown, Tom & Lee, David. (2020). Ctenosaura bakeri (Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana): DIET.
- New England Herpetoculture. A detailed guide pertaining to the care of Rhacodactylus auriculatus & Correlophus ciliatus.
- Paul, Kelly. Spiny Tailed Iguana Care Sheet. August 7, 2012
- Reptile Talk. Fiji Banded Iguana (Brachylophus fasciatus)
- van den Burg, M., Breuil, M. & Knapp, C. 2018. Iguana delicatissima. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T10800A122936983. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T10800A122936983.en. Downloaded on 17 October 2020.
- Wright, Kevin M. "Captive Husbandry of the Solomon Island Prehensile-Tailed Skink, Corucia zebrata." Bulletin of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians 3.1 (1993): 18-21.
© 2020 Melissa A Smith
Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on October 17, 2020:
I found going to the pet shop each week for crickets very tiresome.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 17, 2020:
Very elaborate and very informative article. Thanks.
Best Pet Lizards
Are you considering lizards as pets?
Do you find the cool look and funny behaviors of lizards appealing?
Then you’ve come to the right place!
Lizards make unusual but adorable pets for any animal lover.
That being said, some of them require more work than others.
But their active behavior and interesting looks more than make up for the effort.
In this guide, we go over some of the best pet lizards on the market and give you the information you need to pick the right one for you.
Table of Contents
Lizard Species Suitable to be Raised as Pets
For obvious reasons, it is advisable to go for those species of lizards which are easy to handle and care. The following lists some which are popular as pets with most hobbyists.
Bearded Dragon Lizards
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The bearded dragon has been a favorite choice among most hobbyists.
This moderately sized small lizard has the right temperament which is required in any pet docile, social and easy to tame and handle. You can get any type of glass or plastic terrarium to home your bearded dragon pet lizard. However, you might come across one challenge while raising this native reptile of Australia when it comes to its nutritional and environmental requirements. As a desert dweller, the reptile requires UVA and UVB radiation. You can get mercury vapor bulbs for the purpose. These bulbs also act as basking lights which would help fulfill the temperature requirement of the animal. The lizard is an omnivore it feeds on certain types of vegetables and insects. It is important to note that, the diet for these lizards must consist of 80% meat sources and 20% plants. Meat food sources for your bearded dragon may include pinky mice (for adults), and insects such as crickets, mealworms, wax worms (in small quantity), king worms, earthworms and cockroaches. Vegetables include escarole, kale, collards, bok choy, swiss chard, parsley, clover, and alfalfa pellets are recommended. Broccoli, okra, peas, green beans, squash, and zucchini can also be fed. The lizard does not mind eating fruits like figs, kiwi, papaya, melon, apples, grapes, dates, etc.
The savannah monitor and Acklin’s monitor are commonly kept as pets by experienced lizard hobbyists. These two species are small, have humble requirements thus, low cost, and usually exhibit friendly behavior. Out of these species, the savannah monitor is domesticated easily. Their new home must comprise plenty of hiding places, appropriate flooring material (paper toweling or newspaper is recommended as such things can be easily removed for cleaning), full-spectrum lighting, and enough space. These reptiles love to soak in water. To meet this need, provide a large water dish in the terrarium. Garden bugs, pinky mice, adult mice, rats and eggs are the common food sources of these reptiles. They also require minerals and vitamins supplements, and calcium supplements are a must for the juveniles.
Blue Belly Lizards
If you are looking for lizards which are low-maintenance pets, then blue belly lizards fit the bill. Also known as western fence lizards or swifts, these lizards are active, and fun to watch, provided they are given all the basic ‘pleasures’ they need food and care. Make light arrangements for your blue belly so that they can enjoy the warmth in 80 – 95 degrees during day time and 75 – 80 degrees at night. A 60-watt UVB light is recommended. Needless to say, put a shallow water dish in the tank. You can feed blue belly lizards, ants, spiders, crickets, waxworms and other harmless bugs. For added nutrition, simply dust the meal with calcium supplement powder.
For novices, this lizard species is the most recommended. The most important factor that qualify this reptile as a good pet is its size 8 – 10 inches in length. You can choose to keep more than one gecko in a tank, but ensure that the group has one male unless you are ready for raising offspring. For substrate, strike out sand, and go for paper or reptile carpet. Slate tiles are recommended by most experts. An under tank heater is necessary, and if you happen to live in a colder climate, then a heat lamp may also be required. Given the nocturnal nature of the reptile, you do not have to spend on UV lighting. Ensure that your pet has access to a clean, shallow dish of water at all times. Do not forget to re-fill it about every other day, and it is preferable to keep it in a place opposite to that of the light source. Insects are the lizard’s delicacies. Treat it with crickets, waxworms, meal worms, and roaches. Juveniles need to be fed every day, and provide meal worms in moderation. If your pet is an adult, then, you may also offer it pinkie mice occasionally. It is beneficial for the lizard if its meal is coated with a calcium/D3 supplement.
