Let’s talk a little about fish. They are pretty to look at, inexpensive(ish) starting out, and there are lots of ways to upgrade your tank and pet. However, fish die easily. You can’t really do anything other than watch them. They aren’t interactive. Did I mention they die easily?
Don’t get me wrong – I love having a fish tank. My parents still have an amazing one. It even has little fresh water lobsters! I just think, maybe, there might be a better starter pet for your family, especially if you can’t manage the furry ones.
Growing up, we had the standard menagerie of pets – kittens, puppies, parakeets and cockatiels. A random bunny, and even a turtle or two, joined our family for various periods of time. We even had the usual assortment of fish.
I don’t think I had a friend, ever, who didn’t have at least one pet. Your family was probably the same, more or less. One category of pet we never, ever owned (quite possibly because it was just my sister and I, no brothers), were lizards. I can honestly say as a child and as a parent, it would never have occurred to me to have a lizard as a pet. Not because I thought they were gross, slimy, or weird. I just didn’t think about it.
(Okay, well, there was this one time I kept a green anole alive in a mason jar for like a week. But that doesn’t really count, does it?)
Then I had kids. Two boys and a girl, stuck in the middle. My oldest child has had a fondness for lizards ever since I can remember. He spent summers when he was as little as three years old chasing and catching those green and brown little things that run around the patio. I know, now, those are called anoles (and they cost like seven whole dollars at Petsmart and my kid caught them for free!). I don’t know who came up with that name, but seriously? I tried to teach him anole, but he insisted the lizards’ names were all Morris.
Leading up to his fourth or fifth birthday, we started researching getting a lizard as pet, for real. At first we were drawn to Bearded Dragons. They are friendly, fun, and great starter reptile pets, or so we were told. Like any pet (seriously, any pet) there is a bit of initial investment. They like being held, are social – and really, what kid (of any size) doesn’t want a pet dragon?
Then I saw a friend who needed to rehome her pair of leopard geckos. These were already fully grown, accustomed to people, complete with cage at an affordable entry point. We jumped on the deal, and brought them home. They have been part of our family now for three or four years, and I can’t imagine life without them. They are fantastic pets.
How I love our lizards, let me count the ways…
They are nearly the ultimate lazy parent pet. The cage is easy to maintain. You can put a variety of things on the bottom. I use lizard sand (our geckos are full grown and I don’t have concerns about them consuming a little sand with their food. Younger geckos should not be on sand.). Or you can use this washable astro-turf like stuff. Or paper towels. Or even cheap tiles. You need to remove the poop from the cage once a week or more often if possible – I use a sifter for our sand, but other substrates are just as easy to clean.
Easy to start up
For one lizard you really only need a 10 gallon tank. You can buy various brand new reptile starter kits at Petsmart or Petco, or you can search Craigslist for supplies. Our lizards came with the basics, but we did upgrade to a larger tank, because, who doesn’t spoil their pets when they can?
Cheap to feed
Our two geckos eat about 12 large crickets a week. That’s a little over $1 we spend on their food. You can also supplement their diet with mealworms as a treat. Yes, the crickets are live. No, they don’t stink. (Well, if you buy them in bulk, they do. Ours don’t last long enough for that to happen.) Diet varies depending on the sort of lizard you get. Bearded dragons also eat fruit and vegetables. Lizards also eat a different mix of plants and crickets as they age.
The only mess – their waste – is confined in the cage. And they are creatures of habit and tend to only poop in one spot. They do shed, but unless you are helping them out of their skins, you might not even know it. They will eat the shed skins.
Friendly and easy to handle
In fact, the more you handle them, the more mellow they are. Our older gecko, Lizzie, loves her head between her eyes stroked. Our younger one, Fyre, is feistier and will jump out of your hands when she’s had enough.
Seriously, they make no noise. The crickets you feed them will chirp for a bit, but I don’t really mind. It is really important that the reptile habitat be well-sealed so that crickets can’t escape. If they do, you will never find them. Ask me how I know.
For me, this is really where lizards trump fish. They can live a long time, much like dogs or cats, and are hard to kill. Not that we’ve tried, mind you, but still. Confession: we have LOST a lizard for literally MONTHS only to discover her fat and happy in some warm corner of the house. Apparently they can survive on any number of different kinds of small bugs. Like many lizards, if they get stressed out or feel endangered, they will drop their tail. Don’t be alarmed. It will grow back. Just try to keep the stump clean in the meantime.
Yes, lizards can bite. Yes, all of our children have been bitten by the lizards at some point. However, if there are teeth in there, they aren’t sharp, and no skin is broken. Basically the lizard just clamps down. It is really more of a shock than a painful event, and later the kids will laugh.
I love having pets – I can’t remember a time in my childhood that was entirely pet-free. I loved cuddling with our cats, playing with our dogs, counting fish in the fish tank, and choosing birds to bring home. I never imagined I would grow to love having reptiles as pets – not because I have any latent fear of them, but because it honestly never occurred to me to have one (or two) as pets at home. I’m so glad we’ve discovered the lizard love, and have absolutely no regrets about adding them to our family.
** Disclaimer – I am no expert in lizard care. I’ve managed to keep these alive and relatively healthy, thanks to resources like the Leopard Lizard Guide, Leopard Gecko Care, and the friendly staff at Petco.