Lizard Food For Sale: What Do They Eat?
What do lizards eat?
Most reptiles are omnivores. That means they will eat almost anything. Lizards have been known to consume dead animals, insects, plants, fruits and even human blood! However, it is not uncommon for them to feed primarily on plant matter such as leaves or grasses. Some species may also hunt small mammals like mice and rats when available.
The following list contains some of the most common foods eaten by different types of lizards. If you have any questions about what type of lizard eats which kind of food, please feel free to ask in our forum.
Dietary Requirements Of Reptiles
In general, there are three major dietary requirements for reptiles: calcium, vitamin D3 and protein. All three are necessary for proper body structure and health. Calcium is needed for bones, teeth, nerves and muscles; vitamin D3 helps maintain healthy skin color and bone strength; and protein is required to build muscle tissue.
Calcium – The primary requirement of all reptiles is calcium. Many reptile keepers recommend feeding their reptiles a diet rich in calcium because too little calcium can lead to osteoporosis (weak bones). Too much calcium can cause kidney stones if consumed in excess.
Vitamin D3 – Most reptile species (especially those that live in colder regions) synthesize vitamin D from the sun. If your pet reptile does not get regular exposure to UV light, a dietary source of vitamin D3 is important. Vitamin D3 helps metabolize calcium and is also involved in the proper formation of bone growth.
Protein – Like all animals, reptiles need protein to build muscle, however some reptiles can survive on much lower protein diets than many other species. Too much protein can lead to kidney problems as the body tries to remove the excess nitrogen in the bloodstream.
Lizards can be categorized into two groups when it comes to their diet. There are herbivores that only eat plant matter and carnivores that eat other animals. There are also omnivores that eat a mixture of both.
Herbivorous lizards: These include the chameleons, basilisks, glass lizards and other species that eat mainly plants. They often have special features such as expanded stomachs to allow them to eat large quantities of food or allow them to go for long periods without food. They also have gut bacteria to help them digest the high cellulose content in plants.
Carnivorous lizards: These lizards eat other animals almost exclusively. Most prey on insects, but some will eat other reptiles and small mammals.
Omnivorous lizards: These are the most common type of lizard. They eat a mixture of both plants and animals. They often feed on whatever is most available or whatever they can catch, but there are some species that will only eat a particular diet.
For example, the collared lizard eats almost entirely insects.
Captive lizards are typically fed a mixed diet of both meat and plants. There are many commercially available foods sold in pet stores, but it is just as easy to feed your lizard what it would eat in the wild. Offer a combination of plants, small invertebrates and small vertebrates like worms or fish.
Some lizards (like the green basilisk) prefer to forage for their food, so you can forgo the feeding process altogether.
There are many options when it comes to choosing food for your lizard. There are a wide variety of vegetables and fruits that lizards can eat. Lizards often like to eat fruit that has gone bad, so you may choose to leave fruit out to see what your lizard will eat.
They also eat most types of greens including fruit and vegetable scraps. Lizards also need some protein in their diet and will eat insects, small frogs and toads, small worms, other lizards and even small rodents.
Feeding your lizard is fairly easy. Most lizards will eat food that has been killed by freezing, drying or dipping it in water. Some lizards (like the green basilisk) prefer to forage for their own food, so you can forgo the feeding process altogether.
Lizards often eat their own feces (a process called refection) and this helps them to digest their food and absorb all of the nutrients.
Some lizards hatch and even while still in the egg they will gulp down any prey that they encounter. This is a self-defense mechanism that is used so that if the parent is killed or chased off, the babies have a food source already available to them. Be warned: if you have lizards that are carnivores, you should make sure that your other pets are safe from these hungry little tykes!
Some lizards lay eggs, while others give birth to live babies. Most lay eggs in a nest that have been hidden away someplace safe, while a few (like the glass lizard) retain the ability to give birth to live young. The gestation period for most lizards is between three and four months.