Another popular lizard species in pet trade is the green anole inexpensive and easy to care for. Also known as Carolina anole, it is one of the most suitable reptile pets for kids. Experts recommend providing two hiding places. One should be on the hot side and the other on the cold. This helps the lizard to self regulate its body temperature. As the reptile requires exposure to UVB radiation and heat, a mercury vapor bulb is good enough for the purpose. Your green anole also prefers a humid environment. So misting the cage once a day is advised. In the wild, the lizard mostly feeds on crickets and grasshoppers. In captivity, mealworms, grubs, and maggots make up for the menu. You can also go for fruit flies, and small roaches. Ensure that the size of the meal is half the size of the reptile’s mouth. Coat the insects with vitamin and calcium supplement. This is more important for juveniles. Unlike the lizards mentioned above, the green anole does not drink from a water dish. Simply mist one side of the tank frequently, and the lizard would learn to lick the water.
Lizards as Pets for Children
When it comes to kids, not all lizards can make good pets. Of all, leopard geckos, green anoles and bearded dragons are considered to be the best for keeping as pets for kids. Proper supervision is required by parents in order to teach their children about the various requirements and needs of these reptiles. Do not commit the mistake of bringing home just any small lizard for your kids without having proper information about its type and requirement. You may never know how large the animal might get, and require a living area that you may not be able to provide.
Q: What foods do bearded dragons eat?
Bearded dragons eat a combination of insects as well as fruit and veg in the wild. Therefore, in captivity, you should also follow this.
Here is a list of some of the types of food they eat:
- Collard Greens
- Mustard greens
Q: Why do lizards need calcium supplementation?
Calcium supplementation is required because lizards, like human beings, need calcium to keep their bones healthy, strong and to maintain them.
If they are starved of calcium then this low blood calcium level could lead to one of two health conditions. Number one is referred to as hypocalcemia and the second is a disease known as Metabolic Bone Disease or is often referred/abbreviated to as MBD.
To avoid this happening, lizards need sunlight in the wild, or artificial UVB light in captivity, to help them process the calcium in their diet.
Even though they consume the calcium directly in their food their body cannot metabolize or process it without vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3 is activated from the inactive vitamin D in their body from the natural sunlight that penetrates their skin. In captivity, the artificial UVB light does this.
Q: What do leopard geckos eat?
Leopard geckos (click here to see my article explaining if Leos can live off just mealworms) are insectivores, meaning they mainly survive on insects. They do not consume fruits and vegetables. The ideal diet for them is insects such as crickets and mealworms.
However, you can treat them once in a while, maybe once or twice a week, to super worms (click here to see why “Gut Loading” Superworms is important) as well which are also gladly appreciated.
However, you should avoid giving them pinky mice this is not ideal for them.
Q: What foods should you avoid giving to a bearded dragon?
Bearded dragons have quite a varied diet. They do consume fruits and vegetables, however, I’m going to outline a few that you should definitely avoid giving to them and explain why…
If you give your Beardie Lettuce they will attempt to eat it. And to be honest they will probably enjoy it. However, the problem is it has no nutritional value. And in addition to this, it can also give them digestive issues leading to diarrhea. So, it should be avoided because the body cannot really process it properly.
Fireflies should also be avoided at all costs. The simple reason is they are toxic to your bearded dragon. And they will cause them some serious health issues.
To be blunt with you, if you continue to feed them Fireflies there is a chance that they could eventually die from this. SO, its really important you do not do this.
Avocado should also be avoided. However, the reasons for this is slightly different. It contains high amounts of oxalic acid. You may get away with it in small doses, but if you repeatedly feed this to your bearded dragon it can develop into a big problem. And can actually kill them. So, for that reason it should be avoided at all costs
Rhubarb is also very toxic to beardies. And should be avoided at all costs. Regular amounts of this are dangerous. If you accidentally give this to them you should seek advice with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Spinach and Beet Tops
Spinach and beet tops should also be avoided. The reason for this is because it contains a very specific chemical. Which can actually block the processing of calcium in the lizard’s body.
The danger with this one is that your lizard can start to produce calcium deficiencies. And this can lead back to my earlier point about MBD. This is due to the lack of calcium being consumed in their body.
19. Caiman Lizard
The Caiman is great for first-time keepers looking for a unique color pattern. This species has heavy scales with all the colors of the rainbow.
They are also great climbers and swimmers which makes them active in their vivarium.
Caiman Lizards are very big, one of the biggest on this list! They can reach 2-5 feet long and will need an enclosure that is big and strong enough to house them properly. Because they love to swim, they will also need a very big pool of water to submerge in.
These reptiles also prefer it very hot in their enclosure (with a high humidity too).
They mostly eat a carnivorous diet, eating invertebrates found in marshy areas, including insects, snails, crawfish, and clams.
Caiman Lizards are smart and are not naturally aggressive, but they don’t always adapt to being handled well. They make a great beginner lizard for someone willing to house and care for them from a distance, enjoying their beautiful rainbow appearance.
They live up to 10 years and are a bit expensive with prices reaching $350-$900 USD.