Some species of lizard can even go longer than a year between clutches of eggs (like the arboreal alligator lizard).
Some lizards can live around thirty years or more in captivity!
In most states, keeping lizards as pets is legal. Native species are protected and cannot be taken from the wild. Some species of lizard are prohibited or require a special permit.
Check your local laws before collecting. You will probably spend some money on your new pet, but lizards are fairly inexpensive to keep. You will need to provide a suitable habitat and the proper furnishings for your lizard. You will also have to feed it and this is probably the biggest ongoing expense.
Some people choose to keep more than one lizard in their home and often these lizards are of different species. While rare, there are even cases where someone has kept three or more species together (called mixed species enclosures). In most cases, this is not recommended because lizards have very specific habitat and dietary needs.
Each lizard has its own personality and each will interact with you and the other animals in its own way. Keeping several together can lead to fighting and stress. Some keepers even report certain lizards acting differently when they are in the presence of their own species than when they are with another one.
On the upside, you may be able to keep a lizard longer than you normally would if you have multiple lizards. Some of the lizards that you normally would have to release into the wild when they reach adulthood can stay with you as long as you have room (and can afford it).
Costs and Upkeep
To buy a lizard from a dealer or pet store will usually run you between $30 and $80, depending on the type of lizard. You can sometimes find them cheaper at feed stores or from classified ads. Some species of lizard, like the uromastyx are fairly easy to catch in the wild (provided you live in the right climate) and will save you quite a bit of money.
In addition to the lizard itself, you will need to buy or construct a suitable habitat for it. This can be as simple as a cage or as elaborate as a room (for example, Capt. Jack Thorpe’s two ranchu kois, each in their own 4000 gallon pond).
The cost of the habitat will depend on its size, the type of reptile, and whether you buy it pre-made or make it yourself. Most cages for common pet lizards are available at pet stores (like the one pictured to the right). These cages usually range in price from $50 to $200, with the average being about $100.
Other things you will need to provide for your lizard include a heat source and ultraviolet light, or some other artificial source of UVB rays. You will also need to provide your lizard with the proper food and supplements. This usually involves putting a bowl of fruit out for the lizard to eat every day.
Most lizards need to eat every day or even every other day and it can get quite expensive.
Purchasing the lizard itself will probably be the biggest initial cost but ongoing costs will include buying food and supplies like bedding, a waterproof spotlight, etc.
Choosing Your Lizard
Once you’ve decided that a lizard is the right pet for you, it’s time to choose the specific lizard. You have a lot of options here.
One of the first questions you need to ask is how big of a lizard do you want.
Do you want a lizard that will only grow to be 2 or 3 feet long or do you want something bigger like a monitor that can grow up to 10 feet long?
Obviously the bigger the lizard, the more expensive it is going to be since they require more food and cost more money to buy in the first place.
Lizards are often named after the first person who discovered them or identified them. Some, like the geckos, have many different subspecies that live in different places, which have been given distinguishing names to indicate where they’re from (for example, there’s a difference between a Jamaican green gecko and an Indonesian green gecko). Some common types of lizards you may be interested in are:
Chameleons: Chameleons are often very colorful lizards with a long, thin tail. They usually only grow to be about a foot in length but that’s still enough to be a large lizard. Most chameleons from the jungle are green and blend in well with their surroundings.
However, chameleons from drier areas have evolved differently. The Jackson’s chameleon, from South Africa’s southern tip, has a range of colors from blues to greens. The Bradfield’s chameleon is a brown lizard that lives among the rocky outcroppings in Cape Town. It has a flap of skin under its neck that it can raise to change the color of its body to better match its surroundings. Although chameleons are mainly insectivores, some have larger appetites. The Panther or Falt-necked chameleon eats mainly fruit and usually lives near trees.
Iguanas: Iguanas are one of the most popular types of pet lizards. They’re green, herbivorous, and from Central or South America. They grow to be quite large (6 feet is common but some can grow up to 10 feet) and live up to 25 years.
They are one of the more expensive types of lizards to buy. The common pet store varieties (green ones with dark brown spots) are from North America but there are many different types of iguanas that come from Central and South America.
Tegu: Tegus are very large, very rare, and very expensive lizards from South America. There are four species of tegus and they’re similar to monitors except they have a smaller range. All species of tegus are green, have small spikes running down their back, have small “beards” under their chins similar to a goat, and have a large spike on their tails.
They’re mainly insectivores and grow to be 3 feet long as adults (though they’ll eat larger things as they grow). The Cuban Tegu is the most common one available in the US and can cost as much as $4,000. They’re illegal to own without a special permit in the state of Florida and many states ban them altogether.
Iguana vs Tegu vs Chameleon?
So which one should you buy?
Well, it’s mainly up to you. Iguanas are more common and cheaper but also less interesting. They don’t have the variety of colors that chameleons do and they have a more sluggish personality (though this is somewhat dependent on their background). Tegus are very interesting, unique lizards but they’re also illegal to own in some places and very expensive. They also have a much worse disposition, being more likely to bite or strike at people. Chameleons are probably the best “middle ground” pet. They’re not as boring as iguanas, they’re colorful, and while they’re not as aggressive as tegus they won’t cower from you like an iguana would.
As for taking care of them, they’re basically standard lizards. They require heat (like a lamp), live food (insects, crickets), and leafy greens (lettuce, vegetables). They need to be misted once a day so their environment doesn’t get too dry.
You should also maintain their enclosure weekly (take out the old soil and leaves, put in new soil and leaves). However, chameleons do have some special requirements. They need special UVB light (which are expensive) and they need a structure for them to climb on. This can be as simple as building rock structures or as complex as building a multi-level cage. It just depends on how much effort you want to put in.
There are also some issues to consider. All three of these pets grow large enough to be dangerous (especially tegus and chameleons). They can and will bite or scratch you if provoked.
Any of the three can and will bite children if they reach under the cage. You should install a screen on the front of the cage so no one can reach in, keep small children away from it, and not to handle the lizard around them.
If any of these pets (but mainly chameleons and tegus) feel threatened or crowded, they will occasionally resort to foul smelling chemical attacks. They usually do this by trying to aim the liquids at their attackers eyes. While the lizards won’t directly damage you in this way, the smell is very bad.
It can linger for weeks, even after you’ve cleaned the cage.
They also have a habit of shedding their skin. Tegus and chameleons in particular have a bad habit of throwing up their meals shortly after eating it. If you have carpet in their room (which you shouldn’t), then you’ll have to replace it every six months or so because the food will rot into the carpet.
And I’m sure you don’t want to smell that.
All three of these lizards can live 8-20 years, though 20 is rare. It will depend on the species, but in general the smaller the lizard the shorter life span it has.
The final issue is legality. All three of these lizards are illegal to own in some states. Many states allow them with permits, and other states allow them period (like Florida where all three are legal).
Check your local laws before buying any of these pets.
If you’ve read all of that and you still want one, then you can move on to the next section where I explain what to look for when buying a lizard.
What To Look For When Buying
First off, don’t buy one that’s under six months old. The reason is because they haven’t reached adulthood yet. They still need time to grow.
Once they reach adulthood their behavior, nutritional and social needs will change.
Sources & references used in this article:
Food availability as a proximate factor influencing individual growth rates in the iguanid lizard Sceloporus merriami by AE Dunham – Ecology, 1978 – Wiley Online Library
Evolution of Food-Foraging Strategies for the Caribbean Anolis Lizard Using Genetic Programming. by JR Koza, J Roughgarden, JP Rice – Adaptive Behaviour, 1992 – core.ac.uk
Food habits of the western whiptail lizard (Cnemidophorus tigris) in southeastern New Mexico by TL Best, AL Gennaro – The Great Basin Naturalist, 1985 – JSTOR